Thursday, October 14, 2004

ND Football 2004

Issue 7: Navy

Navy Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

Navy rush offense... let me see here... apparently, they run the option or something. Their 267.4 yards per game are the 6th best in the nation. The Notre Dame defense should be familiar with Navy's top two rushers - QB Aaron "don't call me Placido!" Polanco (who had good playing time against ND a few years back) and punishing FB Kyle Eckel. Both are believed to be 8th year seniors. Polanco is the outside threat at 92.8 yards per game, while Eckel rumbles up the middle at at 77.4 ypg clip. Eckel has twice as many points this year as kicker Geoff Blumenfeld with 38 (6 TDs, 1 2-point conversion). Polanco is the team leader with 7 TDs on the ground. Other than these top two the rest of the Navy offense is evenly-balanced icing on the cake.
Notre Dame is giving up 86.8 rushing yards per game, but.... On the positive side, Ken Baer's option defense has always relied heavily on the strong safety. If he can maintain his discipline, SS Tom Zbikowski can be big in this game. Heavy-hitter Chinedum Ndukwe could also be key in a backup role. To combat Kyle Eckel up the middle, the Irish have tackles Greg Pauly and Derek Landri, backed up by inside linebackers Mike Goolsby and Brandon Hoyte. Goolsby and Hoyte have played the run well all year, and Pauly and Landri have been coming up big as of late. It won't be pretty, but if the Irish defense can maintain its discipline, they should be able to contain this option attack - relatively speaking, that is. (Note: Joe Yonto had a great option defense that shut down Texas in the Cotton Bowls of the 60s. Maybe we can hire him back during service academy weeks.)

ND Rush Offense vs. Navy Rush Defense

Darius Walker is averaging 87.2 a game, and that's been a very consistent number as of late. Ryan Grant will be back again this week to set up the 1-2 punch. Theoretically, the Notre Dame line should be able to out-physical the height- and weight-regulated Navy line. However, the offensive playcalling never seems to be able to take advantage of it. Too many counters and traps, mostly while the running back just stands there and the quarterback has to run all the way back to him, should give an assumingly athletic Navy front 7 time to create havoc in the backfield. However, a straight ahead attack could mean a big day for the Irish.
Navy is giving up 143.6 rushing yards per game, which again should theoretically make things easy for the Irish. But, then again, youneverknow. Linebackers Lane Jackson and Bobby "Don't Worry, Be Happy" McClarin are the leading tacklers on a team with 30 tackles for loss on the year - only 9 of which are from sacks.

Navy Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

Aaron Polanco has been surprisingly effective for an option quarterback - a stark contrast from Chance Harridge of Air Force in 2002. Polanco is completing 63.8% of his passes for 112.6 yards per game. He does have 3 interceptions to only 2 touchdowns. The leading receivers (and by "leading" I mean "more than 3 catches on the year") are Jason Tomlinson with 8 catches for 34.6 YPG and running back Eric Roberts with 6 catches for 97 yards. (Roberts, by the way, is also the #4 rusher on the team.) Due to the fact a pass is basically a gimmick play for the Midshipmen, Navy is averaging 12 yards per pass, or 18.8 per reception.
Notre Dame is giving up 263.7 passing yards per game, but may I remind you that stats like that didn't come against teams like Northeastern. The key here is for the ND rush defense to play well, thereby making it easy for the passing defense. If Notre Dame can consistently force 3rd and 12s, they can put pressure on a Navy offense who isn't built to pick up big yardage in the air. I would say that forcing 3rd and 7s or 3rd and 8s would be enough, but there's nothing that doesn't say that Navy won't run for the first down - and get it - on a 3rd and 7+.

ND Pass Offense vs. Navy Pass Defense

All sources I've seen have Brady Quinn playing on Saturday. Quinn continues to develop into a solid Division 1 QB. 254.8 YPG, 9 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 16 different receivers. Rhema McKnight comes in as the leading receiver with 24 catches and 61 yards per game. Anthony Fasano (I've seen nothing about his health this week), a very juvenated Maurice Stovall, and Matt Shelton all have 45+ receiving yards per game. All four should be able to flat-out out-athlete the Midshipmen. The only trick will be to not rely on the pass too much. Unless, of course, Quinn decides to once again the ND game record for TDs in the first half.
Navy is giving up 179 pass yards per game, but it's not like they've been facing Texas Tech or the '99 St. Louis Rams. Along with the 9 sacks mentioned above, Navy also has 7 interceptions on the year. The interception leaders are safeties Hunter Reddick with 3 and DuJuan Price with two. Of course, safety Josh Smith is second on the team in tackles, and Price has only 4 on the year, so that probably means Price is more of a nickle/dime back. Or, perhaps Price has just benefitted from opposing teams chucking up desperate bombs in garbage time.

Special Teams

Placekicker Geoff Blumenfeld's struggles have been well-documented. Blumenfeld was 0-4 on the reay before hitting the game winner against Air Force two weeks ago. A loud, pro-ND crowd can rattle this guy and cost Navy some points. The punting duties have been shared between Blumenfeld and Eric Shuey, and they have a combined 37.5 average. On coverage, Navy has a good 16.4 average kick return yards against and a decent 10 yard average on punt returns.
Kick return teams have been average for Navy. Jeremy McGown and Trey Hines are combining for an average of just over 20 yards per. On punts, Jason Tomlinson is picking up a paltry 5.6 yards per return.
DJ (Ellen loves him) has been a decent field goal kicker - 5-7 with misses in the 30-39 yard range and the 40-49 yard range. On punts, he continues to be a very pleasant surprise, with a 42.7 average, a long of 59 that he's hit several times, and 15 of 38 yards inside the 20. Statistically, the Notre Dame kick coverage team has looked mediocre, with 23 yards per return. On the field, they've been worse, with 2 return TDs given up already. Fortunately, the punt team, lead by Chris Vaughn has been solid as of late, with a 6.5 return average given up on the year.
The kick return team has been less than extraordinary. The overall average is a paltry 18.8 yards, lead by Chase Anastasio with a 20 yard average and a long of 40. It appears that Anastasio has started to figure things out - now all he needs is for the other 10 guys to block like a team. On punts, Carlyle Holiday has a decent 10.1 yard average, but his long is only 21 yards. Of course, when you have single coverage on the gunners, you're not going to be going very far.

Look for a big game from
Quinn, Grant, Stovall, Zbikowski, the inside of the D-line, and DJ.

ND 24, Navy 17: Rhema, Darius Walker, [insert your favorite defensive player on a fumble recovery here], and one by DJ. (For Navy: Eckel, Polanco, and a bend-but-don't-break ND defense that leads to a 1-3 field goal performance.)