Irish Close Preparation for Navy

The Irish wrapped up their final practice Thursday in their preparation for Navy. They Irish need a big win this week to keep their bowl hopes alive. Navy brings the top-ranked rushing offense in the country, and a confident defense, to South Bend hoping to break their 39-game losing streak against the Irish. Coach Tyrone Willingham believes this is the best Navy team in many years.

"They have a great defense," said Julius Jones. "I think we could possibly have some room to run. If we go out and execute like we have this week, it could be a good game for us."

Navy will line up in a 3-4 defense on Saturday. This will be the first time the Irish have seen a 3-4 alignment all year. Jones thinks he might be able to find some creases in their defense.

"That gives us more of an opportunity when they don't have everything clogged up. There's a chance for a hole to open up, more so than the other games before. We've had a great week of practice, we feel confident, and I think we're going to have a good game."

The Navy secondary seems to make all the tackles for the Midshipmen. Three out of four of the top Navy tacklers are from the secondary. We asked Jones if that was a sign that he might have a big game this week. "That's all a running back can ask for--to get to that level—the rest is up to you. Hopefully that will work out for us."

Jones has been one of the few highlights for the Irish this season. Jones says he feels great right now. "The season hasn't really gone the way we wanted it to go, but that's how it works out sometimes. I am really happy to be out there again. I feel strong and I feel good out there. As a senior, I'm just trying to finish up strong and help this team win the next four games, and it starts on Saturday."

Offensive coordinator, Bill Diedrick, hopes his offense can have a big day. He said he's hoping the Irish defense doesn't have to see the field much in this game. "You always like to get the running game going," said Diedrick. "We'd like to be balanced. I think the other thing that's most important is to help our defense, and keep them off the field."

Julius Jones and Ryan Grant carry the load for the Irish on the ground. Jones appears to be much more effective, however. He's averaging 5.2 yards per carry--Grant is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. Diedrick was asked if splitting time with both Jones and Grant has slowed the momentum of the backs.

"It depends on how you split time. When a guy gets winded, the other guy goes in. You kind of get in the flow of the game, if one guy's got the hot hand, you go with him. You kind of earn it. If you end up making plays, you're probably going to stay out there. Julius got hot in Pittsburgh; he got hot at Washington State, and all of the sudden he was packing load."

Quarterback, Brady Quinn, had a rough outing last week against Florida State. Diedrick says Quinn has bounced back for this week. "I think he'll continue to improve every game. I think he's bounced back. I don't think that last week has affected him on any way. I think he's really excited about Saturday."

Many believe the Irish have defeated Navy 39 straight times because they have more talent than Navy. Diedrick says that we should not assume that to be true.

"The talent is assumed by the media and the other outside worlds. They've won a number of football games and they're playing very, very confident. Anytime that Navy plays Notre Dame, regardless of the last 40 outcomes, they come and they're going to give you their A+ effort and you have to match that effort. They're playing a lot more intense than a year ago."

Coach Tyrone Willingham was asked to describe the Navy offense. "I call it a triple option," said Willingham. "They put all phases to it. It's a lot more than just a triple option. He's added a lot of things to it. There's a sophisticated, to a certain degree, passing game to it. There's a trap game to it, there's a trap-option game to it, there's a counter game to it, it's got a lot of dimensions to it."

For the Irish to win, they must play their assignments well on defense. Navy will be even more difficult to defend because they have a true triple option with their fullback as their leading rushing. We asked Willingham if Navy presents a bigger problem because they have to play assignment football.

"I don't think it makes it more difficult to play assignment football, but to stop the assignment, it does. He's a pretty good guy, and they do things pretty well. He's explosive in there, he gets off the mark quick, and he hits. He has a lot of confidence in what they're doing."

The navy slot backs have been averaging almost 10 yards per carry. Willingham was asked how that was possible. "What happens is the nature of that offense put so much focus on the quarterback and the fullback. That's where you see everybody trying to stop their game plan. You've got to stop that dive, if you don't stop the dive, now you've got to stop the quarterback. Then all of the sudden they bring it out to that third option, and they're pitching it, and you're guys got lost, they miss it, they hide, they motion them, they do different things. Then that assignment discipline kind of kicks in. If you're off just a little bit, now they kick it out to one of those guys, and now they've got a big play."

Playing assignment football can take away the aggressiveness of the defense. We asked Willingham if that was a concern for him. "It can, it depends on the comfort level of the defense. If the defense can get comfortable, can recognize the formations, and see all those subtle things they throw at you, then you can be aggressive. Hopefully we've tried to give them as many reps and as many looks at it as possible so they can be aggressive and just roll and play."

The Irish will have to be disciplined on defense. Anytime a triple option team is effective with all three facets of the option, they are very difficult to defend. Having two inexperienced safeties playing the option for the first time is never a good sign. The Irish will have to put together a complete game to get this win.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories