Two out of three will get a guy's attentionNavy hasn't beaten Notre Dame in a game played outside of South Bend since the 1960 season. The Midshipmen have, however, beaten the Irish in two of the teams' last three meetings for the first time since the early 60s ('61 and '63) and imposed their will on the ND defense in the process.
The new head coach took a few extra steps to prevent further embarrassment at the hands of an Academy…and the triple-option.
For the last five weeks now, we have been running Navy's offense with our scout team," head coach Brian Kelly revealed Saturday. "We feel like we've been preparing for this week for the last month."
"When you're playing both Navy and Army on your schedule, you can't take just two days and practice against (the option) offense. So it was a decision we made last spring that we would be preparing for both teams each week with our look squads and its only about 15-20 minutes each day."
Kelly admitted it had been awhile since he prepared to face the offense run by as few as three to five programs per season over the last decade in the sport. Fortunately, Kelly doesn't prepare the defense.
"Coach Diaco's very familiar with it," Kelly said of his defensive coordinator. "That's why we prepared for it during the year. Our offense can't even give them that look because of the way (Navy's) offensive linemen play."
The University begins its October break this week. No classes for the Irish players and a reprieve from the 20-hour practice limit won't drastically change the team's approach to the work week.
"Well I think the one thing in particular is we can adjust our clocks a little bit. It allows us to practice around noon time to get ready for (Saturday's) noon start," Kelly offered.
"I think (October break) comes at a pretty good time," he noted of the unique situation a break from school work presents. "Two out of the next three weeks they're going to have a lighter schedule relative to academics and athletics. We won't do much more just because the 20-hour rule is not in effect. We're going to try to practice earlier and give them the evenings off so they're fresh coming into Saturday."
October break allows students and student athletes to recharge heading into the home stretch of the first semester (most students go home rather than treat the week off as a vacation as they do the same time frame during the spring).
Two weeks later, the football team will have a break from the physical – time to allow their bodies to heal prior to a three-week stretch that includes presently undefeated Utah, a game vs. Army at Yankee Stadium, and a trip to decade-foil and chief rival USC.
Speaking of which…According to Kelly, Notre Dame entered Game Six (Pittsburgh) in its best overall physical condition of the season. Two weeks later, things have taken a turn for the worse.
"(Michael) Floyd was a little sore today," Kelly said of the Irish offensive star on Sunday. "He played through a Grade One hamstring (injury) so we're getting further testing done on him to know where he is.
"Theo (Riddick) was in a boot today; we're going to have to probably get an MRI," Kelly noted. Riddick injured his ankle Saturday in the win over Western Michigan. "The X-Ray was clean but the MRI would tell us if we have any further damage there."
With junior tight end Kyle Rudolph out for the season, the injuries to Floyd and Riddick take a healthy chunk out of Notre Dame's passing attack. The trio combined for 110 of the team's 166 receptions through seven games and 12 of the pass-catcher's 15 touchdown receptions.
Measures are in place in case Riddick is unable to play vs. the Midshipmen.
"I think T.J. Jones would probably move in there," Kelly said of Riddick's slot receiver role. "(John) Goodman would then move to the X (where he currently splits time with Jones); (Robby) Toma would back up the (slot) and Bennett Jackson would back up the X.
Also hobbled Saturday was junior Jamoris Slaughter. The safety reinjured his ankle vs. Pittsburgh. Slaughter missed both the Michigan and Michigan State losses with a bad sprain. "We're going to do another MRI on him because he's not improving to the level we need him to," Kelly said of the junior free safety. "He tweaked his ankle against Pittsburgh and as you saw, he was very limited (Saturday)." Kelly expected further evaluation from the team's medical staff later Sunday.
Hold the applauseFirst kicker David Ruffer took grief from his head coach in Saturday's post-game. A PAT that barely got off the ground and a mid-range field goal (that's 17 straight, coach) that traveled just over the necessary 33 yards elicited a media ban from the head coach on his sudden celebrity place-kicker.
"I think we'll try to protect David Ruffer from any more interviews for next week," Kelly noted only half-joking. "Yeah, he's off limits. He talked to too many people this week (laughing)." Next up on the ego chopping block: sophomore inside linebacker Carlo Calabrese.
"Carlo has obviously made great progress but it's overdone if we think he's arrived," Kelly said when asked about Calabrese on Sunday. "He has not arrived as a consistent player for us yet. He had a lot of trouble this Saturday: all of those completions that were in that curl…Carlo was getting fished out of that curl pretty regularly. (He) guessed on a couple of plays.
"We're going to have to hold off on the Carlo Calabrese story of arriving. He's made progress, but he's still not there yet."
Speaking of egos taking a hit, Carolina Panthers backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen paid a visit to his former team Saturday. The sideline appearance elicited a hypothetical for Coach Kelly: Would he have tailored his offense to suit the talents of a certain returning senior this fall?
"If Jimmy Clausen was back for us this year?" Kelly began, "I've always fitted the offense toward the best players. Whoever the best players are, we will fit the offense to that. It's just my background that I've had to do that my whole career. Division II, whether we had a quarterback or wide receiver or running back (that was his top dog), I've always fitted toward who that playmaker is."
Clausen won the Panthers starting job due to an injury to starter Matt Moore, but has struggled mightily through three starts for the injury-riddled, winless Panthers. He enters this week as Moore's backup – the safest place for any rookie quarterback behind a leaky offensive line with a depleted group of receivers.
Here's to a late-season reappearance by Clausen when things have settled down a bit in Carolina.