Center, Bob Morton, has been impressed with the Navy defense. "They play hard, they go," said Morton. "Anytime you play the academies, you expect to see that. They are a good defense, and we don't see the 3-4 in our every day looks, but we see it a lot in long distance situations. They throw a couple of twists in there that we have to adjust to on Saturday."
Navy is giving up an average of 170 rushing yards a game on defense. We asked Morton if the Irish would attack the Navy defense on the ground. "They are a good defense all around. One thing we want to establish every week is our running game, so we need to go over that mindset first. We need to get both our running game and our passing game going."
The Irish offensive line has improved a great deal since the beginning of the year. Morton says they've been playing as one unit lately. "You grow closer as the year goes on, and you learn to trust each other. We know when our partners are going to be there. That trust has allowed us to become one offensive line instead of five individuals, like at the beginning of the year."
The Midshipmen do present a problem in that they will be in a three-man front most the game. Every team the Irish have seen has used a four-man front. We talked to right guard, Jamie Ryan, and asked him if that changes their blocking scheme this week.
"We're used to blocking a four-man front, and they are running mostly a three-man front," said Ryan. "They're aggressive defenders, and we knew coming in that we just can't take them lightly—they're a good defense."
The Navy defensive line is also fairly small. Their heaviest man is only 273 pounds. Ryan says don't be fooled by their lack of size. "They aren't the biggest guys, but they'll beat you with their quickness. You have to work on the quicker defensive lineman, have technique and then take care of the rest."
Still, the Midshipmen defense has only allowed a little over 19 points per game. Ryan says the Navy defense doesn't quit. "I think they go out there and scrap, they're a scrappy defense, and we just need to go out there and match them physically to be successful."
Strong safety, Lionel Bolen, will likely play a lot in this game. Bolen saw the most action of his career last week against Florida State, playing in over 20 minutes of action. Bolen has not played against an option team in college, and the Irish will need a big game from him when he's in there.
Bolen says that Navy will be motivated to beat the Irish this year. "Last year they did play us well, they were a good team, and they're a good team this year," said Bolen. "It's something we look forward to, another challenge for us. We're just looking to get that win."
The Midshipmen can also hurt you with the pass, and Bolen says the safeties are well aware they can't just play to stop the run. "We've scouted them, we're looking at the run, but we're not forgetting about the pass. They can do a little fake option pass there, and try and get it in on us. We've been practicing that all week though, I think we'll be ready."
Bolen says his focus this week has been on the wing or slot backs. His responsibility will be to take the pitch man. "This week I've been focusing a lot on the wings, and reading my keys. That's what I need to focus on."
Coach Tyrone Willingham was asked how important it is for his safeties to play well this week. "First of all, the identification of the formation," said Willingham. "This group gives you very subtle formation changes in terms of eligible receivers that most people won't even notice. One team went through almost a half covering an ineligible receiver because it is very subtle. They do a great job of it so you need to have someone that has that kind of vision and experience that can get everybody lined up."
"Then when you play the option, you need to have somebody who can run that line and not be impatient. When I say that line, it's an angle that you run either downhill, quarterback to pitch, or directly to the pitch - and you need someone who can do that and not be impatient, overrun it, or caught up in the middle."
Willingham was asked if his scout team can give his defense a good look at the option offense. "They give us the best look they can give us which I think is pretty good. At the same time, there is nothing that can duplicate what Navy will give us at game time. And that's why you hope you can get off to a fast start against it, not let them get going, get yourself caught in the rhythm of it and to the speed of the game."
The Navy defense has been outstanding against the pass this year. They are only allowing just 150 yards per game through the air, and they have 12 interceptions on the year.
Willingham says their pass defense has impressed him. "No. 1 they're playing to their strength. They don't put themselves in situations that they can't be their best coverage team."
Playing a three-man front will offer some new challenges according to Willingham "There are some things we need to adjust without question. This is going to come down to identification and execution."
The Irish are ranked dead last in pass efficiency in the nation and Willingham was asked if he looked at those stats. "We look at all of the stats. We try to get a feel for how he (Brady Quinn) is playing the game, how he is doing, how well he is leading."
Quinn's efficiency rating has dropped, but Willingham says it's not all his fault—his receivers aren't helping by dropping the ball. "You know that's something that he is not accountable for, he is not accountable sometimes for the protection, he is not accountable for a route running short, there are a lot of things that you factor in in terms of understanding his performance."