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And in that corner… The Navy Midshipmen

Aug 28, 2012, 7:35 PM EDT

Ken Niumatalolo, Emmett Merchant

We’ve had almost nine months to think about it. After finishing the 2011 season on a dour note, Notre Dame — both its team and its fans — have been in an ornery mood hoping to get the bad taste of a disappointing season out of their collective mouths ever since the Irish let Florida State sneak out of Orlando with a victory.

So much has changed from last season. After taking over for Dayne Crist in the season’s opening game, quarterback Tommy Rees now finds himself on the bench with the Irish resetting their offense behind youthful wildcard Everett Golson. Missing the team’s best player, the Irish offense, long identified by the singular brilliance of wideout Michael Floyd, will look to find an answer in the passing game. And while Manti Te’o chose to return for a final season leading the defense, Bob Diaco‘s troops will need to find a back end to stop the big play and a rush end to finally get to the quarterback.

Notre Dame’s first opponent is one of its oldest: Navy. While this game is played 3,600-odd miles farther away than usual, head coach Ken Niumatalolo‘s team is coming off a sour season of their own, a year in which the Midshipmen were uncharacteristically sloppy, and suffered one of their most embarrassing defeats of the year to the Irish.

While we’ve been doing our best to follow the ups and downs of the Navy offseason, we were lucky enough to catch up with Bill Wagner, who covers the Midshipmen for the Annapolis Capital Gazette.

We asked questions, Wagner answered them. Hopefully we can all learn a little bit more about the team the Irish are set to face this weekend.

***

After winning a few big games against the Irish, Notre Dame really beat up the Midshipmen last year, the ugliest game of the season for Navy. Has that been used as fuel during this fall camp?

Yes, Ken Niumatalolo has harped on the fact “We are opening against a team that beat our brains in last year.”

Not sure he’s using it as motivation, but more to warn the players that this is a very, very tough opponent that has the capability to physically whip Navy.

Last season, the Navy defense struggled to contain not just Notre Dame, but a lot of programs. The Midshipmen already have to replace their best defensive player Jabaree Tuani, can Buddy Green assemble a unit that can slow down the Irish offense?

Navy suffered some significant losses on defense, notably Tuani. However, it returns a lot of players who saw playing time. Navy defense is the same as always. A little undersized and not as fast as most BCS programs. The key is execution, running to the football and gang-tackling. Last year’s team didn’t figure that out until too late in the season.

Trey Miller had a tough debut when he came to Notre Dame last season in place of Kris Proctor. Will he be a capable option trigger man or will the Midshipmen adapt their offense to take advantage of his throwing skills?

Trey Miller is a talented quarterback, as athletically gifted as any Navy quarterback in recent history. He is still young and developing a grasp of the triple-option. However, he has matured as a player and as a leader. He has looked very confident in preseason practice.

Last year, Navy lost a ton of games because of the little things — special teams, red zone play, and penalties. How confident is Ken Niumatalolo they that they’ve solved these problems, and what should we make of the handful of key contributors not being able to pass their physical readiness test, a seemingly modest challenge for a college football player.

Niumatalolo was very upset that Navy got away from its trademark of playing mistake-free football, and also playing with great intensity and toughness. Navy went back to the basics during spring practice and also hit a lot in order to develop toughness and physicality. Truth be told, bad placekicking was the difference between a winning and a losing season. Not sure that has been corrected as the kickers have looked awful this August. Freshman Nick Sloan won the job by default.

Special thanks to Bill who has had a ton of demands on his time as he prepares to head to Dublin to watch the big game. If you want to catch up on all things Midshipmen football, head over and check out some of Bill’s work.

  1. don74 - Aug 28, 2012 at 7:48 PM

    46-17 Irish and a happy weekend to all!

    • nudeman - Aug 28, 2012 at 8:18 PM

      Don
      There is a Game Watch for the PHX ND Club at a bar in Scottsdale DC Ranch called West Addison.
      As you would imagine from the name, very much of a Chicago sports bar
      Guinness on tap

      I realize the time for this one is ridiculous, 6a.m., but I’m considering going.
      Any chance for you?

      • don74 - Aug 29, 2012 at 9:41 AM

        Nude,

        Not this one. Need to be at Sky Harbor for a noon flight. Unfortunately I need to be sober when I get where I am going, Purdue is a definite.

  2. nudeman - Aug 28, 2012 at 8:05 PM

    Who’s the starting QB?
    I’d heard Tommy is ready to step up

    • gtizzo - Aug 29, 2012 at 12:34 AM

      Knock, knock? Who is there? Nudeman telling a Tommy Rees joke…(collective groan)

  3. joeschu - Aug 28, 2012 at 8:09 PM

    Ornery, eh? Guilty as charged

    • nudeman - Aug 28, 2012 at 8:16 PM

      All is cool
      Love it when I get roughed up here

  4. kiopta1 - Aug 28, 2012 at 8:39 PM

    A bunch of the guys in my fam are headed over to my cousin’s house early to watch the game ( or at least a half). Then we are headed to BWs for our fantasy draft. Thank you football season cause baseball bores me and politics angers the blood.

    • dickasman - Aug 29, 2012 at 12:46 AM

      Don’t worry Obama will win the re election and raise your taxes and give you extra food stamps.

  5. dbldmr - Aug 28, 2012 at 9:51 PM

    Hosting 8:00 AM eggs and kegs in Texas. Go Irish!

    • jaz1675 - Aug 29, 2012 at 7:22 AM

      What part of Texas? Do you know of any bars in Houston that a ND club gets together to watch the games?

      Go Irish!!!!!!!

      • dbldmr - Aug 29, 2012 at 9:50 AM

        DFW area. Can’t help on Houston.

  6. ndfanwabashman - Aug 28, 2012 at 10:41 PM

    I’ve set my ipod up to play the fight song as my alarm. I’ve also hid some iPod speakers under the bed and cranked them up to the max. 5:00 AM Saturday my wife better be ready for the season.

    • dickasman - Aug 29, 2012 at 12:44 AM

      Hahaha, somebody is getting btch slapped at 5 am. If this is true, I’d sleep w a lulzsec face mask!

      • irishbornraised - Aug 29, 2012 at 2:13 AM

        “so honey, we are up…”

  7. gtizzo - Aug 29, 2012 at 12:38 AM

    What a stupid answer when talking about Trey Miller. The really answer he isn’t Ricky Dobbs…end of story.

  8. dickasman - Aug 29, 2012 at 12:42 AM

    Hey I just realized that game is on at freaking 8am, whatttt daaaa? Who’s brilliant idea was this anyway? Jesus crimity. Robbing me an opportunity of watching our only possible win this season. Please do not do this ever again jack, bad idea!

  9. mtflsmitty - Aug 29, 2012 at 1:13 AM

    Where in TX, dbldmr?

    WabashMan…hilarious! You’re either a newlywed, or a glutton for punishment. Have already had to have a couple pre-season counseling sessions here so my better half will consider my company during games this season. I’ve tried to explain. But she just doesn’t understand how painful last season was. (I have nightmares seeing the ball hit TJ Jones in the head over and over again)

    But alas, 2011 is well behind us, and a whole new season is ahead of us. For the sake of my marriage, it better be a good one.

    Go Irish.

    • dbldmr - Aug 29, 2012 at 2:36 PM

      DFW area, mtflsmitty.

  10. jpwills19 - Aug 29, 2012 at 2:11 AM

    Finally, I have a legitimate reason to spike my coffee with Jameson at 6AM PST.

    • irishbornraised - Aug 29, 2012 at 3:01 AM

      puh-leez, 3 am in the 808

  11. 1historian - Aug 29, 2012 at 7:42 AM

    It’s 4:30 a.m. when the damn alarm goes off in your west coast home.

    Your first thought is “why is the damn alarm going off at 4:30 on Saturday of Labor Day weekend???!!!”

    Then you remember.

    You kiss the wife, whose response is “mmmm”, drag your sorry butt out of the bed, stumble to the bathroom, take a leak, mumble a bit, ask yourself (again) why you’re doing this – an easy question to answer – and head for the kitchen.

    You start your breakfast of B&E – you’re health conscious and you only have a meal like that a few times a year and for some reason it’s always during football season. The coffee-maker is already at work, having begun pre-set deliberations at 4:25 a.m. You stumble around a bit more and then go get your football watching clothes on. For some reason as you are putting them on you think of fall days in South Bend when you were up before dawn on a Saturday without having an alarm.

    You take Irish (a yellow lab) for his morning stroll (you live out in the country and the nearest neighbor is 1/4 mile away) and the 2 of you discuss the affairs of the day while you drink your strong black coffee and he marks his territory. You think to yourself – “that’s a good idea!” So you do the same. (When he takes a dump in the woods you draw the line.)

    After a few more minutes you head back to the house and the odor of cooking bacon is just – well, you know what it is. Then you think how drop-dead cool it is that the 1st game of the season for your Alma Mater is being played in Ireland. Who else can say that?

    The wife comes into the kitchen so you set her a place and feed her some B&E (you only have it a few times a year) and as you’re both eating (you’re a damn good cook) glances are exchanged, you look at the clock, (it’s 45 minutes until the game starts) and neither one of you cares about the pre-game TV hoopla or ever has, and she has that “wanna?” smile on her face.

    Or

    you roll over and stop the alarm and go back to sleep.

    Your choice

    • nudeman - Aug 29, 2012 at 10:04 AM

      1histy
      That’s hilarious and well written.
      Pure poetry.
      Only thing missing is a reference to the smell of burning leaves.

    • nudeman - Aug 29, 2012 at 10:05 AM

      BTW, would you really put bacon on then go out for a 15 minute walk with the dog?
      Maybe a VERRRRRY low flame

      • 1historian - Aug 29, 2012 at 6:32 PM

        nudie – thanks for your compliments and permit me to address your concerns.

        Bacon – The bacon was left in the freezer overnight and taken out and put in the frying pan and the temp was set VERY low – just prior to leaving for the walk. (And a close eye was kept on the watch during the walk.)

        Re: the smell of burning leaves. It’s only the 1st of September. Even in northern New England, where I live, it’s at least another month until the leaves start falling. It is true that they do smell wonderful.

        Your caution is commendable. I don’t care what the others say (neither do you!) – I like you.

        I forgot to mention how good the coffee smelled when you came back in the house. The smell of good strong coffee and bacon makes a nice combination.

    • msmmh - Aug 29, 2012 at 11:06 AM

      Historian,

      Great post. It takes me back to when I was a kid growing up in South Bend. Saturdays were for two things Speed Buggy and Irish football. To be honest I didn’t know there were other teams out there, or even cared. My earliest memories were from somewhere around the 74 season and my favorite players were Ken MacAfee, Vagas Ferguson, and Joe Montana. As a matter of fact I had the 77 Championship poster on the wall of my room for many years until it got so many holes that my mom made me take it down.

      My parents divorced when I was young but some of the fondest memories of my childhood was watching Irish football with my dad. He passed away last year and the last thing we did together was watch a Irish game. He was in comma at the time but I know he knew what was going on. He would move around during the game. The doctors said that it was involuntary movements but I knew better. I was with my dad watching the Irish, nothing could be better.

      I know people say its just a game but to me, it was a connection with my dad that I will have for the rest of my life. I have passed that tradition down to my son and you better believe that we will be in front of that TV on Saturday morning (no matter the time).

      Go Irish!

      • nudeman - Aug 29, 2012 at 11:30 AM

        msm
        Nice post, and may your dad rest in peace
        My dad intro’d me to ND football, and for me, growing up in Chicago the ultimate Saturday afternoon was this:
        Weather: Crispy, 50 – 55 degrees, but sunny
        Game: Probably NOT on tv, as only 2/year were back then (early/mid 60s)
        Van Patrick on the radio, Huarte, then Hanratty tossing long passes to Snow, then Seymour, then later Theismann & Gatewood
        Game over; Irish win big; go outside to play, smell of burning leaves prevails
        Then maybe Saturday afternoon Confession w. Fr. Langan

        Perfect

      • 1historian - Aug 29, 2012 at 6:34 PM

        For you to tell me that something I wrote evokes your memories of your dearly departed dad is an honor.

        Thank you

  12. 1historian - Aug 29, 2012 at 7:48 AM

    The moral of my story is – “we’re out of cheese so please – no whining!”

  13. fnc111 - Aug 29, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    This season is going to get ugly and I think Keith knows it just like I know it. Kelly should start re-recruiting this 2013 class now because if it falls apart in a few months it could mean the end of ND football ever having a chance at getting back to 10+ win seasons.

    The secondary is giving me nightmares, the fact that ND has no ability to put pressure on the QB, and the distractions of all the suspensions make this season smell like disaster.

    I think if Kelly can find a way to not look like a purple dinosaur on the sidelines and grind to a 7-5 season all while showing these recruits there is some hope for the future, then it will be a job well done.

    • ndfaithful - Aug 29, 2012 at 5:39 PM

      FNC –

      I think you’re right. I think this season is going to get really ugly really fast. For the the ND opposition.

      I think you’re right about getting started with the class of 2013 too, because everyone is going to want to enroll when we reel off 8-9 straight wins and the house that Rockne built is rockin’ in a new era of thunder coming down from the skies.

      And you sound like the Navy QB with those nightmares… no – wait – i have too much respect for Navy to say that. You sound like a MIAMI quarterback with your nightmares. Because you must know that while our corners are young, they’re fast. And one errant pass from you is likely to end up in the Irish end-zone. Or a high pass is going to get your WR Slaughter’d.

      And the only purple you’ll see will be your own bruises when the D-line gets going and gets Tuitt to it and your starting running back gets Nix’d.

      I wouldn’t worry so much if you’re an Irish fan, but it sounds like you’re on the other team already.

    • 1historian - Aug 29, 2012 at 6:38 PM

      I disagree

  14. mtflsmitty - Aug 29, 2012 at 4:25 PM

    Having travelled on business the last two days, and a morning full of office work I thought there could be no better break in my day than to drop by to enjoy all the comments and thoughts as we move toward Saturday morning.

    And you guys haven’t let me down. I appreciate you sharing the remembrances, and the special places ND football hold in your family traditions. I can relate to most all of them, and love sharing the same with my kids now.

    But you, fnc, you must be one miserable SOB. After six months of reading posts here, one begins to get a sense of people. I hope I’m wrong. But I get the clear sense you’re torn up inside with resentments and frustration. You seem like the kind of person who just can’t find a way to enjoy being happy. I do hope I’m wrong. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

    • nudeman - Aug 29, 2012 at 6:18 PM

      I’d say you’ve got him nailed to a T

  15. 1historian - Aug 29, 2012 at 6:54 PM

    Kelly is not afraid to go with youth, AKA HIS recruits – in this case. 2 years from now they will all be his recruits, but right now 1/2 the junior class and all the senior class are CW recruits.

    We will see this season how good a recruiter he is and we will see how good he is at taking that 3, 4 & 5 star talent and coaching it UP.

    I’m an optimist – I think they are going to kick some serious butt this year. I see them being 4-0 after taking care of Michigan – WAY overdue, and MSU.

    We need a signature game. A game that (almost) nobody thinks we have a chance to win. Preferably on unfriendly turf. Maybe even a game that returns us to those thrilling days of yesteryear (yes – I’m that old) back to 1957, when the Irish went to Norman, Oklahoma to face a team what had won 47 straight games, still a record.

    A touchdown with just a few minutes to go, final score 7-0. The streak is broken.

    I’ll settle for that

  16. 1historian - Aug 30, 2012 at 7:36 AM

    addendum to the above – remember last season when Kelly was heard saying some not so complimentary things about the talent he inherited? No nasty intended here but I do think it should be part of what I said.

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