Chicago Colleges: Navy Midshipmen

Irish aim to improve kick returns, coverage

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Yes, TJ Jones has helped put aside Notre Dame's punt return horrors of recent past. But a Navy final drive that began at midfield Saturday underscored a different special teams issue that has plagued the Irish this season: kickoff coverage.

Notre Dame ranks 117th nationally defending kick returns, surrendering 26.05 yards per return. The Fighting Irish gave up 27.4 yards to the Midshipmen's Marcus Thomas on five returns, the last of which went for 49 yards and put Notre Dame's BCS hopes in jeopardy with less than four minutes remaining.

"We did a full extensive look at it," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. "There are some things that I've addressed and I would say this: Sometimes when you look at what you're doing, you're trying to do too much. When it comes to kickoff coverage, we were counting for probably a little bit too much out there, instead of getting the guys down the field and getting after the football.

"I think we were counting for the triple-reverse pass as well as the double-reverse pass and the lonesome end play all at once, instead of getting after it, and we will make those adjustments."

Notre Dame has avoided a game-changing play in the department so far, though it has lacked the momentum-changer from its own kickoff return unit.

Kelly has emphasized a more physical approach to both sides of kickoffs. His return unit ranks 18th nationally in averaging 24.35 yards per kick return, but junior George Atkinson III has yet to take one to the house after bringing back two for scores as a freshman in 2011 (albeit before the NCAA moved kickoffs from the 30 to the 35-yard line).

"Here is what I told our team: I think we've got one of the best kickoff return guys in the country; we've got to get him free," Kelly said. "We've got to do a better job on kickoff return. Although George has done a great job, we have to sustain some blocks. If we could sustain a block for another second, he's going to score a touchdown. So we spent a lot of time on special teams showing our guys if you sustain a block with a little more effort, you're going to get him loose."

It's next-man-in, and then some, for Irish

November, 4, 2013
11/04/13
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- As Brian Kelly was finishing up his postgame press conference Saturday, an unexpected visitor made an appearance during the penultimate question.

"Jaylon, we'll be done in a second," Kelly said to Jaylon Smith, who had entered prematurely. "I know it's your press conference, but I'll be done in a second, and we'll let you get going. Is that all right?"

"Sorry," Smith said to the room of reporters. "I'm new to everything."

Within 24 hours, it turned out the freshman linebacker would be a seasoned veteran by Notre Dame's defense's standards. The Irish are hurting on that side of the ball -- just trying to get by, in a sense, with this weekend's game at Pitt preceding a much-needed bye before a two-game stretch against BYU and at Stanford.

[+] EnlargeEilar Hardy
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesSafety Eliar Hardy (left) is one of several Notre Dame reserves that were pressed into action due to injuries.
BCS dreams have essentially taken a backseat to figuring out just who is going to play and where, and how the remaining available guy will get ready for when their time comes.

"I think this is probably close to the pinnacle," Kelly said during Sunday's teleconference when asked if this defense has been hit as hard as any he's had in 23 years as a head coach. He added: "They don't give you any points for complaining about it. If they did, I'd complain every minute. So we just take care of it internally and get the next guy ready."

Ben Councell, the man behind Smith most of the season at the dog linebacker spot, was ruled out for the season Sunday after suffering a significant knee injury in the 38-34 win over Navy. Smith and Councell, of course, waged a preseason battle for a starting spot only after senior Danny Spond, last season's starter, was forced to retire because of hemiplegic migraines. And the linebacking corp is less than a month removed from its other big hit, when Jarrett Grace broke his leg in the Oct. 5 Arizona State game, costing the Mike linebacker the rest of his redshirt sophomore season.

It only gets worse up front, where Kona Schwenke is lost for at least this Saturday's game at Pitt because of a high-ankle sprain suffered on the Midshipmen's final drive. And Schwenke was only starting these last two games in place of nose guard Louis Nix III, who at first was ruled to have a shoulder injury suffered in the USC game, and then knee tendinitis, and now tendinitis and a small meniscus tear, though the school says he will practice this week after undergoing an MRI Sunday. Before that, Schwenke filled in for end Sheldon Day, who missed most of a three-game stretch after leaving a Sept. 14 game against Purdue with a high ankle sprain, and then re-aggravated said ankle sprain against Navy.

And no, it is not a coincidence that most of these injuries have come during this two-game stretch against Air Force and Navy, teams that often cut-block.

"It's unfortunate," Kelly said. "It's the style of offense that the academies play. It is what it is."

Kelly said it will make sense to possibly avoid scheduling multiple option teams in a single season, but that is a bridge he will cross when he gets to it. For now, his next-man-in philosophy is being tested by, well, a lack of next-men-in.

He said he guards against that by putting those who saw 15 or fewer plays in a game through extra conditioning that following Monday, while reserves get roughly half the work of the starters during 11-on-11 and scout team work in a given week.

"I think that we're so close that you don't really think about it in terms of, Oh, I've never seen you out here," redshirt senior linebacker Dan Fox said. "We get a lot of guys in at practice, there's a lot of reps to go around, so next man in and next man in."

Underclassmen such as Jarron Jones, Isaac Rochell and Romeo Okwara have been thrust into more meaningful time than most could have reasonably expected entering the season, while names unfamiliar to all but the closest of program observers -- Tyler Stockton, Justin Utupo and Eilar Hardy, to name a few -- saw extended action.

The last of those names, Hardy, helped set Smith up for the game-clinching tackle on Navy's Shawn Lynch during the visitors' final fourth-and-4 try. And he was only there because Austin Collinsworth suffered a neck strain that will require an MRI Monday.

Fellow safety Elijah Shumate, meanwhile, is expected to play against the Panthers after being sidelined the last three games with a hamstring injury, though Kelly had said the sophomore would play going into the Navy game, too.

There are also the knee injuries to left guard Chris Watt (PCL) and cat linebacker Ishaq Williams (ACL), both of whom left the Air Force game a week ago but only one of whom, Watt, could possibly return this week, depending on how quickly the redshirt senior can acclimate to the knee, which will not require surgery. Williams was in an immobilizer this week and could possibly return for the Nov. 23 BYU game.

The return of Watt would give Notre Dame four of its five starters back on the offensive line, as it lost right guard Christian Lombard for the season because of back surgery after the USC game. Still, the bruises have taken their biggest tolls on the other line, which during the spring and summer lost reserves Chase Hounshell (shoulder) and Tony Springmann (knee) for the season, in addition to seeing freshman signee Eddie Vanderdoes leave for UCLA.

All of it leaves the Irish, winners of four in a row, crawling to the finish line, every last piece of Kelly's three straight top-10 recruiting classes fitting into the plan for his push toward a second straight BCS-bowl berth.

"We are running out of next men. We're at that point where from a defensive standpoint, and particularly the defensive line, we're left with very few options," Kelly said, adding, "We'll figure something out. We'll get 11 guys out there. It's just not going to be one of those things where we're going to have the same group of guys out there all the time. As you know, we're going to have to find a way to stop a big, physical offensive line at Pittsburgh, and that is the thing that concerns you the most."

Irish lunch links

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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Congrats, Boston. And Happy Halloween to all!

Instant Analysis: Notre Dame 50, Navy 10

September, 1, 2012
9/01/12
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The Everett Golson era got off to a great start Saturday for Notre Dame, which dominated Navy in a 50-10 season-opening win at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Golson completed 12 of 18 passes for 144 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Let's take a closer look at how it happened:

It was over when: Theo Riddick rushed for an 11-yard touchdown to cap an 11-play, 75-yard drive over 5:48. Nick Tausch's missed extra point was the only flaw for the Irish, who, unlike last season, completed a stellar opening drive and established their dominance early.

Game ball goes to: Starting in place of suspended Cierre Wood, Riddick rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, adding two catches for 25 yards. George Atkinson III added 99 yards and two TDs on just nine carries.

Stat of the game: Notre Dame outrushing Navy 293 to 149 certainly stands out, but the Midshipmen throwing for 192 might be more surprising, given the history of their ground game.

Unsung hero of the game: Stephon Tuitt had a sack and, in the play of the game, returned a Trey Miller fumble 77 yards. No one came within sight of the 303-pound defensive end, who made it 27-0 in the second quarter. Manti Te'o added a fumble recovery and an interception, both of which, surprisingly enough, were firsts for the senior linebacker.

Second-guessing: Golson will want back a second-quarter telegraphed throw to Tyler Eifert, which was picked off at the 4 by Parrish Gaines. It brought back bad red zone memories from a year ago. Still, better to get such gaffes out of the way early in a blowout.

What it means: Notre Dame couldn't ask for much more, as it took care of business and eliminated any doubt early. Golson looked good in his debut despite the interception. The Irish absolutely dominated in the trenches, and everyone got involved: From Dan McCarthy (fumble recovery) to Robby Toma (9-yard touchdown rush). Big questions remain at cornerback, with KeiVarae Russell at times looking like the true freshman he is, but it will be an enjoyable flight back to the States for Notre Dame.

Fate of Irish offense in Golson's hands now

August, 23, 2012
8/23/12
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Everett Golson wanted a visor for his helmet. Brian Kelly gave him much more than that.

In naming Golson as Notre Dame's starting quarterback Thursday, the third-year Irish coach is showing a commitment to stabilizing the position once and for all, entrusting the car keys to the guy who ultimately can take the spread offense to the level everyone's been waiting to see since Kelly's arrival in 2010.

"You're starting DaVaris Daniels and Chris Brown, two guys that are gonna play a lot for us on the perimeter that are first-time starters, and then George Atkinson didn't play very much at running back. You're gonna see a lot of him," Kelly said. "Troy Niklas. I could go on and on. So Everett Golson, there's four or five guys right there that are gonna be impactful in the games. So yeah, certainly there's gonna be some learning there. But one thing we don't have a lot of time on is that curve. We gotta come out running and doing our thing right away."

That starts with the redshirt freshman whose strong arm and nimble feet make him the ideal man behind this wheel. It's not like Notre Dame's offense is composed of all first- or second-year players, either: The Irish return seniors Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, in addition to the nation's best tight end, Tyler Eifert, and an offensive line that is as solid as they come.

Those weapons present a perfect opportunity to help break Golson in, as will the relatively tame defenses he is set to face in the season's first two weeks -- Navy on Sept. 1 in Dublin, Ireland, and Purdue the following Saturday in South Bend.

"I would say what makes me more comfortable back there is just my teammates," Golson said. "You talk about the veterans, you’ve got the O-line, you’ve got veteran wide receivers. Like I said, the quarterbacks out there just helping me. That’s made me more comfortable."

Mistakes will come because they always do, especially for first-year players. Golson, calm and collected in facing every badgering reporter's question so far, showed a glimpse of some of that child-like giddiness when describing how he found out he won the job.

Golson had wanted a visor for his helmet before Wednesday's practice, an item Kelly said he would get once he was officially named the starter. Golson rushed over to the Romano Family Locker Room before class Thursday, only to see the same old gap between his facemask and helmet.

"I came back in [after class] and it was just there," he said of the visor. "I was kind of happy about that."

If Golson lives up to his potential, those happy times will continue for Notre Dame.

All options on deck for Irish QB situation

August, 3, 2012
8/03/12
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Brian Kelly has an idea who Notre Dame's starting quarterback will be Sept. 1 against Navy. Twenty-nine days before the opener in Dublin, Ireland, and one day before his team opens fall practice for the 2012 season, the Irish head coach knows little more than that.

"I don't want to make this more than it is. I have not decided," Kelly said at a Friday news conference, one day after saying on a local radio station, WSBT-AM, that he has an idea in mind of who will open the season under center. "The question was asked, do you have an idea? I've got an idea, but an idea is all I have. It's not like it's this guy and we are set for it, or I would be less than honest in answering the question relative to reps.

"I've got an idea, but we have to see how this plays out. We have to rep these guys, we have to give them a lot of work, a lot of situations. We'll be doing a lot more 11-on-11 where we have to put our players, in particular the quarterback, in as many situations that put 11 players out on the field at one time. Half line, 7-on-7, inside drill, all great drills, don't get the quarterback to the level that we need to. So a lot more 11-on-11 reps for this football team to help us answer that question."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Hendrix
Kyle Terada/US PresswireAndrew Hendrix is the lone quarterback available for Notre Dame's opener who has seen snaps at the college level.
Kelly named last year's Week 1 starter, Dayne Crist, during the first week of classes, less than two weeks before the season opener. He said that there is currently no announcement date in mind, as it will take several practices for the quarterbacks to get enough repetitions for separation.

Asked if he could play two quarterbacks in the opener, Kelly replied that every scenario remains in play.

"I don't know that we've taken anything off the table relative to the quarterback position," he said. "Ideally, I'm like everybody else in this room -- I'd like to have one quarterback and have him be the guy. But we won't know until we get out there and put the pads on and get live action and see how these guys react to those scenarios and situations."

The only clarity at the position heading into camp is that Tommy Rees, the only of the Irish's four signal-callers with starting experience, will be left behind for the opener as he and linebacker Carlo Calabrese deal with the fallout of their spring arrests at an off-campus party.

Kelly, who said he deals with discipline on a case-by-case basis, will try to strike a balance this month between finding a Week 1 starter -- either Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson or Gunner Kiel -- and a full-time first-teamer.

"Again, I think early on we've got to be able to see three quarterbacks," Kelly said. "And as we move closer to finding if there is a separation, then we'll start to separate the reps. But we don't go into practice once saying, 'OK, he's getting 80 percent, he's getting 20, or he's getting 70/30.' We're not at that point.

"So it's going to take some time for us to figure that out in terms of who is going to get those reps, and it's probably going to take us a little time. But ultimately we want to be able to give the quarterback, you know, for Navy, a lot of reps leading into the game. So where we start is, we've got to be able to evaluate them based upon what they did this summer, and then start to close in on what that pecking order is. So I don't know the exact date, but we'll know it when we see it."

And if the first career start for Notre Dame's next quarterback goes smoothly, all the better.

"If he plays well against Navy," Kelly said when asked if he wants the first starter to be the season starter. "If we get the guy and he starts against Navy and he doesn't play very well, I don't want him to start next week, nor do you. But I would like, like everybody else, to prepare somebody and have a great game against Navy and then make it a difficult decision what you do in week two."

Physicality pleases Kelly, turnovers don't

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
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Two-thirds of the season has passed, with Notre Dame escaping with a 5-3 record, 20 turnovers and one drama-filled week that preceded its win Saturday over Navy.

Thus far, Brian Kelly is pleased with the physical nature of his football team -- one that is tied for sixth in the nation in sacks allowed -- while hoping to shore up whatever loose ends have led to the protection miscues.

"I like the fact that we're physically so far ahead of where we were last year, that we haven't given up a sack in the month of October," Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. "We've controlled the line of scrimmage for the most part the way you want to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. When you're looking at it, those are the things this year that we know where our weaknesses are in terms of turning the ball over, but our strengths are that we've really developed ourselves on both offensively and defensively the lines. And that's a real good foundation moving forward."

What Kelly would like to see improve, naturally, is limiting turnovers.

"I think it's pretty clear that the consistency, week in and week out, and taking care of the football and eliminating some of those sloppy mistakes," Kelly said. "And I think that, if you look at some of the mistakes that we've made, they're all correctable through better coaching, better playing and I think that's where we know we can clean those areas up moving forward."

Kelly and his players beat Navy by 42 points Saturday in wake of a wild 48 hours that featured controversial comments about the difference between his players and predecessor Charlie Weis' players.

The ensuing public reaction from players led to a bread-breaking session Friday.

"I think each job that I've had has its own unique set of circumstances," Kelly said. "I don't know that any job is the same when you're coming in. You're trying to build a winning environment, so that's common in all the jobs. But each university has its own characteristics, so Notre Dame is different than all the other jobs I've had. But no challenge that is insurmountable. All of them, all jobs have those different characteristics, and Notre Dame is like all those others. Just different things that we have to work on."

Notes: Kelly said freshman Chase Hounshell suffered a very slight shoulder injury Saturday but should be able to practice this week and play Saturday at Wake Forest.

What we learned about Notre Dame: Week 9

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
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1. Winning is the best medicine of all: This week will be a lot easier for everyone associated with the Notre Dame football program following a 42-point win against a team that beat it three times in the previous four years. The USC loss is in the rearview mirror and, at least at the moment, the fallout from Brian Kelly's comments Thursday seems to have come and gone, with the Irish responding in convincing fashion Saturday. Now comes the ACC portion of the schedule, with Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College up next.

2. The Irish have done a solid job against the option: Notre Dame's defense put on a very impressive performance against the nation's third-ranked rushing team Saturday, holding Navy to 196 yards on the ground. To put that in perspective, the Midshipmen averaged 325.14 rushing yards per game entering Saturday. The defense's performance forced a pair of turnovers against an Air Force offense that chunked up plenty of yards but had little to show for it against the Irish's first-team. Notre Dame has come a long way from its eighth game of last year, a 35-17 loss to Navy that featured 367 rushing yards from the Midshipmen.

3. Floyd will get his: Games 7 and 8 looked an awful lot like Games 4 and 5, didn't they? At Pitt five weeks ago, Michael Floyd was held to four catches for 27 yards before tallying 12 catches for 137 yards a week later at Purdue. Last week Floyd had four catches for 28 yards, responding Saturday with a six-catch, 121-yard performance in which he scored a rushing and a receiving touchdown. Floyd can be held in check every now and then, but there is no key to stopping him on a consistent basis.

4. Jonas Gray is having himself quite the farewell tour: Seriously, Gray didn't have a single career touchdown before Week 4 at Pitt. He's scored in every game since, including three Saturday, giving him eight touchdowns for the season to tie Cierre Wood for the lead among Irish backs and receivers. Gray's 12-carry, 69-yard effort Saturday actually lowered his yards per carry average from 8.5 to 8, though the senior likely isn't complaining.

Notre Dame helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 29, 2011
10/29/11
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A return to the win column means a return of more helmet stickers for all, as the Irish routed Navy 56-14.

Michael Floyd: The senior rebounded from a sub-par performance against USC, eclipsing the 100-yard mark in the first half and even adding the first rushing touchdown of his career, albeit on a pass play (that was officially ruled a lateral). Floyd finished with six catches for 121 yards and had a receiving touchdown as well.

Jonas Gray: Hard to believe the senior did not have a single career touchdown before Week 4 at Pitt. He scored in that game and in the four since, including a three-touchdown performance Saturday, which actually hurt his yards per carry average since they were all from short-range. Gray got the start and didn't disappoint, rushing for 69 yards on 12 carries.

Cierre Wood: We can't forget the junior, who bounced back from a rough showing against USC by going for 66 yards on 11 carries, scoring twice. The run game looked like it did in the four weeks before facing the Trojans, with lots of open space to work with.

Manti Te'o: On the first two drives alone, Te'o finished with seven tackles. His final tally was a game-high 13 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks. Who knew the junior linebacker — among the finalists for seemingly every national defensive award — had another level to take his game to?

Harrison Smith: His four tackles and one break-up don't make too big of a dent in the box score, but the fifth-year safety and lone season captain rallied the team in a drama-filled 48 hours leading up to the game. He keyed a defense that held Navy's rushing attack to more than 100 yards below what was third-best in the nation entering the game (325.14 yards per game).

Irish clear air, then rout Navy

October, 29, 2011
10/29/11
8:52
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Harrison Smith does not have a Twitter account, which at this point may put him in the minority among college football players.

But the fifth-year captain did not need to be a social media buff to catch wind of the chatter among Notre Dame players Thursday night following controversial remarks by coach Brian Kelly.

"It was kind of a full-range, I would say," Smith said of the team's temperature. "I don't remember like specifics, but there was definitely a full-range. Everybody's human at the end of the day, so you're gonna get that."

The team had a hashing-out session Friday, one that included an apology from Kelly. On Saturday, the Irish exorcised their demons against a Navy team that had its number in recent years, beating the Midshipmen 56-14.

It was no coincidence.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Jonas Gray
AP Photo/Michael ConroyJonas Gray had three of Notre Dame's seven rushing touchdowns against Navy.
1"I honestly think it had a big impact on it," Smith said. "Not that it went into the gameplan or went into the scheme or anything. But I think it just kind of showed that we're all in this together, that we all play for each other and for Notre Dame. It's not about individuals."

Another of the defensive leaders, Manti Te'o, appeared to play with a bigger chip on his shoulder than usual, finishing with a game-high 13 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks.

Te'o, who was not available for postgame interviews, made seven of those tackles on Navy's first two offensive possessions, which ended with a missed field goal and a punt.

The Irish offense scored touchdowns on five of their first six possessions, never leaving the Midshipmen a chance to play catch-up.

"Well, I can tell you that, you know, as a family, we all have good days and bad days," Kelly said. "And you work through that as a family. And we had to work through some things this week. But at the end, like all families, if there's a disagreement, if there's any kind of need to communicate, it needs to get done and we did that. We communicated with each other as a team and as a family, and you saw it today. You saw a team that played together.

"I told our team that's the best collection of plays relative to all 11 players playing together. It was part and parcel of all of those things; it was a family coming together. And like I said, those specifics I won't get into, those are family matters. But we're certainly pleased by the way our guys played together today."

Forty-eight hours earlier Kelly, in his second year at Notre Dame, made comments about the players he recruited that rubbed many of the upperclassmen the wrong way. Twitter became an outlet for players past and present to make their voices heard, and on Friday they made their opinions clear in person.

"There was nothing in particular," Jonas Gray said of what the players needed to hear from Kelly. "We just wanted to make sure that he was aware of how we were feeling and I think that he was. And that was pretty much it. He did a great job of handling it, our team did a great job of handling the whole situation. We're definitely unified from the top to the bottom."

"We had some things we needed to hash out," Gray added later. "We got that across to Coach Kelly and he did a great job of hearing us out and we just went from there."

Gray, making his first start of the season and second of his career, rushed for 69 yards on just 12 carries and scored three touchdowns, helping to resurrect a run game that was non-existent for much of last week's game against USC.

Cierre Wood added 66 yards on 11 carries and a pair of touchdowns himself. The Irish finished with seven rushing touchdowns, their most in one game in 19 years.

And then there's Chris Salvi, a walk-on special teams ace chosen as a game captain, who became emotional Friday night at the team's pep rally before joining season captain Smith on the pregame walk to the coin toss Saturday.

"That was just awesome, that's the only way I can describe that," Smith said. "Nobody deserves that more than Chris Salvi does. That guy brings it every day, everything he does. And his love for not only the game and for the team but for this university is something that's just awesome."

Salvi embodied that passion for the game Kelly so often talks about looking for in his players, who cleared up any confusion hours before the walk-on was named their leader Friday. They followed the next day by channeling their emotions to rout a team it lost to in three of the previous four years.

"I mean, I think any time you're in a business like we are, where you're around your guys all the time, that you need to be honest," Kelly said. "You need to be communicating, and that occurred. And like I said, those family matters, we've all been in them. The most important thing is what happens, and what happened today was our football team played together and played great football."

Video: Notre Dame's Harrison Smith

October, 29, 2011
10/29/11
8:48
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Matt Fortuna talks with safety Harrison Smith about Notre Dame's 56-14 rout of Navy.

Final: Notre Dame 56, Navy 14

October, 29, 2011
10/29/11
6:11
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame kicked Twitter-gate to the side Saturday by beating up on Navy, running all over the Midshipmen in a 56-14 victory to improve to 5-3.

The Irish scored touchdowns on five of their first six possessions in jumping out to a 35-7 lead at halftime. The second half featured more of the same.

Michael Floyd responded after a rough outing against USC by eclipsing the 100-yard receiving mark in the first half. He finished with a receiving and a rushing touchdown. Jonas Gray rushed for three touchdowns, and Cierre Wood added two.

Be sure to keep it here for post-game reaction from the Irish's fifth win of the season.

Irish prepare for more option

October, 26, 2011
10/26/11
4:43
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Last year, Notre Dame surrendered 367 rushing yards to Navy in a 35-17 loss, its third in four years to the Midshipmen.

Nearly three weeks ago, the Irish gave up 363 yards to Air Force in a 59-33 win.

This year Air Force boasts the nation's No. 2 rushing attack, with Navy right behind at No. 3.

"Big plays; keep the points down," Brian Kelly said. "Big plays, minimize, take away the big play, and keep the points down. Don't care about yardage. When you play an option team, you're going to give up yardage. You can't give up the big play, because you've got somebody with their eyes in the backfield and now here comes the slot on an arc release and he's running free down the middle of the field.

"So when you play option teams, the yardage is irrelevant. It's all about minimizing big plays and keeping the points down."

Navy is more of a traditional option team than Air Force, which just happens to really like to run the option, along with several other formations, throughout the course of a game.

Before this year's Air Force game, Kelly had said his team got away from who it was in the loss to Navy before it returned to its physical nature four weeks later in a win over Army.

"We obviously have bigger guys, faster guys across the board," safety Harrison Smith said. "So really like we say, whenever we play an option team, it just comes down to doing your assignment, and then when you get there, kind of imposing your will against them. If you have the physical advantage, if you can match them mentally, then you can really kind of capitalize on that physical advantage."

Despite having the third-best rushing offense and third-worst passing offense in the nation, Navy is just 38th in time of possession, though that is still 44 spots ahead of Air Force.

The Falcons turned the ball over twice in the second half against Notre Dame and allowed touchdowns on their first six defensive possessions. They were never able to keep up.

Navy has just nine turnovers this season. Its defense ranks 95th nationally.

"Well, you obviously don't want to give up yards, but at the end of the day, it's points versus points. That's the game," Smith said. "So if you can keep the points down, that's how you win the game. You know, especially against a team like Navy who, you know, average so many rushing yards and they make big plays through the air.

"So really, if you can cut out those big plays through the air, don't let them pop the long runs and kind of get them off track and get them into second-and-long, third-and-long, that's kind of where you can capitalize, and it's almost like they are going to get their yards. You just have to keep them off the board."

Navy familiar with bad breaks this season

October, 24, 2011
10/24/11
6:54
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And you thought Notre Dame was the victim of so many bad breaks.

Navy, the Irish's opponent this Saturday, is 2-5. It is in the middle of a five-game losing streak that has featured four games decided by three points or less -- a total of eight points covering four defeats.

The latest wrong turn in a Midshipmen season that has seen so many came in Saturday's 38-35 home loss to East Carolina, which ended with Jon Teague's 42-yard field goal bouncing off the right upright when time expired … which came two plays after Matt Aiken's seemingly good 33-yard touchdown catch was ruled incomplete and upheld … which came two quarters after starting quarterback Kriss Proctor left the game with a left-elbow injury -- and yes, he's a southpaw.

That loss came one week after blowing a 10-point second-half lead at Rutgers, which won by one point thanks in large part to a blocked field goal attempt with less than five minutes to play.

Two weeks earlier, Navy came back from an 18-point second-half deficit against Air Force to force overtime … where the Midshipmen lost by one thanks, again, in large part to a blocked extra point in overtime. That one came from the 35-yard line after Proctor received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after his one-yard touchdown run.

In Navy's game before that, in an attempt to go 3-0 and beat a top-10 team for the first time since 1984, the Midshipmen had a pass picked off in the fourth quarter, sealing a 24-21 loss at then-No. 10 South Carolina.

The losing continued from then on.

Proctor is a longshot to return Saturday, meaning sophomore Trey Miller will likely make his first career start. Miller completed 5 of 12 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns Saturday.

For two teams ready to take out the frustrations of seemingly mounting bad breaks, this Saturday probably cannot come soon enough.

New goals for Irish with BCS out of reach

October, 24, 2011
10/24/11
9:10
AM CT
Theo RiddickJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesWith Saturday's loss to USC, Notre Dame needs to quickly rebound against Navy.
Brian Kelly and his players openly talked about their BCS-bowl dreams during the summer, after two season-opening losses and again in the midst of four-straight wins.

That chatter is now on hold with a 31-17 loss to USC, a defeat that all but eliminated the Irish from the "playoffs" they so often spoke of being in during the pursuit of their goal.

Kelly downplayed the BCS carrot angle Sunday when asked if he has to find something else to dangle in front of his players after a 4-3 start to the season.

"Quite honestly, and I'm just telling you the truth here, the dangling of the carrot is more about a sound bite," Kelly said. "It's not what we do on a day-to-day basis. We don't come to practice dangling that carrot. We come to practice saying we've got to be more disciplined with our eyes, we've got to do a better job on route adjustments. We're just so focused more on the detail that I think we look too much into those sound bites as to each and every week, each and every day is for us the most important thing.

"We've got plenty to play for. We've got plenty to play for because when you're building your football program you're building pride in what you do. And I think that's the overriding factor is that our guys have an immense amount of pride in what they do, and they want to get better at it."

In other words, there is plenty of season left, at least five games that will shape this team's fate in one way or another, whether or not the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., seems like a foregone conclusion at this point.

With plenty of young talent on the current roster, plenty more on the way for next season and a harsh schedule looming in 2012, it is fair to wonder if Kelly will have next year in mind when making some personnel decisions during these last five or six games.

Kelly, as to be expected, said that wouldn't be the case.

"It never gets to, I think I said this [Saturday] night, I think you guys have more of a global view of everything," he said. "We just don't operate that way. We're dealing with a day-to-day process. We're looking at how we can improve, how we can stop Navy. We really don't get into that. That's good talk for the radio shows and the pundits; they can talk about that stuff. We just don't get into those kinds of conversations. We keep it really focused on the day-to-day."

Kelly said he would use the rest of the season to continue to build his program, by which he would ultimately measure his success. Three losses seven games into Year 2 put him a little behind schedule.

But one, two or even three more defeats would make the current situation seem like paradise, which makes righting the ship this week against rival Navy an important first step in the rest of a season that, in much of the public's view, is already lost.

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