Hope everybody had a spooky night and is ready for a hopefully less frightening evening against Navy.
Let’s get to your questions. Or should I say manifestos.
I stayed away from some repeats and also Heisman’d the post comparing turnovers between the Irish’s last two quarterbacks. At this point, I’m not walking back into the mistakes of the 2013 season, not with so many potential big things ahead for this team.
Here we go…
martyhealy: My question is, How much politicking behind the scenes is likely with the voting members to gang up on the SEC? In other words if a Pac 12, Big 10, or Big 12 team has no chance due to their top record with two losses they get a member or members to vote for their conference if that member(s) conference team has a bad 11-2 record or worse.
These aren’t electoral voters. The selection committee was purposely filled with some of the most ethical people surrounding the world of college football. So I think it’s a little bit silly to think that party lines are being drawn and backroom wheeling and dealing is already underway, especially with a month left in the season.
And remember, it’s not like the old system didn’t have this happening. It wasn’t that long ago where Mac Brown took to ESPN’s air waves during halftime of November games to push for the Longhorns to get their shot. And he was hardly alone.
There are a million questions about the playoff and ND’s spot in it. But let the process play out. Taking this poll as anything but a very fluid starting place is kind of meaningless.
blackirish23: In the BCS era, the AP and Coaches polls actually played a significant role (2/3) of the BCS poll. Now that we have an official playoff committee whose sole job is to rank the teams after week 7 or 8 without giving any consideration to the Coaches and AP polls, is it about time we did away with both those polls?
I’d love to see the polls abolished. Or at least have people openly acknowledge that the polls are essentially meaningless, especially considering that they don’t play a factor into anything, and likely get even less attention from pollster and coaches now.
Worth pointing out. B/R asked me to be a voter in their weekly exercise. I thought it’d be fun. But I absolutely HATE voting, and find myself moving the puzzle pieces around until I get frustrated and say, “this looks about right.”
ndoneill: Does Notre Dame have enough potential quality wins left on its schedule to make the playoff, even with winning out? It seems the committee is judging between one-loss teams based on “best win,” not “best loss.” Assuming ND wins out, will a win against (currently) #25 Louisville be enough to set them apart if the other one-loss teams currently ranked ahead also win out?
They certainly are judging it that way based on October results. But you didn’t see any two-loss teams up there, did you? So when all things are created equal, good wins probably should overrule good losses.
But again…. We’ve just gotta relax and let things play out. Notre Dame looked on the outside looking in back in 2012 before Oregon and Kansas State spit the bit. Six teams in front of the Irish play each other. A bunch of others are going to lose, too, and some in pretty shocking fashion.
Embrace the chaos and just enjoy the ride.
irishking: do you seriously believe that ND will win out? Do tell.
Why not? I don’t think Brian Kelly’s coached a team that wasn’t better in November than it was in September/October, and that should be the case with this group as long as no major injuries come along.
Should they win all the games? If they play well. Will they play well? I’d think so.
I tend to think tonight’s game is a big piece of the puzzle, and getting out of there without expending too much energy — and losing too many guys to injury — is critically important.
But you’re also looking at a guy that spends all August trying to figure out how ND can run the table every season, and practically talked himself into it again this year. (A horribly depressing habit until the past few years.)
irishmob89: Keith. Does Brian VanGorder’s aggressive defense match up better with Navy than Bob Diaco’s “bend but don’t defecate in your pants” defense? More specifically, does the Irish have the speed to prevent Navy’s backs from hurting Notre Dame on the edges?
Can I tell you tomorrow?
(My hunch? Navy will score some points, Keenan Reynolds is too good, and finally healthy. But ND will get their share of stops.)
goirishgo: Do you believe this lighter, faster ND defense matches up better against Navy’s option than in previous years?
I do. I like the idea of Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt chasing the option better than Carlo Calabrese and Jarrett Grace.
newmexicoirish: Keith, I will try again. I asked about our coaching staff in the last mailbag and for whatever reasons you elected not to answer my question. Certainly your prerogative, but I’ll give it another shot!
As someone who is close to the program, do you believe the fiasco with the frozen five may have CBK taking a serious look at the NFL should the later show an interest? Lots of articles written in which the authors felt Coach Kelly was put in a very difficult and uncomfortable position by the university as front man for this whole mess, without providing him any information with which to answer some very pointed questions. Being rather savvy politically, I’m wondering if he is playing things close to the vest while seething behind the scenes?
I was one of the people loudly saying that Kelly was put in a brutal position. And I’m also someone who wouldn’t begrudge anybody in the world from taking a new job if the new position was paying you millions of dollars and at the height of your profession.
Who knows if this is a dealbreaker for BK? I don’t think it is, just because this has always been one of the cut-and-dry things that come with Notre Dame. Get in trouble/do something wrong in the classroom? It’s not in the coach’s hands anymore.
The university’s treatment of Michael Floyd after his DUI arrest shows that Notre Dame has made changes to their draconian student-life discipline process and that ultimately they trusted Kelly to handle things correctly. But don’t expect things to budge from an Honor Code perspective. Just look at the fiasco at North Carolina, which tarnishes a university and diploma about as much as you can.
Don’t expect any coach to let a school know in advance when they’re going to jump to the NFL. That’s why these guys have agents. But I don’t see Kelly going anywhere imminently. He’s built too good of a program to let someone else take this 2-3 year run.
ndlv: If I remember correctly, one of the Weis – Clausen games against Navy (2009?) was a disaster because of turnovers. To cut down on the possibility of interceptions (which can kill ND against Navy, as they limit the # of offensive possessions), is this the week when Notre Dame brings back some old school run-between-the-tackles football? Dust off the fullbacks (are there any on the roster?) and the blocking tight ends, then a steady diet of Folston running through tackles!
You asked this question before the Pregame Six Pack, but Kelly’s leaned heavily on the running game against Navy, with Tommy Rees only throwing 20 times last year. The Irish ran 46 times the last time Everett Golson faced the Midshipmen, and I expect the ground game to get churning, too.
If you want to slam your head into a table a few dozen times, go back and look at that 2009 football game. Notre Dame didn’t punt once. Jimmy Clausen threw for 450+ yards. Between the zillion red zone mistakes and the critical safety they gave up, the Irish literally invented a way to lose that football game.
tusconfan: Keith, did you know Willingham? If so what would you say his attitude towards ND is vis a vis his role on the committee?
I met Ty Willingham once. I was a student sitting in the bleachers at Eck Stadium and he came in after riding his bike around campus, just months after he was hired. So I don’t know him, nor could I speak towards his attitude.
But I think any worries that Ty or Condi or Pat Haden or X or Y or Z is going to screw Notre Dame makes people sound silly. Keep winning. Solves a lot of problems.
jerseyshorefannd1: ND changed to field turf and the world didn’t end. Actually, I think most would agree that it has been a real positive. Given that success, are there any other changes on the horizon that are being seriously discussed within the program (not just specifically the addition of a jumbotron)?
I might be the only one, but I think the remodel is going to be awesome. It will trap some of the noise in the stadium and give the university a chance to make some adjustments to the current set-up. (For instance, people’s butts have gotten a lot bigger over the past 20-30 years.)
One thing that I really think will help (other than a video board, which I’m also 100% in favor of) is the ability to have an open air press box. You want to know why media and reporters always talk about the crowd being relatively quiet at Notre Dame Stadium? It’s because you can’t hear anything from the press box. It’s sealed tight with seemingly sound-proof glass.
Not that it doesn’t come in handy on a chilly Saturday, but if your job is to capture the atmosphere at the stadium, you can do it better watching the NBC broadcast than up in the box.
dudeacow: We’re number 1 in overall GSR again. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea why it’s so good to have a high graduation success rate. It seems to me that that means it’s really easy to graduate from the school. Can you explain why this is an important metric?
Seems to me that you might want to rethink that logic. Are you serious? Why is it good to have a high graduation rate? I don’t know, so the kids playing college football actually graduate from college.
Add that to the other ranking tools that list Notre Dame regularly among the top universities in the country and you can start to understand why the athletic department and university rightfully boast about the accomplishment.
deadman3020: So what do you think, % wise, that E. Golsen returns next year?
99 percent. (And it’s G-O-L-S-O-N.)
oldestguard: How soon will this playoff system be expanded to 8 teams?
Billion dollar question. The current TV deal states that this stay at four teams, but you’ve got to think the pressure to expand will be immense. A few months back BK threw his hat in the 8-team ring, and I can’t blame any coach for wanting it a little bit bigger.
Remember all those worries that a playoff would ruin the regular season? Sure doesn’t seem like it now.
wisner74: With the Navy game next, Eilar Hardy comes to mind because of his perhaps game-saving play late in the 4th quarter of last year’s game. Since he’s now back at practice, will he be on the field at all this season? The Irish could certainly use him with all of the injuries at safety. Also, if he does have a two semester suspension in front of him, is there any chance at all he’ll actually sit it out at ND and play his last year in the ’16 season, or is he likely to transfer and play somewhere else in ’15?
Kelly referenced some things that still needed to happen before Hardy was eligible to return. I think that’s a university matter, so this isn’t in BK’s hands. I’ve never reported that Hardy was gone or had a two-semester suspension pending. But I have no reason to think that what Pete Sampson is saying is incorrect, and I’d honestly be shocked if it wasn’t.
Having Hardy back on the practice field will be helpful. Having him in the secondary would be even better, but I tend to think that’s a pipedream.
It’s too bad that Hardy’s career wasn’t a bigger success. Between the knee injury, the self-inflicted blunders (he was suspended for two different games last season, one after he had found success at safety) even before this current mess.
I’ve got a feeling you’ll be seeing him start for Chuck Martin next season at safety.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to deal with trolls and other problem posters. I believe the best thing to do is ignore them. They feed off attention, good or bad. Ignore them, and they’ll go away. But I noticed that even you give them attention, so maybe you know something I don’t.
I don’t like it when sites treat posters like kindergartners, even when some deserve to be treated as such. But I have to admit your recent threat has had a positive effect. We’ll see how long that lasts.
I just hate to see you wasting your time policing the comments when you should be researching and writing.
If your recent guidelines aren’t followed, I implore everyone to simply ignore the idiots. I know it’s not easy, but I think it’s worth a shot. What are your thoughts on this, Keith?
I’m answering this question because I’m trying to fight the good fight with commenters. And credit to some people for cleaning up their act. I implemented those “guidelines” (thanks for the help, Mom) to try and add some baseline expectations to the free-for-all.
But honestly people, I don’t have time to go through and be the arbiter of taste and appropriateness down below. Self-govern. Enjoy yourself. Debate among (cyber)friends. And if there’s ever a good rule, “Don’t feed the trolls.”
But I’m ready, willing and able to nuke posters. Especially if one or two people are ruining things for everyone. But everyone just be nice, talk about Notre Dame football and enjoy yourselves. I’m not asking you to solve any political crisis.
tampabayirish: Keith, I tried to get this question in last week but I missed the deadline. Does anyone know where the next “Navy home game” will be played on Nov 5, 2016 in the Notre Dame series. Let me first offer Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. It is closest to my home and the midshipmen could board and take over the Buccaneers pirate ship in the north end zone. With the chronic poor of play of the Bucs, there is bound to be plenty of surplus Celebratory ammo on board.
Perhaps on a more serious note, we could make an argument for Navy moving the game to San Diego. It’s a great navy town. The weather is the best in the country. You would have to schedule around San Diego State. But that could be done. I am sure that the Irish would welcome a chance to make two California trips that season. In fact, what about playing Navy in San Diego as part of the Shramrock Series.
Not sure about Tampa, but I’m 100 percent in for a Shamrock Series game in San Diego. I’ll see you at Petco Park, because the football stadium is a dump.
Navy hasn’t announced where the 2016 game is being played yet. But with the Shamrock Series returning to San Antonio and Syracuse already playing in the Meadowlands, it’ll likely be a fun location. If you’re hosting, I’m sure the university will give Tampa Bay solid consideration.
Hey Keith – long time listener, first time caller…
I’ve got a few questions for you:
1. Have you seen any indications that the team is extra motivated now after having the Florida State game “stolen” from them and/or the “disrespect” shown by the selection committee?
2. Regarding the 4 players who are out this year – what impact does this have on their remaining eligibility? Can they count this season as a redshirt?
3. Just how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?
1) No. But I wouldn’t blame them if they used it as fuel.
2) This is a bit tricky, but I was told by someone at Notre Dame that the year won’t could for eligibility, so Ishaq Williams can return for a fifth year and KeiVarae will have two seasons of eligibility left. The fact that DaVaris Daniels is potentially weighing a return leads you to believe that’s the case.
3) Ask the owl.
First time commenter. I’ve read every Inside The Irish post for the last 5-10 years, and every ND article I can find on the internet daily for the past 10-15 years. This is hands down my default site for timely, well-reported news. So thank you. 2 Questions.
The Playoff Committee is to take into consideration injuries when a team plays sub-par. Do you think that should be a criterion for the Committee? What are they judging…football programs as a whole, or how they potentially could play on one special hypothetical day when all starters are healthy and are assumed to stay healthy the entire game? It’s a subjective way to justify overlooking a loss. Does the overall quality and depth of a program not matter?
Most CFP analysts (and common fans) say everything will play itself out, the SEC West will beat itself up, forcing the Committee to place other teams in the Top 4 at season’s end. Given the Committee’s first rankings, can we be so sure? Three of the top four one-loss teams (rankings #3 thru #6) are SEC West teams, implying their losses to each other are the least-penalized. Do you have any fear that if Miss St ends with one loss and all other teams in the Top 15 each add one loss (mathematically possible I believe), we’ll be in the same situation and the final playoff will have 3 teams from the SEC?
Sorry for length. Cut down as you see fit, I tried already. Will keep as short as possible in future.
Naptown, I read this question like five times. I’m not actually sure what the question is, though the committee will factor in all sorts of things when deciding who the Top 4 teams end up being. And I tell you what — If ND ends up 11-1 and sitting out, I’ll buy everybody beers at the Orange Bowl.
Thanks for asking a question. Next one is bound to be a bit more concise.
As Notre Dame and Navy meet for the 88th straight time, we reach a familiar time of year and a particularly scary Saturday for the Irish. As ghosts and goblins prepare to roam the streets in search of trick or treat, the Irish coaching staff receives its annual scare in the form of a triple-option offense and a football team with nothing to lose.
That Notre Dame still plays Navy on an annual basis is a story in its own right. While most college football fans see it as an easy win for a team using tradition as an excuse for a mark in the win column, the truth is a far more noble endeavor.
While the story is well-told within Notre Dame circles, Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister did a great job retelling it, reminding Irish fans that during World War II, the Naval Academy kept the university’s doors open.
Notre Dame was in desperate need of students as the war and its repercussions cut significantly into its enrollment. The Midshipmen School and the V-12 Program began at Notre Dame in 1943, and by mid-war, civilian undergrads totaled only about 250. The rest of the enrollment was dedicated to the training of naval officers.
So closely tied was the University to the Naval Academy that Notre Dame’s football roster in 1943 included the “military status” of each player. Approximately 12,000 officers completed their training at Notre Dame from 1942-46. In 1947, an Air Force detachment was established on campus.
In 1946, Admiral Chester Nimitz – who had accepted O’Donnell’s plea in 1941 – was presented with an honorary degree from Notre Dame. In 1947, Rear Admiral Cary Jones presented Notre Dame President Rev. John J. Cavanaugh with a commemorative plaque honoring Notre Dame’s “efficiency, patriotism and cooperative spirit.”
Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh – Notre Dame’s president from 1952-87, and a former Navy chaplain, by the way – was a strong proponent of the Notre Dame-Navy football series.
“The Notre Dame-Navy connection is very close,” said Hesburgh, now 97, in 2013. “We’re like a big family…They’re always going to be on our schedule.”
For over 40 years, Navy remaining on Notre Dame’s football schedule meant a victory, with the Irish setting an NCAA record with 43-straight victories over the Midshipmen. But since Paul Johnson and Ken Niumatalolo took the Navy football program to new heights, the matchup has turned into a battle far more befitting of college football’s longest running intersectional rivalry.
As we get to this week’s Pregame Six Pack, here’s a tip of the cap to a tradition worth honoring, even if it comes with pitfalls and challenges that make the Midshipmen one of the most grueling games on the schedule.
On a Saturday where one key battle should tell the story, Navy’s propensity to turn the football over is a very big problem for the Midshipmen.
So much attention has been paid to Everett Golson’s turnover issues these past four games. Brian Kelly has made it clear that this weekend, those poor decisions and mistakes need to be eradicated, especially if Notre Dame wants to win in a convincing fashion.
“Everett knows what the charge is there running the offense,” Kelly said Tuesday. “He’s got to be accurate. He’s got to be clean in terms of taking care of the football, and we’ve got to be on top of things offensively. If we’re not, it’s going to be a dogfight.”
But entering Saturday’s matchup with Navy, the Midshipmen’s struggles holding onto the football loom even larger. Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo knows that the margin for error on Saturday is razor thin. And he knows for his team to be able to stay close, they’ve got to win the turnover battle.
That’s been the key stat when Navy has hung with Notre Dame. And that’s been the key problem for a 4-4 Midshipmen team that can’t afford to give the football away.
Navy ranks 106th in the nation in turnover margin. At a woeful -5 in the give-and-takeaway battle, the Midshipmen have no chance to beat Notre Dame if they end up giving the Irish offense more opportunities than they already get, and short-circuit offensive drives that serve two strategic keys (running the clock and scoring points).
Brian VanGorder’s defense has forced 15 turnovers this season, already surpassing their regular season total from last year. And if the Irish defense manages to make Keenan Reynolds play a poor game from a ball security perspective, the Irish should win running away tomorrow.
Passing the football won’t be a big part of Navy’s game plan. But the ability to protect the quarterback will be crucial for both teams.
In the past, we’ve seen the Irish attack Navy’s defense in multiple ways. In last year’s 38-34 victory, Tommy Rees only threw the ball 20 times (two of those passes were intercepted). In the Irish’s 2012 blowout victory, Golson only attempted 18 passes (and Andrew Hendrix threw five times in mop-up duty), with the Irish running the ball 46 times for 293 yards.
Charlie Weis sometimes chose to attack Navy’s defense differently. While he stuck with running the football in 2008, down 21-7 in 2009, Weis had Jimmy Clausen throw almost exclusively against Buddy Green’s defense, completing 37 of 51 throws for 451 yards against the Midshipmen, with the Irish losing because they only managed to score only twice on their six red zone attempts.
That background is the long way to get to the pass rushing disparity in this football game. In years past, Navy has done an excellent job of scheming their way into being disruptive in the Irish pass game. But while the ghost of Ram Vela might still haunt Irish fans, the Navy pass rush has really struggled this season, managing only three sacks on the season. That’s good for a tie for dead last in all of college football.
On the flip side of the ball, while the numbers haven’t necessarily shown it, the Irish have been much better this season manufacturing pressure on quarterbacks. While they’ve only netted 13 sacks, that’s a big problem for the Midshipmen, because their offensive line is giving up sacks at an astonishing rate.
The Midshipmen have given up 15 sacks this season, good for a respectable 57th in the country. But Navy’s only attempted 86 passes this season. While Navy’s game plan might only include a half-dozen passing attempts on Saturday, getting Reynolds enough time to get the throw off is critical.
Consider this another place where the Irish could turn this game ugly quickly, especially if they get out to a big lead.
Let’s take a long trip down Memory Lane to see how Brian VanGorder plans on defending the option.
We’ve already talked about the decade that’s come and gone since Notre Dame’s new defensive coordinator has taken on the option. But Saturday presents an interesting matchup when VanGorder will take on Niumatalolo and Ivin Jasper as the Irish defense goes up against Navy’s triple option.
Jarron Jones already let slip the plan for Isaac Rochell to slide inside. That should be no surprise considering the Irish haven’t attempted to defend the option with a three-man front since the debacle in the Meadowlands in Navy’s lopsided 35-17 victory. Brian Kelly also pointed out that fifth-year senior Justin Utupo will see plenty of action, showcasing a great (albeit undersized) motor when pressed into duty last season.
In addition to a wonderful breakdown that looked at the changes the Irish made in their defensive schemes against Navy after the humiliating 2010 loss, our friends at OneFootDown went into the Way Back machine and dug out some footage of VanGorder’s Georgia defense taking on the option game of Georgia Southern.
VanGorder ran a base defense that looked an awful lot like a 5-2, rolling up two outside linebackers with a three-man front. And while the decade — not to mention Kelly’s four seasons of experience facing Navy — and the Irish personnel will likely mean a four-man front for the Irish, VanGorder’s scheme looks fairly similar to the one the Irish played out over the past few seasons.
Here’s the conclusion OFD reached after breaking down a lot of really old television footage.
To be honest, this video looked a lot like Notre Dame’s game against the Midshipmen. The three plays I covered in this post are almost exactly the same as three of the plays I covered in my Navy Review post.
This style of defense is “bend but don’t break” taken to an extreme. The offense can get 4-6 yards whenever it wants, and the defense has to count on a missed block or a penalty to stall the drive. One or two stops is all the defense really needs, since the offense can score at will. If the offense can’t get into the endzone or turns the ball over, then the defense has go back on the field and hope for another mistake.
What does this mean for Notre Dame’s game against Navy this season? Who knows. VanGorder didn’t exactly shut down Georgia Southern’s option attack, but Georgia blew them out thanks to some turnovers and big special teams plays.
Niumatalolo said his staff spent some time digging up film to see how VanGorder has defended the option in the past. I highly doubt they got much benefit out of a YouTube video that opens with score to a Michael Bay movie then switches to some awful alt-rock.
But if we’re looking for clues, this might be the best one available.
Let’s see if the Notre Dame ground game continues its ascent.
It feels longer than two weeks ago, but last we saw Notre Dame’s offensive line, it was moving the line of scrimmage against Florida State’s defensive front. With Tarean Folston taking control of the running back battle with the Irish’s first 100-yard game of the season, keep an eye on Harry Hiestand’s offensive line on Saturday night.
Notre Dame’s starting five face a unique challenge against Navy’s defensive front, tasked with blocking faster and smaller defenders. That means the Irish offensive line is able to bully the Midshipmen, but only if they’re able to get their hands on them, forcing the Irish linemen to play with excellent technique first and foremost before moving the point of attack, something that’s been a challenge this season.
But after a breakthrough performance last year against the Midshipmen, let’s keep an eye on the distribution among the running backs Saturday night, especially if Kelly chooses to ride the running game. Kelly talked about Folston’s game against Florida State and how it’s earned him a move up, but not necessarily away from a committee-based approach.
“Standing here right now based upon his performance the last few weeks, he’s probably moved himself at the top of the depth chart, but that doesn’t mean that all the carries would necessarily slant his way,” Kelly explained. “We’re still going to play all three backs… I’ve said this a lot of times, we’re evolving. As a carrier of the football, [Folston’s] earned more carries, but I think we clearly know the importance of all three backs and how they all meet the fit in terms of what we’re doing.”
In 2012, Cam McDaniel put himself on the radar with big games running the football as the Irish needed to burn clock with a lead, with his performance in the garbage time of a 40-point win over Navy getting things started. If the Irish get out front, riding McDaniel, or perhaps Greg Bryant, could be the springboard that either back could use to get momentum heading into the home stretch.
After facing some very good Navy quarterbacks, Keenan Reynolds presents a challenge unlike the others.
There’s a very good reason Keenan Reynolds has already moved his way into the Navy football record books. The option quarterback might be the best to face the Irish in a very long time, even as injuries have wreaked havoc on his junior season.
Coming off a breakout game against San Jose State, Niumatalolo’s gamble to give Reynolds a few weeks off to get healthy comes at a perfect time for the Midshipmen, and not so much for the Irish.
After successfully moving Navy’s offense last season in a really impressive performance against Notre Dame, Reynolds will be asked to put on his superman cape once more, doing so behind an offensive line that’s struggled and after battling back from knee and throwing shoulder woes.
Asked what makes Reynolds so difficult to defend, Kelly praised Navy’s quarterback for his ability to be a creator as a ball carrier as well as being a deadly option triggerman.
“He’s not somebody that is interested in his own stats,” Kelly explained. “When you look at an option quarterback, if you give him the fullback, the fullback is going to get the football. I think it starts with an unselfish quarterback, whose understanding of the system is superseding any of his individual stats and accolades. That is number one.
“Number two, he is an outstanding depth athlete, and his ability to throw the football. He’s not one-dimensional where you’d say, we’re just going to line up extra guys on the line of scrimmage because we know we can’t throw the football. He’s an accomplished thrower of the football. He can spin it on you and he can hurt you. So I think that’s the second piece of that.
“And then the third is that he’s extremely elusive. He’s put together pretty well. He’s bigger than [former Navy quarterback Ricky] Dobbs, and because of that he seems to always fall forward for four or five yards. When you look up there, it’s 2nd and 4, and he does a great job of obviously managing the down and distance. I think those three things really stand out to me.”
While injuries and struggles up front derailed Reynolds from a dark horse Heisman candidacy before it could start, just one game after playing against Jameis Winston, the Irish have their hands full with another dynamic quarterback.
Start fast and Notre Dame could end this game early. Start slow? Buckle up for a long, grueling night.
If setting the tone against Florida State was important, it may be even more important on Saturday night. Because a quick start could determine whether or not the Irish play a game like the ones in 2011 and 2012 or the slugfest that went down last season.
If you’re looking for a down-and-dirty way to tell how this football game goes, just look at the first two possessions for both teams. In 2011 and 2012, the Irish started quick and Navy didn’t. The result? Blowout victories.
In 2013, the Irish offense was just okay to start, scoring a touchdown on their first drive, but settling for a field goal on their second. That kept Navy in the game, especially after they matched touchdowns to open the game, and then played a far more efficient second quarter, with the Irish turning the ball over twice.
A look back to 2009 gives you almost the perfect look inside a Navy upset. The Irish’s first drive ended after three plays, with Robby Paris fumbling after a short completion. Navy converted two fourth downs on a touchdown drive. Notre Dame’s second drive ended on a Nick Tausch missed field goal. Navy went 74 yards in seven plays to go up 14-0. Adding insult to injury, the Irish got nothing when they went for it on 4th-and-Goal from the 3, with Clausen missed Duval Kamara in the end zone.
If history tells us anything, we’ll know fairly early how difficult this game will be for Notre Dame. And it’ll be determined by the Irish’s ability to execute from the start.
With a little over 48 hours until Notre Dame and Navy play, the final pieces of installation around going in before the chess match between two coaching staffs take place. For the Irish, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder gets his first chance at stopping the triple-option in over a decade.
Since his days at Georgia, the closest VanGorder has gotten to taking down an option offense was when he dismantled one in his single season as the head coach of Georgia Southern in 2006. So as the Irish staff prepares for Ken Niumatalolo and Ivin Jasper, a few small pieces of the game plan have started to reveal themselves.
Yesterday, defensive tackle Jarron Jones let slip that Isaac Rochell will slide inside to play alongside Jones while Sheldon Day will man one of the defensive end spots. It’s a move similar to the ones utilized the past few seasons, where Stephon Tuitt played on the interior instead of on the edge of the defense.
But while you’ll see different fronts and calls aimed at slowing down the option, Jones said it’ll be based out of Notre Dame’s core scheme.
“It doesn’t take away our aggressiveness, it just alters it,” Jones told Rachel Terlep of the Elkhart Truth. “We’re going to run some different stuff, different fronts … Just some alternatives, but it’s still the same scheme.”
If there’s a major question mark involved in the Irish defense, it isn’t the reshuffling of Jones, Rochell or Day, but rather how the other young defenders will matchup on Saturday night.
A defensive end spot manned by Andrew Trumbetti, Romeo Okwara and Grant Blankenship will need to be ready to take on an option attack that’ll feel like warp speed compared to the scout team they saw this week. And on a week where being 1/11th of the defense is absolutely critical, getting aggressive but positionally correct play out of a trio still learning on the job will be critical.
Those fundamentals are hardly limited to defensive end. While Bob Diaco’s defense found ways to play smart but conservative on the back end, that’s hardly been a hallmark of this year’s secondary. And with cornerbacks Cody Riggs and Cole Luke likely asked to play some man coverage, the Midshipmen might only throw the ball a half-dozen times, but each attempt has the chance of being a big play.
We saw cornerback Devin Butler fall victim to a trick play against North Carolina, giving up big yardage over the top on a reverse pass, something the Irish likely prepared for during the week. Last year, Navy hit a big completion early in the fourth quarter that pulled the Midshipmen ahead on a Reynolds 34-yard touchdown throw.
Safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate have never played together in a game like this, where communication and assignments are the first key to stopping an offense that does its best to neutralize the Irish’s athletic advantage. Expect Matthias Farley to play big minutes as well, utilizing his physicality in the slot as a tackler crashing down on the line of scrimmage. Freshman Drue Tranquill will likely have a big role in the game plan, a strategic weapon that’s been a big part of the blitz scheme implemented so far.
After playing two below-average games by his standards over the past few weeks, Jaylon Smith has the opportunity to fill the stat sheet. Converted wide receiver James Onwualu will likely be in for a large learning curve, buoyed with the healthy return of Ben Councell. And Joe Schmidt will have a large duty, forced to find a way to slow down a fullback dive that’s averaging nearly eight yards a carry.
A year after learning on the fly, Smith will still be doing the same, now lined up in a different position. But it’s clear he understands the challenge — especially early — that he and his teammates face.
“It doesn’t matter how well you prepare for it, it isn’t going to be as efficient as Navy is going to run it,” Smith said Wednesday. “You’ve got to get adjusted to it. The first quarter is going to be fast.”
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