Banged-Up Mids Have Tall Task on ‘D'

Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green won't bowl you over with praise for Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd.

It's not because he doesn't have any – Green does – but rather because the longtime Navy coordinator is too busy worrying about how his defense will stop the veritable "who's who" of All-American candidates on the Notre Dame offense.

"When you watch them play, they have so many weapons," said Green, whose defense allowed an NCAA record 26 straight completions to East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis in last Saturday's 38-35 loss.

"When you look at them -- of course Michael Floyd has great numbers -- but you look at their tight ends and their other receivers and their whole starting lineup, and they've got guys who can catch the ball and take it to the house," Green continued, before adding that the Irish are "very, very dangerous."

Green will have his work cut out for him as Navy (2-5) travels to play the Irish (4-3) in South Bend, Indiana this Saturday. Following an impressive 2-0 start the Mids have dropped five straight, with Green's defense falling to the bottom of nearly every statistical category there is. Currently ranked 103rd in rushing defense and 111th in passing efficiency defense, Green's unit figures to get no reprieve this week, especially considering it takes on an Irish offense that's averaging nearly 439 yards a game.

According to Green, it's an offense that is light-years ahead of where it was at this time last year, when Navy held then first year head coach Brian Kelly's vaunted spread attack to a pedestrian 353 yards, including just 106 yards on the ground.

"I think their execution has been better," said Green, who pointed out that Notre Dame came into last year's game with a turnover-prone Dayne Christ at the helm. Since that time, the Irish have instead gone to Tommy Rees at quarterback. Rees, who was in the process of engineering a possible second-half comeback before hyperextending his knee in Notre Dame's 31-17 loss against Southern California last Saturday, is expected to lead the Irish offense this weekend.

"The key has been the play of the quarterback," Green stated. "The play of the quarterback has just been incredible. He knows where to go with it and he'll pick you apart. They have so many more weapons they are using this year that we didn't quite see a year ago, and they are hitting on all cylinders."

Green's defense, meanwhile, isn't. Hitting on all cylinders, that is. Instead, it's barely making the speed limit, getting by with a mix of underclassmen and former backups who are attempting to fill in as injuries and attrition take their toll. Not only are many of Navy's front line defenders nursing nagging injuries, but it now appears that neither first string cornerback David Wright nor his backup Jonathan Wev will be available to play on Saturday. Instead, that means wiry 6-foot-2 freshman Parrish Gaines, who saw action in emergency relief against East Carolina, will be called upon to match up against either Floyd or speedster T.J. Jones.

"He got his chance, went in, and played as well as any of the other DBs that played on Saturday," said Green of his freshman cornerback. "He's going to get the start this Saturday."

Aside from improved quarterback play from Rees, Green said that the Irish have expanded the use of their running backs this season, and come together on the offensive line. All told, the sheer amount of playmakers has increased from year one to year two in Brian Kelly's offense. And now, as opposed to last year, all those playmakers are on the same page.

"Teams will do a decent job (on defense), but the running backs have hurt a lot of people in the passing game coming out of the backfield with the screen game, the flairs, and the check-downs," Green observed. "They have a lot of talent. You go from a great player in Michael Floyd and there's another great one across from him. There's another great tight end on the other side who's catching the ball."

One of those ball-catchers is tight end Tyler Eifert, whose 39 catches and 429 receiving yards trail only Floyd's 57 catches for 667 yards for the team lead. Eifert, said Green, creates matchup problems because of his size and strength.

"They use him in so many ways," Green said. "He's strong, and he's a big target in the red zone. You can't ‘bump' on him because he'll push off defenders to the inside."

Navy will start hybrid linebacker/safety Tra'Ves Bush on Saturday in an effort to get more speed on the field against Eifert. Bush, whose 51 total tackles are second only to linebacker Matt Warrick for Navy, will be a key part of the nickel package Navy will employ against Notre Dame.

But while much of the attention will likely be focused on how Navy's patchwork secondary contains the Irish receivers and tight ends, Green said it all starts up front. And while it remains to be seen if Navy's defensive line – which had generated an anemic single sack on average through seven games – can force Rees into the poor decisions which have doomed Notre Dame in its three losses, Green is confident senior defensive lineman Jabaree Tuani has already struck a chord in the Navy locker-room.

"Jabaree has shown great leadership this week with just reemphasizing the point that we emphasize -- that is ‘go back to work,' and ‘just get better,'" Green said.

"We've got to work our butts off to have a chance on Saturday. All we get is a chance if we work as hard as we can during the week."

Adam Nettina is the former Sports Editor for the Utah Statesman and can be reached at AdamNettina – at – gmail.com

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