Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Notre Dame Football 2005
Issue 9: Navy

Navy Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense

The military academies are not blessed with size or the best pure football talent. But they do have athleticism and discipline. So, they have all adopted a "flexbone" option attack. Navy has been able to run the option to success over the past two seasons. Fullback Kyle Eckel and quarterback Aaron Polanco are out. Matt Hall and Lamar Owens are in. Hall and Owens aren't putting up the numbers that Eckel and Polanco did (133 yards per game to 177), but they are winning. With the 240 pound Eckel gone, Owens is the team's leading rusher at quarterback. Owens rushes 17 times per game for 73.1 yards. Hall runs 12 times per game for 60.4 yards. A trio of slot backs rotate between the two spots on the field. Reggie Campbell, Marco Nelson, and Karl Whittaker each run about 4 times per game for 30-40 yards. When necessary, Adam Ballard spells Hall at fullback to the tune of 5 rushes and 17 yards per game, while Brian Hampton comes in for Owens and runs 3 times for 10 yards.
As when facing any option attack, the key is discipline. The undersized Navy offensive line will try to cut block the Irish defensive line all day line. Derek Landri and Trevor Laws will have to find a way to maintain their balance so they can stop the fullback runs. Notre Dame will likely rotate linemen, so Brian Beidatsch will have to be on guard as well. Under Ty Willingham, Notre Dame defended the run by assigning an outside linebacker to the quarterback and the strong safety to the pitch man. Brandon Hoyte, excellent against the run, should be up to the task. He did have a great game against Navy last year. Maurice Crum, Jr. has the athletecism, but he will have to stay disciplined. They key against the option under Ty, though, was the play of the safety. Gerome Sapp was able to completely shut down the option, and that game no doubt helped attract NFL scouts. The next year, Glenn Earl was move to strong safety, and both he and the team struggled. This year, Chinedum Ndukwe is listed as strong safety, but I would imagine the more disciplined Tom Zbikowski would take the pitch assignment. Both safeties are good against the run, so once again the key is simply sticking to your assignment. Of course, this may all be moot if Rick Minter has a different scheme against the option. (Joe Yonto mirror defense anyone?)

Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. Navy Rush Defense

Darius Walker started the season like gangbusters, picking up four straight 100-yard games. But, he has garnered criticism for not putting up good numbers in the last two games. Of course, BYU flooded the box to stop the run, and Tennessee is the #5 run defense in the country, so coach Charlie Weis simply chose to run. Or, at least that's my opinion. Walker, whose average day is 85 yards on 20 carries, should be able to get back on track against an undersized 3-4, thanks in no small part to his offensive line. This game should also be a good opportunity for Travis Thomas to get some carries. Thomas is averaging close to 6 carries and 22 yards per game.
Navy is giving up 159.4 rushing yards per game. Put very simply, every who has wanted to run against the Midshipmen have put up at least 190 yards against them. As stated above, Navy runs a 3-4. Their top three tacklers are all linebackers - Rob Caldwell (96), Jake Biles (71), and David Mahoney (58).

Navy Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Owens' average day passing is 6 for 11 for 117 yards and an interception. (He has 4 TD passes in 8 games.) Owens' favorite receiver by far is wideout Jason Tomlinson. Tomlinson has 22 catches for 413 yards in 8 games. After Tomlinson, starting backs Marco Nelson and Reggie Campbell have combinedo for 18 catches and 269 yards. Navy does not employ a tight end in any formation, primarily because their base set uses three backs.
Both Owens and backup QB Brian Hampton are under 6 feet tall, so the Irish defensive line can make things easy just by keeping their hands up all day long. Of course, extending your arms exposes you to the cut block more, so there is the tradeoff. With one safety occupied on the run at all times, the corners will have to cover well, and the other safety will have to keep everything in front of him. Here's where I wish I was a defensive coordinator: With the athletic advantage, do you tell your Mike Richardson and Ambrose Wooden to play aggressively, going for the tip or the pick so they can become more comfortable doing that? Or, do you tell them to continue to play soft, knowing there's only one safety to cover the whole field?

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Navy Pass Defense

Yeah, the Notre Dame passing offense is pretty good. Brady Quinn's average day consists of completing 24 of 37 passes for 331 yards and 3 TDs. (Yes, that's three touchdowns per game!) Jeff Samardzija continues to tear through opposing defenses and the record books. His average day is 6 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown or two. Mo Stovall averages 5 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. Anthony Fasano will get 4-5 catches and about 59 yards. Matt Shelton will pitch in with a few catches and 22 yards or so. And Darius Walker will turn three screen and string passes into 29 yards.
The Naval Academy is holding opponents to 182.2 passing yards per game. Then again, when you can run for close to 200 yards against Navy, why pass? No team has reached 300 yards passing against Navy this year, but Kent State did throw for 292 yards in a 34-31 loss to the Midshipmen. Navy has 22 sacks on the year, led by linebacker David Mahoney with 7. Tyler Tidwell, the fourth linebacker, had 5 sacks and leads the team with 13.5 tackles for a loss (Mahoney has 12.5 TFL). End John Chan has 4 sacks. As a team, Navy has 9 interceptions. Cornerbacks Keenan Little and Greg Thrasher and safety Greg Sudderth have 2 a piece.

Special Teams

Joey Bullen kicks field goals for the Midshipmen. He is 7 for 10, but 4 for 4 inside 30 yards. His long on the year is 46 yards.
Notre Dame kicker DJ Fitzpatrick is 9 for 11 on the year, missing from 48 and 35. His long is 48. How's this for a stat: when Fitzpatrick misses a field goal, Notre Dame loses by 3. That's an incredible coincidence, and I in no way place the blame on DJ for the MSU and USC losses.
Navy's Eric Shuey is averaging 38.7 yards per punt, with a long of 58 yards, 2 touchbacks, 6 fair catches, and 9 kicks inside the 20. He's averaging just under 4 punts per game. One of these days, I'm going to sit down and figure out of kicks inside the 20 and average punts per game can tell you anything about an offense's success. Or maybe I'll just get lazy and forget.
DJ averages 40.2 yards per punt, with a long of 60. He has 1 touchback, 2 fair catches, 7 kicks inside the 20, and 1 kick blocked. He also averages around 4 punts per game.
Navy has had used a variety of kick returners, but the main man has been running back Karl Whittaker. Whittaker is averaging 25.2 yards per kick with a long of 52. Fitzpatrick handles the kickoffs for the Irish. His 59.7 yard average puts the ball at about the 5. Notre Dame's kick return average against is exactly 20 yards per return. That gives opponents an average start of the 25. Fitzpatrick has 6 touchbacks.
David Grimes and DJ Hord are the deep men on kickoffs for the Irish. Grimes is averaging 23.9 yards on 8 returns, with a long of 40. Hord is averaging 18.8 on 5 returns, with a long of 36 yards. Joey Bullen kicks off for Navy. His 54.9 yard average puts the ball around the 10. Navy's 18.9 yard return average against puts opponents around the 29 on average. Bullen has 6 touchbacks, but also has put 5 kicks out of bounds.
Receiver Jason Tomlinson has been the only man to return punts for Navy this season. He's averaging 7 yards per return, with a long of 20.
In case you've been doing yardwork these past few Saturdays, I'll point out that Tom Zbikowski is Notre Dame's punt returners. He's averaging a whopping 35.8 yards per punt return, with a long of 83 yards. He's one of three players to have multiple punt return touchdowns this season.

Look for a big game from Walker, Samardzija, Stovall, Landri, Hoyte, Zbikowski

Notre Dame 38, Navy 17: Walker, Thomas, Samardzija, Stovall, Fasano, and DJ gets a field goal following a turnover or punt return.

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