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Friday, November 06, 2009

Navy Ready to Battle Irish

posted by John Vannie
Notre Dame hosts Navy on Saturday in the 83rd meeting between these friendly rivals. Both teams have six wins this year and are building their respective resumes as bowl season approaches. The Irish are hoping to erase memories of a disastrous 1-4 November in 2008 by finishing the regular season with a six game winning streak, while the Midshipmen will have starting quarterback Ricky Dobbs back from injury to lead its patented option attack.

Now that Dayne Crist’s knee injury sustained last week has been diagnosed as a torn ACL, Notre Dame’s main focus other than winning this game is to protect Jimmy Clausen from further damage. Clausen’s health is critical to the team’s ability to achieve its remaining goals this season, and the roster is painfully thin at quarterback. Meanwhile, the Irish will have starters Michael Floyd and James Aldridge available for Navy while guard Trevor Robinson and tailback Armando Allen will likely be held out.

Notre Dame should be able to rely on a power running game as opposed to Clausen’s right arm, and the Wildcat portion of the offense will also be used liberally. The Irish defense held the Midshipmen well below its rushing average last year in a 27-21 win, and will be expected to do the same this year. Navy has not developed much proficiency in the passing game, averaging only eight throws for 72 yards and a 50% completion rate.

Most fans remember last year’s game for the consecutive successful onside kicks executed by the Midshipmen in the final two minutes. This changed a comfortable 27-7 victory into a near disaster for the Irish, who also committed five turnovers and failed on a fourth down conversion that jump started Navy’s late rally. On the heels of an overtime loss to the Midshipmen in 2007 that broke Notre Dame’s 43-game winning streak, the Irish really need a strong performance to reestablish dominance in the series.


The Midshipmen will employ a similar defensive strategy that worked quite well last year, which is to defuse Notre Dame’s quick strike capability. They will try to force the Irish to throw short passes and execute consistently in the running game. This is also the plan that nearly worked for Boston College two weeks ago, although Navy does not appear capable of stopping this year’s Irish ground game without moving its safeties close to the line of scrimmage. Ultimately, passing lanes should be open for Golden Tate, who did not catch a single pass in last year’s game, and Kyle Rudolph, who caught only one for eight yards.

Despite the advantage of size and talent, fans should not expect Notre Dame to roll up 600 yards on the Midshipmen as they did last week against Washington State. Navy’s defense allowed only 369 and 363 to Pittsburgh and Ohio State, respectively, and played competitively throughout. Points will not come in bunches for the Irish, and will be earned the hard way. Another noteworthy statistic is that the Midshipmen have allowed a third down conversion rate of only 29%, which compares favorably to 39% for their Irish counterparts.

Floyd’s return to the lineup will be closely watched by Irish fans and undoubtedly by the Pittsburgh coaching staff next week in the film room. Although Floyd is not expected to be a significant part of the game plan, his mere presence will boost Notre Dame’s firepower by spreading Navy’s defensive resources more equally across the field.

The best pass defender for the Midshipmen is rover Wyatt Middleton while cover corner Blake Carter has excellent skills. Navy’s front seven is configured in a 3-4 alignment, which the Irish will see for the first and last time this season. Linebacker Ross Pospisil is the team’s best overall defender, and he has a knack for making plays behind in an opponent’s backfield. The overall unit is disciplined and tough despite its lack of size, and coach Ken Niumatalolo substitutes freely to keep the troops fresh.


Dobbs leads an option attack that is truly balanced. Fullback Vince Murray runs well inside and slot man Marcus Curry is the outside speed threat with an 8.5 yard average. Dobbs has recorded 16 rushing touchdowns despite missing almost two full games, but has thrown for only three. Curry and Mario Washington are the most dangerous receivers, but neither has more than eight receptions this season.

Notre Dame’s defensive linemen will not face any 300 pounders on Navy’s front wall. Ends Darius Fleming, Kerry Neal and emerging pass rush specialist Steven Filer should be able to bring pressure, but their biggest challenge will be to hold containment in the option game. Nose tackle Ian Williams should dominate inside, while linebackers Brian Smith and Manti Te’o need to stay in their gaps.

The Irish safeties figure to make a lot of tackles in this game, and neither Sergio Brown nor Jamoris Slaughter has demonstrated consistently good performance to date. Kyle McCarthy is solid against the run and figures to be a stalwart in this contest. Navy is sure to pull out a few trick plays and mix in more passes than their 2009 norm, so Notre Dame’s secondary must not fall asleep.

Preparation and the discipline to play assignment football should be enough for the Irish to prevail, but one short week of practice is rarely enough time to become competent against a fast paced option attack. The Midshipmen may take advantage of this early until Notre Dame gets used to the pace.


Surprisingly, the Irish did not dominate lowly Washington State in the return game last week, but Navy will provide another opportunity for them to break a punt or kickoff return and control field position. Once again, Notre Dame should not punt very often if at all, but freshman Ben Turk or veteran Eric Maust must start to show improvement. Navy will not score many points in this game if it has to drive 70+ yards, but they are more likely than the Irish by 73% to 56% to score a touchdown in the red zone.

Nick Tausch has been an outstanding field goal kicker for the Irish with a current streak of 14 straight. A missed extra point last week did not affect the outcome, but it served as a valuable lesson to take nothing for granted. Joe Buckley has been a very reliable kicker for Navy in the last month, while punter Kyle Delahooke gets above average distance although most of his punts are returned by the opposition.


Discipline is the key for Notre Dame. Offensively, unnecessary penalties have hurt the Irish this season, and a repeat of these same mistakes is the only way they can be stopped. On defense, physical superiority must be accompanied by sharp focus to avoid getting caught out of position. The team needs to take another step forward after last week’s success and dominate in all phases of the game. Navy played well against Ohio State in its season opener, but they should not pose a threat in the second half of this game.

Let’s take a look at a few questions that will determine the margin of victory:

Will Notre Dame be able to sustain drives by avoiding penalties and methodically moving downfield?

Can the Irish safeties keep Navy from making long scoring plays?

Will Dobbs be forced to put the ball in the air 20 times or more?

Can the Irish special teams keep Navy from starting drives in good field position?

Will Notre Dame exceed 200 yards rushing?

Can the Irish do better than a 29% conversion rate on third down?

Will Michael Floyd’s presence allow Tate and Rudolph to take advantage of single coverage?

Can the Irish offensive line keep Clausen from hitting the turf?

Will Notre Dame secure the outcome in strong fashion or will they have to hold on once again?


Notre Dame can find itself in a real battle if they are emotionally unprepared for Navy’s legendary intensity. Clausen’s leadership and Floyd’s return will help, but the key will be the offensive line’s ability to impose its will on the smaller Midshipmen. The defense, particularly the secondary, must not regress by tackling poorly and blowing assignments in coverage. It would be encouraging to see some life from the special teams, but I’ve almost given up hope.

Dobbs is another quality athlete in a long line of elusive Navy option quarterbacks, but the Irish linebackers are athletic enough to keep him in check.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regardless of how badly we pummel Navy, this year is lost as far as the National Championship goes. Some of you have taken your eyes off the prize, and have instead succumbed to the miasma that is Charlie Weis's coaching.

We are going into year six people, still no closer than the day he took over. Is squeaking by Purdue, Washington, Michigan State, and Boston College progress?

Oh, we will beat Navy and the extolments of how great the defense is playing will begin. And those doing the praising will have seemingly forgotten about being ranked 95th in total defense.

Enough of this nonsense. Please let's get a real coach and be done with it.

11/06/2009 08:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Get your head out of the clouds. Just look at talent. With the exception of our quarterback and receivers, we are still lagging a bit behind in talent depth of the truly great programs. I don't think some of you people whining about this being year 6 realize how depleted the talent pool was at ND. Forget Charlie's first class, that was done on a few months after he left the Patriots.
I want more for this program too, but do you realize what a bunch of idiots we'd look like firing a 10-2 coach? Then next year, whoever came in would have to deal with implementing ANOTHER new defense, and a different style of coaching on the line and everywhere else. What this program needs right now is a year or two of continuity at every position. Great teams usually have great staffs that remain together for some time. If Charlie falters the rest of the season, can him, but you'd be a moron to fire a 10-2 coach regardless of his previous mistakes. The national press would crucify us, and recruits would leave in droves.

11/06/2009 09:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The number one reason to fire a coach is if you do not see improvent as in the Willingham years. If you do not see improvement with this team since 2007 you can't know too much about football. 2007 and 2008 were bad because of poor recruiting by Willingham and lack of time to recruit by Charlie when he was hired. The recruiting is awesome now as our young players are proving. If we go 9-3 or 10-2 I would say Charlie has us on the right path.

11/06/2009 09:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have a real coach. What we dont have with you is a real fan.

11/06/2009 11:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A real coach you say? Who? Another question, if Clausen an Tate stay next year, what pre-season ranking do you think ND will have? If that's not good enough for you, then you need to find anothe team to stand by.

11/06/2009 11:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Joe said...

ND is headed in the right direction. The talent level has increased every year since CW took over as coach and is getting better. Unless there's a total breakdown in these final games of the season whereby it appears that the players have quit on the coach (which is extremely unlikely given the way they've been playing), there is no reason to change coaches. Building a football program takes time. Let the man coach.

11/06/2009 12:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post, as always. The defense HAS to play well. Navy can eat a lot of clock running the option. Clausen, Floyd, et al, cannot score that 30 points if they are sitting on the bench.

11/06/2009 12:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Irish will NOT win by 24. It will be back to a nail-biter. Navy will be very motivated. Our country took another "hit" yesterday, and the Midshipmen will show their pride of country by putting up a strong showing. Don't put this game in the "W" column, until after the game is played. It won't be easy.


11/06/2009 12:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, more and more excuses. Guys this will be year 6, not 2, 3, 4. Year 6.

Clausen, Tate, and 60% of the OL will be gone next year.

Do you think we will be any better?

11/06/2009 01:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Friendly" rivalry? Who said anything about friendly? No, no, no. 2007 changed all that. It's time to treat Navy with some respect...and then pound them mercilessly.

Oh turn the Lee Greenwood down. It is not unpatriotic to want to see Ricky Dobbs on his back and the ball on the carpet.

11/06/2009 01:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some people that call themselves fans are actually the opposite....they are happiest after ND loses, when all the real fans are miserable. They actually WANT the team to lose, and spend their time anticipating it, predicting it, hoping for it.

Get a different hobby, and get lost.

11/06/2009 03:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These previews are one of the best things on this site. Vannie, whomever he may be, is one of the few people who actually check their entitlement and anger at the door and look at the situation objectively and clinically. In short, like a journalist. He does not try to wear many hats as a journalist, fanboy, community builder, and enraged alum.

11/06/2009 03:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some people that call themselves fans are actually the opposite....they are happiest after ND loses, when all the real fans are miserable. They actually WANT the team to lose, and spend their time anticipating it, predicting it, hoping for it.

Get a different hobby, and get lost.

Couldn’t agree with this more. This has been the most exciting year that ND has had in a long time. I dare anyone to tell me when we have won more nail-biters than we have this season. Week in and week out, our boys snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. If you don’t agree with this, then who needs you. Here’s looking forward to more exciting years like these in the future as we play an ever-increasing diverse schedule.

11/06/2009 06:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A real coach you say? Who? Another question, if Clausen an Tate stay next year, what pre-season ranking do you think ND will have? If that's not good enough for you, then you need to find anothe team to stand by.

Seems to me you need to find the spell check feature.

11/06/2009 06:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Don in LA said...

Some people just enjoy complaining. It's easy to complain.

11/06/2009 07:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, you need remedial math. We are in year 5, not 6. You can continue to repeat "year 6", but you would have an awfully difficult time hiding the fact that Ty coached us in 2004.

Second, you need to chill and wait until the end of the season. If we crap out the rest of the season, I am sure that a lot of people will support you. But if we go out and win out through the rest of the season (with a couple of those games comfortable wins), followed by visit to a BCS bowl game, then you will have been proven wrong.

As for the defense, if you can't see improvement in the defense, that you are choosing to cover your eyes. We held USC to 80 yards less than their normal rushing. We held BC to 80 yards less than their average. Before we yanked our starters against WSU, we had given up 110 total yards over 3-1/2 quarters (which is better than USC did with their highly ranked D).

We aren't any closer than when Weis took over? If you can't see the talent upgrade on this team, then you are either not being objective or you really don't understand football. When Weis took over, we hadn't been to a BCS bowl game in 5 years, there is a chance we could go to 3 in his first 5 years. What other barometer would you use to measure improvement besides bowl games and talent?

If the defense continues to improve, we continue to win by ever larger margins (especially with Floyd back), and we win out, we will be sitting in a good position going into next year. So sit back and watch the rest of the season. Come back and brag about how insightful you are if we drop 1 or 2 more games. If we win out, fess up to being wrong and jump on the bandwagon.

11/06/2009 08:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a couple of more animals on the d-line and o-line and we are getting close. We have more quality depth than we've had in a long time. The team wants to win. We are almost there.

11/06/2009 09:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, I think Weis needs to go, but I understand and respect those who feel otherwise based on his exceptional recruiting abilities and the fact he's had the Irish in BCS bowls twice already.

What I can't accept is how all the Weis apologists want to give the pound-for-pound best coach in his own mind a complete pass on 2007 and 2008.

Were the kids those years were less talented. Sure. But does Weis have no responsibility to coach the kids up?

2007 and 2008 were the most embarrassing teams in the history of the school. By far.

And just so we're all on the same page, Brian Kelly's last two recruiting classes were ranked 60th and 44th by Rivals. Do you see Kelly whining or his teams folding like lawn chairs? Hardly. Tony Pike goes down and what happens? The Bearcats don't skip a beat. The Irish lose their top WR because Clausen lobs an uncatchable pass onto the pavement at Michigan and everyone wants to throw a pity party for poor Charlie.


You guys want an overrated pompous coach for the next 10 years, so be it. Brian Kelly's come along one every five years. The last time the Irish missed his name was Urban Meyer. Feels like deja vu all over again.

11/07/2009 12:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, you need remedial math. We are in year 5, not 6. You can continue to repeat "year 6", but you would have an awfully difficult time hiding the fact that Ty coached us in 2004.

First of all, you need a basic reading comprehension class. I wrote that as far as a National Championship game was concerned, this year was over. So, it is year 6 as far as that goes. We won't win it in year 5. Sorry you struggle so much with that.

Wow, how did we do in those BCS games you have touted? Hmmmm. it looked like we didn't even deserve to be there based on the field merit. Almost like there was another selection criteria. Like selling seats and drawing an audience. Hey, but if you enjoyed those beatdowns, keep praising them.

Wow, you mean this 80th ranked defense is getting better? Can they get worse? Hey, but it has only taken us 5 years to get here.

The goal has never been to be a top 15 team. The goal has been to compete for a NC. Something we haven't done since Charlie took the helm. Year 6 people. Just keep making excuses. I demand more personally.

11/07/2009 07:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are demented personally.

11/07/2009 09:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For anyone interested in seeing Kelly's Bearcats first hand, they play Connecticut tonight on ABC-TV.

The Bearcats are on their way to what would be a third consecutive season with 10 victories or more, something that's never been done in the school's history.

11/07/2009 10:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While i agree that ND needs to hire Brian Kelly, it won't happen if Charlie keeps his team winning this year.

Oh, and it is year five, you were wrong and your childish way of trying to explain your way out of it is laughable. Five and six are two different numbers. We are in year five.

Grow up.

11/07/2009 10:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Bern said...

I am 59 years years old and have been an ND fan all my life. I do not think it is unreasonable to question CW's coaching ablity. I truly hope he succeeds, he has worked extremely hard to make it happen.

Having said that if they lose another game or two this year there is a problem. Clausen and Tate will likely leave and the overall direction of the program is in doubt.

The defense has shown signs of improvement and so has the offensive line. I just hope they rise to the occasion for the rest of the year.

11/07/2009 12:25:00 PM  
Anonymous JKM '71 said...

There was no wiggle in the year 5/6 writer's point - he was perfectly clear in his original post that CW had not won an NC in his first five years, including this one - hence his first chance to win one will be in his year 6 if he's back.

I'm afraid that realistically we have to resign ourselves to several more years of Weis mediocrity. He won't be replaced unless, as posters have noted, the team has another November collapse.

But that emphatically does not make him a Notre Dame caliber HC. The improvement so-called is at least partly illusory, derived as it is from a small number of really high-performing players on offense. If you watch a lot of college football - or even just took a good look at our game with USC - you'll see that the talent gap has emphatically not been closed. Clausen, Tate, and a healthy Floyd would start for nearly any team in the country this year. McCarthy might be a nickel back at USC, and Rudolph might make their third team. But no other players in our roster would make the two-deep roster at USC, Texas, or Florida - and that's why we aren't competing for a NC.

It's not improvement in 2009 if you are playing with your own recruits up to the level of - 2005, which in case anyone hasn't noticed this season resembles nearly point for point and position by position: Clausen for Quinn, Tate for Samardijzia, Allen for Walker, Rudolph for Fasano, McCarthy for Zbikowski. Last second loss to USC. Other games closer than they should have been. Return to BCS - and how did that turn out?

2005 wasn't exactly a banner year for ND football, and the next two years were the worst I've seen in 45 years of watching ND fb. Weis looks good now ONLY when compared to his own low level of achievement. The fact that he doesn't lose as many games this year as he has the last two and has coached this team up to the level of four years ago does not inspire confidence.

We're stuck with this blowhard mediocrity because of the longterm contract and because of the further wrenching dislocation that another coaching change would cause.

But anyone who thinks Weis has taken, is in the process of taking, or has the ability to take us back to the elite level of college football that we occupied for most of 60 years does not understand what Notre Dame football is about, what that elite level is, or what it takes the get there. Requirement #1 is a coach who "gets it."

11/07/2009 02:36:00 PM  

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