In the trenches with Gaskins and Frazier

For the first time in forever, a win over Navy would make Notre Dame bowl eligible. And if that does not motivate the Irish, last year's overtime loss to the Mids should do the trick. Can anyone fathom the meltdown that would ensue in South Bend if Navy owned a two-game winning streak over the Golden Domers after Saturday? For Navy's Nate Frazier and Anthony Gaskins, that would be just fine.

In order for Navy to extend that winning streak to two games over Notre Dame, the Mids must win some battles in the trenches. In last year's historic victory, Navy had four sacks to Notre Dame's one. Leading the charge up front for Navy's triple option rushing attack will be the Mids most capable lineman, senior Anthony Gaskins.

Four years ago when deciding where to go to college, the opportunity to play and hopefully beat the Irish helped lead Gaskins to Annapolis.

"I think that is one of the things that made me want to come here – to change that dynamic.  Instead of coming into each (Notre Dame) game as a complete underdog with no shot of winning, it's good to see (we can win) because it gets us excited to play," said the West Orange, New Jersey native.

Gaskins admits that the thought of going 2-2 against the Irish in his career was probably too much to fathom a few years ago, but with last year's victory it is now a possibility.

"I think it's good to have a belief that (you can win). A lot of times, those close games, we would lose just because it was a shock that we were in the game," said Navy's starting left guard. "As long as everybody on this field has the belief that we can win, I think we can do it."

According to Gaskins, the offensive line's best efforts this season have come in victories over Rutgers and SMU.

Ironically neither quarterback who finished those two games will be starting for Navy this Saturday. Senior Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who led Navy to the victory over Rutgers and sophomore Ricky Dobbs, who led Navy to the win over SMU, will be watching the Notre Dame game from the sidelines. That's because senior Jarod Bryant, who is fully recovered from a shoulder injury that occurred in the beginning of the SMU game, will start.

And while Kaipo has been completely ruled out of the game, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said that Dobbs could see some playing time.

For Gaskins though, it does not matter who is calling the signals because they are all capable of helping the team win.

"With all of our quarterbacks, they have that big play potential. It makes you confident that if somebody goes down, the next person can come in and keep the ball rolling," said Gaskins. "You could be blocking one minute and the next minute you will see them running by you.  And the crowd starts roaring because of a big play. (As a lineman) it gets you excited and makes you want to hold your blocks even longer."

Unfortunately for Gaskins and the rest of the Navy offensive line, there have been some very controversial penalties called against them this season. Specifically, the unit has been flagged for several chop blocks when replays clearly indicated that officials made a mistake. It has definitely been a frustrating issue for the senior lineman.

"It's pretty tough. I think it was the Wake Forest game when I had one called on me. In your mind, you definitely know you didn't chop block. (You think) this is how I have been taught to block for three years. But the coaches tell us to let them handle talking to the referees. You just have to block it out of your mind and not let it affect you and make you play slow."

On the other side of the ball, Navy junior nose tackle Nate Frazier will be leading a defensive unit that will be trying to slow down Notre Dame's offense. And even though the Irish are having trouble running the ball – ranked 95th nationally – stopping their ground game is still a top priority for Navy.

"Getting pressure on (Clausen) will be a key…but we have to be able to stop the run first. They can throw the ball all they want, but if they are able to run they will be able to do a lot off of that. As long as we do our job and stop the run, we should be fine," said Frazier.

Helping out alongside Frazier will be freshman sensation Jabaree Tuani, who is second on the team with 6.5 tackles for a loss. Part of the reason for Tuani's success though can be attributed to Frazier, who has been double-teamed every game this season.

"That's just part of being a nose guard. You just have to know how to fend them off. I tell (Tuani) all the time, ‘Man, I'd get there every time if I had one-on-one (situations)," joked Frazier.

In addition to double-teams, Frazier has also had to overcome his tendency to jump off-sides – something he struggled with at times last season in particular.

"It was an issue. I've been playing this position my whole life. Sometimes it's just about taking a chance. If you can anticipate the snap count, you can get a jump on the ball. Sometimes you guess right. Sometimes you guess wrong. It's all part of (playing the position). I think I have gotten better at it this year," said the Atlanta native.

For the Notre Dame game, Frazier admits that it will be important for the Navy defense to stop the Irish offense early.

"You have to go out and establish momentum. You have to hit them in the mouth and let them know that we are not there for them to push us over. We are there for a fight."

Navy faces Notre Dame on Saturday in Baltimore having had a week off for the second time this season. However, the last time the Mids had an extra few days between games, the outcome wasn't very good - Pitt roughed up them up 42-21 in Annapolis. Bye-weeks are good and bad according to Frazier.

"You like off weeks because you get to heal physically but at the same time I'd rather (play) every week because of the routine. (Coach Niumatalolo) thought we lost a little mental focus against Pitt. We just showed up. This week he is stressing the mental preparation," said Frazier.

Frazier knows that there is always a lot of pomp and circumstance that comes with playing Notre Dame, but the winner does not get any points for the pre-game show or how many fans they bring.

"To me, I treat every game the same. It's always fun to play in front of 80 or 90,000 people. But all of the extra festivities don't really matter.  Once you get into the game and all the emotions settle down, it comes down to how you prepared throughout the week.  It all basically comes down to practice."

Extra Points

Navy is only a 3 ½ point underdog to Notre Dame. When asked if the Mids may be getting some of the Irish's recruits to help shrink the gap between the two schools (Notre Dame was favored by 13 ½ points in 2006), Coach Niumatalolo said, "No, we are not getting any of their recruits. I don't even think any of (our players) even received a letter from Notre Dame."

Both Frazier and Gaskins favor a college playoff system. Frazier said a playoff "gives everybody a chance to work towards a national championship instead of basing it off a computer system." And Gaskins added, "It would be exciting just to see that there wouldn't be any debate regarding which one-loss team is better.  It might stretch the season out, but I think there are so many college fans who would like to see match-ups between traditionally strong schools." Neither Gaskins nor Frazier thought a playoff system would take anything away from potential postseason scenarios for Navy.

When asked about the recently concluded Presidential campaign and election, Gaskins said that the topic "would come up occasionally" in the Navy locker room. He also added, "There were probably a lot of players for both candidates. It's good to see Senator Obama win, but I think Senator McCain would have made a great President too."


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