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The good, the bad, and the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Navy

Oct 30, 2011, 6:21 PM EDT

Jonas Gray Navy

If there’s criticism, it should be of the constructive manner this afternoon, a day after the Irish let go of some frustration on Navy. The 56-14 thumping was the biggest beating of Navy since Tony Rice, Mark Green and Ricky Watters beat up the Midshipmen in 1987.

The victory was a complete mauling — with the Irish dominating nearly every facet of the game. The Irish averaged a gaudy 7.4 yards a play, put up 442 yards on offense and managed to keep the time of possession battle close against a Navy team that just about always dominates the football.

Defensively, the effort was even more impressive. After struggling against the Navy option last year, the Irish kept the ground game in check, keeping Navy consistently “off schedule,” holding the Midshipmen to an average third down of seven yards. Of the 50 runs Navy called, the Irish held 24 of them to two yards or less. That’s the perfect recipe to defeat a great offensive unit and a team that’s had Notre Dame’s number the past few years.

Let’s put the Midshipmen in the rearview mirror as we look at the good, bad and ugly of the Irish’s 56-14 beating of Navy.

THE GOOD

Let’s hit this in bullet points:

* Michael Floyd: It was only the second time the senior had the opportunity to play against the Midshipmen, and he took advantage of his physical mismatch. Dominating on short throws and long, Floyd was the Irish’s best offensive player.

* Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray: Neither broke the long one, but they moved the chains and dominated the football game. After forgetting about the two-headed ground machine, the Irish ran far more often than they threw it.

* Tommy Rees, the game manager: Tommy will find his way into the “Bad” column too, but going 16 of 22 with a nice long touchdown pass is worthy of a mention. Rees was accurate with the ball on a day where the weather wasn’t perfect, and the Irish look ready to switch to their November mode of football, just like they did last season.

* The offensive line: That’s a sackless month for Ed Warinner‘s group, who dominated the line of scrimmage on Saturday. The Irish only had two third downs in the first half, converting them both.

* Austin Collinsworth: He was a special teams dynamo — making multiple tackles in kick coverage, a nice return on a short kickoff, and reminded us that he’s the kind of athlete that’ll get a shot to play once Harrison Smith departs.

* Manti Te’o: He was dominant in the middle of the field. He could’ve been in the books for 25 tackles if the game stayed competitive as he embodied the Irish’s nasty disposition. (His run-blitz for a loss was a thing of beauty.)

* Stephon Tuitt: The Irish aren’t sure what they’re going to do with Tuitt yet, reaping the benefits of his physicality both on the inside and outside of the defensive line. What they are sure of is that Tuitt has already turned into a physical mismatch — and it was obvious yesterday afternoon.

* Louis Nix: The big man also chipped in a big day, with six tackles and a half sack. Between Sean Cwynar and Nix, the Irish are in great shape down the stretch at nose guard.

* Robert Blanton & Jamoris Slaughter: Both members of the secondary played great games at the line of scrimmage, combining for 12 tackles and handling the outside of the option well.

* Dayne Crist: Kelly wanted to get him on the field a series earlier, but the senior quarterback looked good bouncing back from a terribly disappointing Saturday a week ago. (It would’ve been great to get him that touchdown on the QB draw.)

* George Atkinson: Even if he didn’t break another big one, the Irish averaged 30.3 yards a return. Very quietly, the Irish are creeping their way to the top of the statistical heap on kickoff returns.

THE BAD

It’s tough to be too critical about anything after that victory, but let’s officially pick some nits.

* Lateral Damage: Once again, the Irish lost the ball on an incomplete backwards pass. Blaming Rees is the easy thing to do, but Theo Riddick needs to take a better angle on the pattern and Tommy needs to be more accurate.

I think just about every Irish fan would be happy losing the backwards pass deep in the Irish’s own territory.

* Late interceptions: Rees threw a late interception with the Irish already up 49-7 on a 3rd and 6. Rees never should’ve tried to force the ball into the window he had, and his chinstrap slamming reaction showed how upset he was about it.

* Lack of breakaway speed: Theo Riddick tied a career long with his 37 yard catch down the sideline. That’s the good part. But he got caught from behind by a Navy safety. Not sure if Riddick is completely healthy, but either way, file that play under the “maybe he’s not a game-breaker” category.

* Lack of touchbacks: Kyle Brindza spent the first half of the year rocketing kicks into the end zone. Not sure if there’s something wrong or it was strategic, but Brindza didn’t have his regular fastball.

* Fill in the blank: I’m sure I’m forgetting something bad here, but I expect you all to mention it in the comments.

THE UGLY

What could possibly be ugly after this victory? The Irish should be singing Kumbaya together after dealing with an ugly loss in a rivalry game, some hurt feelings, and a team meeting to clear the air.

At 5-3, the Irish need to prepare to hit the road for a night game in Winston-Salem. Get out of there alive, and we can start talking about running the table until Stanford.

  1. gatordomer - Oct 30, 2011 at 7:14 PM

    The Good: playing a team that’s not USC.

    The Bad: the incessant use of the inane term “on/off schedule”; enough already.

    The Ugly: the swing lateral fumble play, which the Irish have worked to perfection, two straight games. Although I’d almost prefer that play being called again than to hear, “on schedule” one more time.

  2. ndfanwabashman - Oct 30, 2011 at 7:21 PM

    The Bad: The tailgate hail?

  3. irish2011 - Oct 30, 2011 at 7:35 PM

    So is the controversy between players and BK over? I hope so! Any word on the 50+ recruits last weekend ?

  4. newyorknd - Oct 30, 2011 at 7:59 PM

    The Bad : the constant references to Matt Barkley and the USC game by the announcers during the NAVY game.

  5. ndtod - Oct 30, 2011 at 8:26 PM

    Any more info on which players were so upset? When I heard Teo was among them I almost threw up in my mouth. The last thing that guy needs is to feel disrespected in some manner. We need him next year.

    • notredamegrad - Oct 31, 2011 at 10:39 AM

      Discretion is obviously warranted in discussing this, but 5 senior starters, plus at least a couple of other upperclassmen (including Manti) expressed their frustration or surprise at Kelly’s comments through Twitter (and of course, not all the starters or upperclassmen even use Twitter), as did former Irish players like Kyle Rudolph, Brian Smith, Jimmy Clausen, and Brady Quinn. We obviously have no idea who responded how apart from those quickly deleted comments.

    • paiten34 - Nov 4, 2011 at 12:16 AM

      To put it nicely Teo needed a kick in the ass after the USC. That was by far his worse performance of the season. He wasn’t attacking the line, covering his gap or wrapping up when he made tackles.

      Now he wasn’t the only one but he needs to be a leader if he wants that high draft pick money when he leaves ND. With injuries all along the front 7 ND has young players and Manti needed to step up and make the plays he normally does. All Kelly did was reminded the older guys that the young guys have the correct attitude. The attitude the Kelly wants on his team.

  6. c4evr - Oct 30, 2011 at 11:08 PM

    How about Kelly’s 180 after being asked whether he apologized to his players in light of Thursday’s comments. When it suits him, he keeps things in the ‘family’, but publicly calling out his players’ poor play and disparaging Weis’ recruits was fit for mass consumption. What a classless boob – even if he calculated his comments to garner desired results, using the media to compensate for your lack of coaching ability is a slippery slope. That was the ugliest of the ugly. He could have simply said ‘Yeah, I apologized to the guys… I should never have said something so ridiculous, much less thought it.’

    • shamrocknroll - Oct 31, 2011 at 4:05 PM

      Ugliest of the ugly? Give me a break. Kelly’s comments were sooooo overblown. Anyone who heard them in realtime, in proper context, was wondering what this “nontroversy” was all about the next day.

  7. treeplaydomer - Oct 31, 2011 at 5:48 AM

    Here’s a bad/ugly: Doug Flutie. I could understand that he doesn’t want to be seen as an Irish lackey, and when criticism is deserved, go for it, but he doesn’t have to be resident hater either. How can he speak ominously in the pregame about the frosh d-linemen not being able to handle Navy’s run game, and then blow off the team’s great performance by calling it a “glorified scrimmage”? A team you’ve lost 3 of 4 to ain’t no scrimmage. That’s just bad, Dougie. Oh, the ugly? See Flutie’s attempt at hairline compensation.
    Great win. Hopefully, the focus and fire become habits for every game.

  8. ndfan606 - Oct 31, 2011 at 5:48 AM

    Another great article, Keith. But I am not buying your argument that Coach Kelly’s comments last thursday were intentional in order to fire up the senior leaders. No disrespect to Navy, but they weren’t the same team we’ve seen the past few years without Ricky Dobbs, who ran the triple option flawlessly and was enough of a threat in the air to keep teams from stacking the box.

    I concede Kelly’s media savvy and transparency and a coaching toolbox that sometimes includes unorthodox motivational techniques. But Keith I believe you’re giving him too much credit by suggesting he deliberately threw his senior class under the bus in order to get them back to that pissed off attitude they brought into the Michigan State game. I think he was just frustrated by a persistent reporter who suggested maybe the team’s inconsistent play is due to it not fully buying in to his methods.

    Lacksadasical play or lack of emotion is not a hallmark of ND’s team this season, and I don’t believe it’s what’s behind the team’s inconsistency and trending lack of discipline.

    On the contrary, I believe ND plays with alot of emotion and pressure, and sometimes when adversity hits the team reacts with panic. I believe the panicked reaction reflects a sophomore quarterback that is going through growing pains, a backup senior QB who’s trying too hard not to fail, a demanding and sometimes in-your-face head coach, and the pressure of having little margin for error since a BSC bowl game is ND’s only real post season option due to not having any conference-related bowl tie-ins.

    I don’t think coming out flat was the problem at all vs. USC. I thought USC set the tone for the game early on with a well conceived physical game plan of running right at ND’s interior in the first quarter and then using those first two drives to set up the play action to take advantage of ND’s weakness in underneath linebacker coverage (e.g., Fox is a downhill middle linebacker who doesn’t have enough lateral ability to change directions and Shembo appears better suited for the Dog role). I don’t believe a lack of fire is what caused the missed tackles, bad angles and turnovers at inopportune times vs. SC. I believe ND was so hyped up for the program’s first night game in years vs. it’s top rival and wanting to prove itself on a prime time stage and get back into the polls and in BCS contention that its defenders overplayed gaps and got into bad angles and some of its playmakers played with too much emotion that lead the team to a sudden 17-0 deficit. Te’o, who has noticeably cut down on over pursuit this season, was a prime example of sometimes playing without poise in the USC game. I believe Crist’s turnovers this season are another example of this and are indicative of him trying so hard not to make a mistake but not of a lack of focus.

    I believe Coach Kelly’s reaction last thursday after practice reflected his annoyance with the reporter’s badgering him about whether or not this team is really bought in. Indeed, recall his reaction when someone questioned whether he knew how to prepare a team coming out of a bye week. He seemed annoyed. I believe Coach Kelly has alot of pride and is self aware of his track record and simply felt insulted that someone would suggest that one of his teams might not be fully buying in to his methods. I believe he did the right thing at first by trying to dodge the question with stock reply, but when the reporter persisted he overreacted and let out some frustration and said a little too much of what was on his mind. I really don’t believe this Notre Dame team is about a lack of fire such that it needs a bad cop to get them motivated. Playing for a BCS birth was plenty of motivation, and Kelly was clear leading up to the USC game that was what the team was playing for. I believe Kelly’s just pissed off it’s taking longer than he thought to get the program turned around. Time will tell whether or not the wound is closed.

  9. norcalirish - Oct 31, 2011 at 6:47 AM

    ndfan606: very well written.

    “I concede Kelly’s media savvy and transparency and a coaching toolbox that sometimes includes unorthodox motivational techniques. But Keith I believe you’re giving him too much credit by suggesting he deliberately threw his senior class under the bus in order to get them back to that pissed off attitude they brought into the Michigan State game. I think he was just frustrated by a persistent reporter who suggested maybe the team’s inconsistent play is due to it not fully buying in to his methods.”

    I thought that exact same thing, I just never got around to writing about it. Giving Brian “the Screaming Eggplant” Kelly credit for “intentionally” calling out the players in the media is a bit of a stretch in my opinion. In reality, he probably just let slip what was on his mind.

    Regardless, excellent writing.

  10. mattnef - Oct 31, 2011 at 7:56 AM

    I know this debate is over and done with, and I hate to bring it up again after such a satisfying win, but everytime I see Crist in the game throwing darts and scrambling for first downs it just makes me sad. The last two games he has looked great (yes, other than the fumble, I know) and I have no doubt that we have no worst record this year with Crist than with Rees behind center. Could Crist have MORE turnovers? Doubtful. Next year I will be routing for two college football teams: the Irish and where ever Crist ends up transferring. He is a class act that deserved better. Sorry, just felt the need to get that off my chest.

  11. notredamegrad - Oct 31, 2011 at 9:44 AM

    I would give you a dozen thumbs up if I could, mattnef. Absolutely.

    Rees has managed things nicely and played very well at times, but we haven’t seen the real development from him that was the selling point for replacing Crist permanently. Like you say, I also can’t imagine that Kelly sticking with Crist and really developing him as QB this year would have yielded a less impressive performance than what we’ve seen from Rees. Once Kelly had pulled Crist (after *half a game*) and started Rees against UM, the exigencies of the game and the QB position locked everybody in, and Crist sure got the short end of that stick. He’s dealt with that with such impressive maturity and leadership. I wish him all the very best (and hope we can see him play more this year).

    • hyde - Oct 31, 2011 at 12:01 PM

      Exactly. Rees has started for basically a full season and he’s still turning the ball over at a high rate. I’m afraid he’s hit his ceiling. It’ll be interesting to see where Crist goes.

    • jomilly - Oct 31, 2011 at 8:53 PM

      I think everyone should start believing that Hendrix is the future. He is a very highly recruit stud athlete and I look for him to win the spot in spring ball!!!!!!!!!!

  12. pjm79nd - Oct 31, 2011 at 10:21 AM

    My main thought after this week’s game is Kelly’s lack of experience in a big-time program. I intend this not as a criticism, i.e., he is unqualified, but as something he must understand.

    Coaching at CMU, GVSU, and Cincy, he had programs where the school and the fans took a loss in stride and moved on to the next game. There were no huge expectations to meet and no terrible disappointments or gnashing of teeth after a loss.

    At ND every loss is a catastrophe, and the great expectations for the team place incredible pressure on the team and coaches. I think the team and the coach have been too tight in the big games, worried more about failing than playing their best and enjoying the opportunity to play on a big stage. It is, of course, a terrible oversimplification to tell players at a program like ND to relax, play your best, enjoy yourselves. But that is the job of a coach: to get the players to play their very best and to motivate them not with fear of failure, but with the desire for victory and accomplishment and the thrill of playing college football at ND. We have played scared in big games.

  13. schuey73 - Oct 31, 2011 at 12:52 PM

    Not much to complain about, but as for bad: Why didn’t we see Hendrix at all? This would have been a great chance to get him some reps. I also thought Tommy could have been pulled for Crist or Hendrix early in the 3rd quarter. The game was well over by then. Overall, I loved the effort and result though!

  14. 808raiderinparadise - Oct 31, 2011 at 3:01 PM

    Everything that happened should happen everytime you play Navy. Not impressed at all. If ND can win the next 3 (@wake forest, Maryland, BC) then @ Stanford might get some good hype. Luck will destroy us tho, we have nobody to guard TE’s on our whole roster.

  15. NDfan1224 - Oct 31, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    The perfectly thrown pass from rees to floyd was good

    http://ndgdn.wordpress.com/

    • pjm79nd - Oct 31, 2011 at 3:37 PM

      Nitpick: it wasn’t perfectly thrown. Like most of Tommy’s passes, it was slightly underthrown and Floyd had to wait for it (just slightly). Look at the replays to see if you agree.

      • bernhtp - Oct 31, 2011 at 6:15 PM

        If you’re going to err a hair on a long throw to Floyd, being a tiny bit short is better than too long; Michael will come up with it. This is actually a criticism of Rees this year: he hasn’t put the ball up often enough for Michael to make a play. This is something that Clausen did really well with Golden and Floyd.

      • dochrd - Oct 31, 2011 at 6:21 PM

        pjm: agreed, and this wasn’t the only ball not “perfectly thrown”. Rees seems to throw behind crossing receivers quite often, as well. I often cringe when I see this, as hitting receivers in stride would lead to much more exciting plays.

    • 808raiderinparadise - Oct 31, 2011 at 7:13 PM

      Perfectly thrown ???? ….. I’m not goign to even start on this one. ND is ridiculous sometimes.

  16. dochrd - Oct 31, 2011 at 6:23 PM

    Keith: this is my go-to ND site before and after each game. Your articles are well-written, in-depth, and the difference in people who post is night and day from 2-3 years ago, when every clown that had a beef with anything posted on this site. I’ve got the iphone app, too! Go Irish!

  17. 808raiderinparadise - Oct 31, 2011 at 7:06 PM

    Not sold on Rees, turns over the ball all the time … Crist should have just played out the season anyways …. Hendrix and Golson the future. Nobody in this blog thinks so but I think Everett Golson is the future for when we have big-time years (BCS gamnes, National championship hunt, Heisman votes) He is the kind of athlete at QB Kelly strives for, Hendrix too. But Everett is special. watch his youtube highlights in highschool … I’m more of a pocket-passer fan myself but thats not the offense Kelly schemes up. If rees had an ounce of atheltic ability he would bail himself out of a lot fo his terrible picks and throws downfield.

  18. fitz79 - Nov 1, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    The Bad: Doug Flutie’s half baked analysis of Notre Dame football. He conveniently skipped from the Irish are in trouble, before to the game, to, after we destroyed Navy, Navy is an injury depleted squad and no real test.

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