Five Questions: Notre Dame

Irish Eyes publisher Tim O'Malley answers five pressing questions regarding the upcoming Notre Dame-Navy game.

For my answers to Tim's questions, click HERE.

1. Notre Dame is coming off a bye week (and a controversial loss at Florida State - sorry for the reminder), but also has Arizona State looming next week. How did ND handle the bye week? Any chance the Irish are looking past Navy?

Tim O'Malley: The Irish took the week off -- literally. Or at least after a Tuesday practice. It was mid-semester break at the university and head coach Brian Kelly allowed his squad to go home for the first time since late July. They returned en masse over the weekend, conditioned Sunday, and held a practice they normally would not have had on Monday to begin preparations for Navy.

As defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder noted during the off week, it was up to the coaches to do the extra prep for Navy, the players needed time to refresh for a five-game, five-week stretch run, especially after the disputed ending in Tallahassee.

Last year's 38-34 barn-burner guarantees Notre Dame's full attention, as does much-needed time away from the game. (Let's put it this way: I would have picked a Navy outright upset of ND had the teams squared off 7 days after the Irish left Tallahassee.)

2. Expecting the answer to #1 to be "no", Notre Dame has a new defensive coordinator this year in Brian VanGorder. Have you seen or heard of differences in how he's prepping the Irish defense to face Navy this year as opposed to preparations the past three seasons? What do you see as the biggest differences between last year's defense and this year's?

TO: Considering the game is played exactly a calendar year after last season's edition, there are three major differences to point out.

1.) Unlike 2013, Notre Dame is nearly at full strength, both offensively, and more important, defensively. The front seven and safeties were beaten to a pulp at this point last fall.

2.) The 2014 Irish defensive front isn't a collection of fat and/or entitled players playing for an NFL contract.

3.) The unit is much faster, nearly across the board, and they play that way.

The unit, on paper and on film, seems far better-equipped to handle Navy's attack than was last year's group.

3. As this game approaches each season, I scan ND fan boards and see thread upon thread lamenting Navy's cut blocking. Despite the fact that every team cuts, including the Irish, is this more in the fans' heads or do the players worry too much about the blocking scheme as well? Has this become psychological warfare?

TO: Great question, and it was posed to Brian Kelly in his Tuesday press conference. His answer:

"Stop being crybabies and go play the game. I don't want to hear about cut-blocks. Get in your stance, get off the ball, and play your game," Kelly said.

"I don't want to hear about it. It's part of the game. They're legal. You have to get off the ball and go play. I told our guys, this is a 'No Cry Zone' this week. I don't want to hear about it. Go play the game and go play the game the right way." week. I don't want to hear about it. Go play the game and go play the game the right way."

It's notable because Kelly and his staff seemed preoccupied with the tactic in past seasons. Its been rumored that nose guard Louis Nix was held out of last year's contest (and the previous matchup with Air Force) because he was fearful of injury. (He already had a bad knee, but had played in each of the six games prior despite it.)

4. Given that Notre Dame is on the fringe of the new college football playoff, do you think there is pressure to earn "style points" by winning big instead of just lining up with two backs and two TE's and running the ball down Navy's undersized throat, shortening the game and getting out with a win?

TO: I think Kelly's learned his lesson. As a staff, they've likely written off 2010 as an aberration and something that couldn't happen today (it couldn't, that 2010 Navy team might beat Notre Dame 2014, but not in a manner close to that incredible afternoon in the New Meadowlands). But 2013 doubtless rings true. Kelly knows he's getting eight, maybe nine possessions Saturday and needs to score points on about six of them, touchdowns on at least five.

He noted Tuesday it doesn't matter if they score fast, or if they take 12 plays to finish a drive, it just has to end in points, mostly touchdowns.

You'll see more than 30 rushes for sure (the Irish are 40-5 when they rush more than 30 times under Kelly -- two losses to FSU, incidentally), but Golson's arm isn't going on ice, either. Making Navy tackle receivers such as Will Fuller and C.J. Prosise in space will be a major part of the game plan.

5. What are your thoughts on our ongoing rivalry? Is it a good thing that ND and Navy continue to play year after year, or is this now just an annoying tradition that Notre Dame puts up with?

TO: I know the history of the marriage and the resulting debt the university and its football team owes the Academy, so I not only believe they should play every year, but know they will.

If an Irish fan wants it to end, he or she either doesn't understand loyalty, tradition, or Notre Dame's mission in general. (And that's often the case in the internet age.)

I do think the Irish should try to schedule Navy following a bye week as they have this season -- or just prior to a bye week, perhaps in season's to follow. The program's annual one-week brush with the option has resulted in some ugly defensive efforts in the week that follows -- Notre Dame is 2-5 over the last seven years following its matchup with Navy, with the two wins ranking as less-than-impressive.

The "annoying" aspect of the matchup is that many non-Notre Dame fans and the national media don't realize Navy is a perennial bowl team. The less-than-informed masses likewise think Notre Dame has lifetime contracts with Air Force and Army.

But you can't fight stupid.

Discuss this story with other Navy fans in GoMids forums: LINK.


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