Head Coach Paul Johnson and Defensive Coordinator Buddy Green are taking a lot of heat on the message boards. The defense is bad. Very bad in fact, but belittling a coaching staff that has delivered some of the best results in the history of the program seems a little disingenuous. I mean seriously, you're starting to sound like Notre Dame fans. Even at 4-4, with the historic lack of defensive production, this team can still achieve all of its goals and still make history.
Notre Dame Head Coach Charlie Weis is yet another alumnus that has returned to coach his Alma Matter. This will be the 5th time this year Navy has played a team with this situation. Weis left the New England Patriots in 2005 after helping the team win three Super Bowl titles in five years as Offensive Coordinator. During that time he helped develop a little known seventh round drat pick named Tom Brady. And during his first two seasons in South Bend he did the same for Brady Quinn. This season has been different with the Irish struggling mightily.
Navy Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense
Pressure must be beginning to mount on a Navy offense that is forced to score on every possession. But this team is blessed with two gifted signal callers. Both Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada and Jarod Bryant have shown they can lead this offense. Kaipo finished the Delaware game with 72 yards and 2 touchdowns on 20 carries. Bryant entered near the end of the third quarter and promptly led the team to a touchdown. He did his damage through the air, finishing 8 of 11 for 126 yards.
Both Adam Ballard and Eric Kettani had monster days against Delaware. Ballard rebounded form a sub standard performance verses Wake Forest with a 9 carry, 94 yard effort, which included a 55-yard touchdown run. Kettani had a strong day with 16 carries for 92 yards and 2 touchdowns, but also a critical turnover. The fumble was his second in as many weeks, and was also a turning point in the game. None of the slot backs had particularly impressive days, though Reggie Campbell did score a touchdown and Zerbin Singleton did have 2 catches for 61 yards.
The offensive line played better then they did against Wake as neither Navy quarterback was sacked. The line also helped lead the way to a 342 yard rushing performance. But they will be without starting right tackle Andrew McGinn. Paul Bridgers will get the start in his place. This also means that Ricky Moore may see time in the rotation. Blocking by the receivers on the perimeter still needs to improve as the slots backs has little room to run on the outside.
This season Notre Dame switched for a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. The lone returning starter form 2006 line is defensive end Trevor Laws. He currently leads the team 67 tackles and 6 tackles for loss. Laws recorded 11 tackles against Boston College and is currently out performing pre-season All American defensive linemen Glenn Dorsey (39 tackles) of LSU and Sedrick Ellis (27 tackles) of USC. Nose tackle Pat Kuntz has 38 tackles on the season, but he has batted down a team high 9 passes. Defensive end Dwight Stephenson Jr. has 24 tackles.
Senior inside linebackers Maurice Crum and Joe Brockington are rocks on the inside for the Irish. Crum became the first player in Notre Dame history to ever record two forced fumbles; two fumble recoveries and two interceptions in the same game when he accomplished the feet against UCLA. He also had a season high 16 tackles against Michigan State. Brockington is second on the team with 63 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. He recorded 13 tackles against Boston College. Youth is being served at the outside linebacker positions as a sophomore and a freshman currently start. Sophomore John Ryan has started all eight games and has 30 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and a team high 2.5 sacks. Freshman Kerry Neal has 11 tackles on the season.
Tom Zbikowski seams like he's been at Notre Dame forever. The senior strong safety is currently tied for 4th on the team with Maurice Crum with 51 tackles. Zbikowski holds the school record for career tackles by a defensive back with 271. Free safety David Bruton has 53 tackles on the season and is tied for the team lead with 2 interceptions. Time at the two corner spots is split between senior Terrail Lambert, sophomore Darrin Walls and senior Baltimore native Ambrose Wooden.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Navy Defense
This side of the ball is a battle of ineptitude. Notre Dame enters this week ranked 118th in Scoring Offense, 119th in Total Offense, 119th in Rushing Offense, 112th Passing Offense and 118th in Offensive Passing Efficiency. Navy counters with the 114th ranked Scoring Defense, the 105th ranked Total Defense, the 82nd ranked Rushing Defense, the 109th ranked Passing Defense and the 119th ranked Defensive Passing Efficiency. There are currently 119 teams in the FBS.
Evan Sharpley will make his second consecutive start against the Midshipmen. He has played in seven games this season, but got his first career start against USC. Sharpley finished that game 17 of 33 for 117 yards with an interception. For the season he is 60 of 113 for 596 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Though Sharpley played the entire USC game, we still my see highly touted freshman Jimmy Clausen. Clausen has started 6 games this season and is 81 of 141 for 618 yards with a touchdown and 5 interceptions.
James Aldridge is listed as the starting running back for the Irish and he is currently the leading rusher with 249 yards on 67 carries. Freshman Armando Allen led the team in the USC game with 11 carries for 59 yards. Senior Travis Thomas is back on offense after starting last season at linebacker. He has one of Notre Dames 3 rushing touchdowns this season. The other two are by freshman Robert Hughes and Jimmy Clausen.
The best receiver on the Notre Dame roster is tight end John Carlson. At 6' 6'', 255 pounds, Carlson will prove to be a match up problem for the undersized Navy defense. He currently leads the team with 26 receptions for 188 yards and a touchdown. But the Irish also have a trio of young players starting to emerge at wide receiver. Sophomore Robby Parris is 6' 4''. He leads the team in receiving yards with 287. Freshman Duval Kamara 6' 5'' and has 19 catches for 188 yards. All three of these players have a touchdown reception. Sophomore George West is only 5' 10'' but has 15 catches for 132 yards.
Notre Dame's offensive line is statistically the worst in college football. But statistics can be deceiving. Yes, they give up an average of 4.88 sacks per game and only average 34.13 yards per game on the ground (both worst in the FBS), it's not like these are kids off the scrap heap. Senior center John Sullivan has 41 career starts and has already graduated with a degree in marketing from the Mendoza College of Business. Left tackle Sam Young was a Freshman All-American last season and has started all 21 games during his Irish career. Guards Mike Turkovich and Eric Olsen and well as right tackle Paul Duncan are in their first season as starters.
Challenging the 119th ranked team in pass protection is the 118th ranked team in sacks. Navy has recorded 5 sacks through 8 games, including the two last week against Delaware. Chris Kuhar-Pitters and Nate Frazier combined on a sack. Frazier started the game strong, but the intensity did not carry through. Matt Nechak, who just recently was converted from outside linebacker to defensive end, had 4 tackles to lead the lineman. He also recorded a tackle for loss.
Irv Spencer is starting to emerge as a leader of the defense. He consistently shows emotion, trying to pump up his younger teammates. Spencer finished the Delaware game with 9 tackles, a pass breakup and a sack. He still leads the team in tackles with 59. Matt Wimsatt struggled against Delaware. We need more out of our second leading tackler. Ross Pospisil, in his most extensive action since the Duke game finished with 6 tackles. Ram Vela still needs to improve his reads, as apparent missed assignments lead to some big plays against Delaware.
With Rashawn King questionable, an already depleted secondary may need to reshuffle. Greg Thrasher played rover against Delaware and did okay. He finished with 7 tackles, but also dropped a sure interception. He started in place of the Ketric Buffin. Buffin's backup, Jesse Iwuji was also unavailable for the Delaware game and is questionable for this week as well. If Jesse Iwuji is unable to go, Thrasher may need to stay put. If Iwuji can play rover, Coach Green may move Thrasher back to corner in King's spot. But if Iwuji is unavailable and Thrasher stays at safety, Darius Terry or Kevin Edwards will get the start at corner. Thankfully, Blake Carter and Wyatt Middleton are set to go at corner and free safety respectively. Carter led the team in tackles against Delaware with 12.
Navy Special Teams vs. Notre Dame Special Teams
Navy opened up the special teams playbook against Delaware. Their first kickoff return featured Reggie Campbell handing off to Shun White for a 29-yard return. On the ensuing drive, Joey Bullen threw to a wide-open Greg Sudderth on a perfectly executed fake field goal. The game also featured a 74-yard kick off return by Campbell. Bullen made his only field goal attempt, from 29 yards. Once again Greg Veteto did not punt.
Freshman place kicker Brandon Walker is 4 of 7 on field goals on the season, with a long of 48 yards. He has had two blocked. Against Penn State, Nate Whitaker attempted a 50-yard field goal. Whitaker also handles the kickoffs.
Punter Geoff Price is averaging 41.9 yards per kick this season. Price is still expected to dress even though Notre Dame has not punted against Navy since 2004.
Tom Zbikowski has three career punt returns for touchdowns. This season he is averaging 10.2 yards per return, with a long of 47. Freshman Armando Allen and Golden Tate share the kickoff return duties. Allen has a 20.7-yard return average while Tate; a reserve wide receiver averages 23.4 yards per return.