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  • Let’s Talk About Navy

    by John Vannie

    Notre Dame will try to get back on a winning track by hosting the Naval Academy on Saturday in an afternoon contest. The Midshipmen have been victorious in their last two visits to South Bend but have struggled this season with five consecutive losses coming into this contest. Coach Ken Niumatalolo’s rushing attack ranks third in the country, however the Navy defense has sprung massive leaks. The 4-3 Irish must overcome injuries along the defensive line and any bruises to their collective pride after being manhandled by USC last week.

    The Midshipmen have injuries of their own to address. Senior quarterback Kriss Proctor dislocated his left (throwing) elbow last week against East Carolina and his status for the game is very questionable. Sophomore Trey Miller came on to display his passing ability and nearly overcame a ten point deficit late in that game.  He threw touchdown passes of 59 and 37 yards, and engineered a last minute march that ended with a narrowly missed 42-yard field goal as time expired in a 38-35 loss.

     Despite its 2-5 record, this 2011 Navy team is still a threat against Notre Dame. The Midshipmen have suffered only one blowout loss, while the other four defeats were by a combined eight points. Other than the quarterback situation, the starting lineup on offense has been intact all season and will attack the Irish with typical precision and relentless effort. On the defensive side, several opening day starters have been replaced due to injury or performance reasons, and the group has surrendered an average of 36 points per game during the current losing streak.

    Tommy Rees should be ready to start at quarterback for Notre Dame, although fans should expect a large dose of Andrew Hendrix in light of his success against a similar Air Force defense.  The Irish need to resurrect their running game, as Cierre Wood took up residence in Coach Brian Kelly’s doghouse following the USC game and Jonas Gray’s likeness appeared on milk cartons all over the Midwest this week despite his 25-yard touchdown run.

    The Irish defensive line will carry on without end Kapron Lewis-Moore, who suffered a season-ending knee injury. Senior Ethan Johnson will try to play with a gimpy ankle, but that may be a difficult task against the low-blocking Middies. Freshman Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt will have to prove their mettle against Navy’s unconventional veer option. Kelly will also have to bring Chase Hounshell, Hafis Williams and Kona Schwenke into the rotation to keep the troops fresh.

    NOTRE DAME’S OFFENSE vs. NAVY’S DEFENSE

    The Midshipmen are ranked 95th in overall defense this season and are particularly weak against the run. Nose tackle Jared Marks and end Jabaree Tuani are full-sized linemen, but the remaining members of Navy’s 3-4-4 alignment are shy of 225 pounds. In short, the Irish should be able to rush for 200 yards without breaking a sweat. Gray in particular could have a career best game, and the running ability of Hendrix cannot be overlooked.

    Rees and Hendrix should also be able to throw the ball at will. Only one member of the Midshipmen back seven, rover Kwesi Mitchell, was in the starting lineup for the defense that shut down Notre Dame last season. Floyd and Tyler Eifert will pose mismatches for Navy’s small outside linebackers and secondary, and any attempt by the visitors to close off one area of attack will leave them vulnerable in another.

    The Midshipmen are likely to blitz in passing situations, both from the outside linebacker position and from any of their cornerbacks or safeties. Tuani leads the team in sacks with five, while Mitchell and cornerback David Sperry each have three. The Irish have protected the quarterback quite well all season, and Navy should not be able to bring much pressure barring any blown assignments.

    Notre Dame may not hit the 59 point mark as it did against Air Force, but Rees and his mates should surpass the 40 point mark if they can protect the ball.

    NAVY’S OFFENSE vs. NOTRE DAME’S DEFENSE

    Proctor was the team’s leading rusher and it remains to be seen whether Miller can provide a true running threat in the triple option. Fullback Alexander Teich, who has tormented the Irish during the previous two games between these teams, has performed well in his senior season. Notre Dame had some difficulty defending the outside pitch man against Air Force, and Navy has two speedsters in Gee Gee Green and John Howell to take advantage. Both are about the same size as USC’s Curtis McNeal, and we remember how that worked out.

    With Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson on the sideline, the young Irish defense will have to be very disciplined to contain Teich inside. The play of the linebackers has been somewhat poor of late, and even Manti Te’o has been caught out of position on numerous occasions. In other words, Notre Dame could be doing a lot of chasing on Saturday. Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco could not generate effective adjustments in last year’s debacle, and the adequacy of this year’s game plan will be heavily scrutinized.

    The passing threat posed by Miller may make his team harder to defend unless they fall behind and lose the element of surprise. Receivers Brandon Turner and Matt Aiken can shake loose for long plays, while Green is a dangerous player anywhere he lines up. Irish fans will remember the perfectly executed screen pass caught by Teich for a touchdown last season, and Navy is sure to call that play again during the course of the afternoon.

    Miller and the offense will feel the pressure to score points in order to stay with Notre Dame, and the mistake-free football that requires may be a tall order. From Navy’s perspective, it will be critical that Miller get past any early jitters and play well. To his credit, Niumatalolo did not seem overly concerned about his backup quarterback. “He’s kind of a cool, calm-natured kid, but I’m sure he’s going to have some nerves,” he said. “If it’s to be, ready or not here we go.”

    SPECIAL TEAMS

    Navy kicker Jon Teague has experienced some difficulty from short range this season, suffering two blocked field goals and four missed extra points. His attempt at a game-tying three pointer last week clanked off an upright, so he is obviously struggling. Freshman punter Pablo Beltran averages slightly over 38 yards, but leaves little opportunity for a return. Marcus Thomas brings back kickoffs for the Midshipmen and has a 90-yard touchdown to his credit.

     The Irish counter with freshman George Atkinson, who has two kickoff returns for touchdown this season including a sparkling 96-yarder against the Trojans. Kicker David Ruffer has settled in of late and performed well when needed, while punter Ben Turk has also found a successful rhythm. It would not be a surprise to see Atkinson chip in with more electrifying returns this week, although the Irish would prefer that Navy only kick off once during the game.

    SUMMARY

    The depleted defensive line is a concern for Notre Dame, but not an excuse. The Midshipmen run an efficient offensive system, but the Irish still have superior athletes.  Whether this game is close or not will depend on the Irish defensive coaching staff. Of course, turnovers by the offense are always an unwelcome element.

    This matchup has recently become a trap game for Notre Dame, but last year’s embarrassing loss to the Middies and the rumblings that the team and coaching staff quit last week against USC should put the Irish in a foul mood for this one. Even former players questioned the toughness and leadership within the current locker room, and there is no reason why the team should not come out with guns blazing. That said, Navy has developed a level of confidence by winning three of the past four games, and their recent string of heartbreaking defeats will motivate them as well.

    Let’s review the key questions that will have a bearing on the outcome:

    Will Miller have success in the passing game?

    Can Navy’s shaky defense fare any better than Air Force?

    Will the Irish rediscover their running game?

    Can Notre Dame stop the inside runs by the fullback and cover the pitch man?

    Will Hendrix get another extended look and be allowed to throw the ball downfield?

    Can the Irish shake the turnover virus that returned with a vengeance last week?

    Will the Irish match Navy’s discipline (#1 in the nation with fewest penalties and penalty yards)?

    PREDICTION

    Although a win against Navy will not alleviate the sting of last week’s loss, a defeat would be too catastrophic for words. The Midshipmen gave South Carolina a battle early this year before losing a close one, but have suffered attrition on defense since then and were swamped by Southern Mississippi. Although Navy may gain considerable yardage in the middle of the field, Notre Dame’s ability to tighten up in the red zone will matter most. Despite their own problems in this area, the Irish should find the end zone more often.

    NOTRE DAME 42  NAVY 28

    20 Responses to “Let’s Talk About Navy”

    1. It’ll be pitchforks and torches if you’re wrong. But good summary.

    2. It’s time to start another 40+ game win streak against Navy. Say what you will about losses to USC, Michigan, whoever. There’s been no more embarassing black eye to the program than losing to Navy a few times. I sincerely hope in a decade from now Brian Kelly will have a career record against Navy of 9-1 and we can all have a good chuckle and say hey remember when Navy actually beat us a couple of times. Boy those were some low years. Notre Dame will never lose to Navy again! Go irish, sink Navy!

    3. irishhawk50 says:

      No excuse to lose to Navy who have struggled this year to beat anyone. The game should not even be close. Diaco has faced enough option football at this point to where he should master its defense or maybe look for another job.

    4. This game will set the tone for the rest of the year. We can still have a great season and should be 8-3 going into Stanford week and ready to wreck their dreams of playing in a BCS Championship. GO IRISH

    5. IrIsHMaDmAn says:

      I would love to believe that the Irish will never lose to Navy again, but that is simply not true. Do I believe they will lose this Saturday? No, but I would not be surprised if it happens.

    6. Thanks for a very balanced article.Time to start a new winning streak.

    7. Jim Kress says:

      Are they going to use clown cars to bring out the players and coaching staff instead of running out of the tunnel? They way they played against USC, it would be appropriate.

      • Cold-blooded comment,but really funny. I would like to see BK slow down with the jumbotron and fake grass until he’s beaten a good team.

    8. PF Steve, agreed. It’s like he’s putting the onus of winning onto the fans and the atmosphere. Obviously we all want to cheer and do our part but nothing spells winning like clean execution on the field and just worrying about the X’s and O’s.

    9. Will the REAL Notre Dame team please step forward?
      20 pt. favorite? I think not… Irish 31-30

    10. Another question: Will Kelly find a way to avoid embarrassing himself and ND? Think mauve during S Fla, and postgame blame after USC. At some point, continued antics will discourage players.

    11. Larry Delaney '60 says:

      The Navy losses were very bad; however losing to SU twice was much worse in my view.

      Maybe I feel this way because I live in the Syracuse area, but in recent memory Navy is a much better team.

      In the last loss to SU, the SU QB was the son of a ND basketball great.

      Losing always sucks, and ND has done way too much losing in recent times.

    12. ND will not restore its football excellence….until we get a ROOF over the stadium. All aboard…ha ha ha ha ha ha…….!!!!

    13. Sad Warrior says:

      We love our Navy Brothers, but tomorrow we will love them just abit less. Many of us here have ‘recovered’ from last week’s stupor and are really excited about the game.

      And there is only one bottom line-beat the hell out of Navy and win the game convincingly. Go after the others one at a time. This team can give Stanford all they want; if they want…

    14. ND by 14? I don’t think so.

    15. GraceHallChapel6 says:

      I think people don’t get it. There is no rhyme or reason at this point: Pound MSU, who in turns beats Wisconsin. Dominate UM, then collapse–and watch them beat Minnesota 58-0…a team that nearly beat USC, who we can’t handle. See a pattern? Don’t even try. Immature teams and immature coaches cannot be an understood quantity.

      Sure we’ll pound Navy. But then we’ll lose a nail biter to Boston College. Or vice versa.

    16. If there is any credibility to the report this morning on College Game Day, then our team is on the verge of an implosion and Kelly has confirmed his status as the most visible Not Ready For Prime Time coach promoted into the (supposedly) big time spot light in recent years. Yeah, it’s ND-hating CGD, but really….the coach differentiating between his recruits and the holdovers from Weis, implying that his guys were committed and the older folks weren’t? T’eo tweeting that he was now playing only for his “bros” and by strong implication not BK?

      One of the few good things that Weis did at ND early on was to try to create a sense of solidarity between his teams and the grand tradition of the university. Having Pareseghian and Holtz as honorary coaches in the spring game….bringing NFL alums and legendary players into the locker room…maintaining the walk from Sacred Heart to the stadium. And that was WEIS, whose signature incompetence was noteworthy even at a school with a long history of hiring less that stellar figures like Anderson, Kuharich, and Davie between geniuses like Rock, Leahy, and Ara.

      I had thought that BK was to be the answer – he had the right profile of success at every prior level and job. Earlier games this year were troubling – losses to a truly mediocre USF team and an improved but far from top-tier Michigan team, a weak victory over a struggling Pitt club. But after last week…I am off the BK bandwagon. No, I’m not saying he should be dumped or that it’s time to humiliate ourselves again by courting a Meyer who will never come to ND or any school that places such restrictions on his recruiting. No. But I am revising my own hopes dramatically downward. I had thought that we might have bagged a new version of Ara, the best ND coach of my lifetime by a mile. What I think we may have now is – at best – the 2000s version of Dan Devine, a coach whose ego and refusal to a) admit mistakes and b) grow from them cost ND many a game during his tenure.

      If Kelly had stepped up after last week and said “That loss is on me and my staff because we did not have the guys ready to play at a level to compete with a team with this much talent and we did not make proper in-game adjustments” then I would hope that he could grow into the job as Holtz did – Holtz, whose teams pretty much improved each of the first six or seven years he was at ND – and whose teams were always ready to compete at game time. But I have yet to see a BK-coached game that was a full four quarter effort – or hear Kelly do anything after a loss other than rationalize the mistakes and by implication blame the players to absolve the coaches.

      We saw much the same kind of thing under Weis. We are no closer now to national prominence than we were five or ten years ago.

      • You obviously dont listen to Kelly’s press conferences or actual words much. what you read on ESPN is far blown out of proportion to his actual words. Yes, he called them out for not playing well…. guess what…. they didn’t. Its also the first time he has called out the players. Numerous times in the past he has put the blame on himself in the coaches. the jury is still out on Kelly as far as I’m concerned but get your facts straight before piping off next time….

        • Try again or learn to read. “If there is any credibility…” opens my post. I’ve watched enough of Kelly’s press conferences to note a Weisian arrogance, and never once have I heard or heard of him “step up and say ‘That loss is on me and my staff…’ ” – which most of the losses of the last 2 years have been, and which last week’s was completely, a total coaching failure in the year’s biggest game. That’s the basis for my Devine analogy, which is the major point of the post, not the CDG report.

    17. I will always question Kelly’s coaching skills as long as he has Goodman returning punts. Baffling! I have one word for him……………..ROCKET! Always use your “rocket” for punts.

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