Irish Players Respect the Midshipmen

The Notre Dame football team will meet Navy on Saturday for the 78th time. The Irish have won 40 straight games against Navy, but that streak appears to be in jeopardy of ending soon as the Midshipmen continue to challenge the Irish in each game recently, including D.J. Fitzpatrick's 40-yard field goal to preserve last year's Irish win. The Irish players expect a very confident Navy team on Saturday.

Senior linebacker Derek Curry has played in two Navy battles already and says he knows what it takes to defeat Navy.

"Discipline is the biggest key in this game," Curry said. "The outcome of the game will be determined on how disciplined you are. Everything they do, all the misdirection they do, you have to stay disciplined and stay focused on what you have to do."

The Midshipmen have had 16 days to prepare for the Irish and that should be a big advantage for Navy.

"Anytime more than four days is awesome being able to prepare. It gives you an upper hand," said Curry. "What it comes down to is how well you play on Saturday."

One advantage the Irish defense will have is that a number of their starters have experience playing the option and Navy's offense as the 2004 Irish defensive unit is a veteran group.

"There's a lot of guys that have actually played a lot in this ball game," Curry said. "That will help us out just from knowing what to expect. That's definitely going to play a role."

The Midshipmen have fullback Kyle Eckel back and Curry says he knows the key to stopping Navy is to stop Eckel.

"If you don't stop the fullback, they can pretty much do whatever they want," he said. "If you eliminate that part of their run game, then their forced to run the ball wide, and that's going to put us to an advantage."

The Irish offense will also have a challenge on Saturday. The Midshipmen are only allowing 16.6 points per game and are off to a 5-0 start. Offensive lineman Dan Stevenson says he thinks the Midshipmen defense looks a lot like the Stanford defense.

"Their base front is typically of an odd defense—kind of similar to what we saw this past week," Stevenson said. "They definitely do a lot of moving around as far as shifting. It's just something that coaches have to give us good looks at. It's nothing we haven't seen before."

Stevenson says he also expects this Navy team to battle for a full four quarters on Saturday.

"They're definitely a tough team and they bring it," Stevenson said of the Midshipmen. "I think they don't always get the respect they deserve. They're a solid team, they're undefeated and they play hard. They never quit playing. They'll play you until the very end."

The extra time to prepare should be an advantage for Navy according to Stevenson, but the senior says the Irish offense has to focus on what they're doing, and not what Navy will try to do to confuse them.

"With 16 days, that's a lot of time on your hands," he said. "Who knows what they're going to come up with. We've got to focus on our game. We need to focus on our individual responsibilities and try to execute."

Linebacker Brandon Hoyte said he simply respects the Midshipmen and loves this rivalry.

"I would say what they stand for," said Hoyte when asked why Navy has been difficult to defeat recently. "And I think that's helped propel their play, and that's hard, emotional play, every single down, regardless of the score. I think that's something that every team envies and every team strives for."

The last time Hoyte played in the Meadowlands was his first start for the Irish where he played and outstanding game. The New Jersey native is returning home for this game and is hoping for a similar experience.

"I've been thinking about that for the last couple of days and it was a great experience," said Hoyte of his first start. "Hopefully I can relive that."

Defensive end Justin Tuck says the Navy offense forces the Irish to play a little more conservative.

"Their scheme, it requires you being focused," said Tuck. "We know they're going to come in and run the ball, we just don't know where they're going to run it. They're going to be confident, they're undefeated. It's going to be a hard-fought game."

"It takes away the risks you take against other teams. In this game we know we've got to play our assignments. We know if you miss an assignment on any given play they can bust you for a long run."

Tuck also says he's been impressed with Kyle Eckel as a runner.

"He's probably the hardest runner I've seen on film this year," Tuck said of the Navy fullback. "I think for their offense, he's the key. If you can stop him, that makes them go somewhere else, and I think that's their No. 1 threat right now."

Defensive end Kyle Budinscak has also been through the wars with Navy as a three-year starter. The fifth-year senior has nothing but respect for the Midshipmen.

"They play hard regardless of the situation, regardless of the score, regardless of who they're playing," Budinscak said. "I have a lot of respect for those guys. I think they have a reason to be confident right now—they're 5-0."

While Budinscak respects the Midshipmen; he doesn't like playing them much.

"It can be kind of a pain to tell you the truth, especially when it's a very well run system," said Budinscak of the Navy offense. "They run the system as well as anybody. The option offense is designed to be able to give defenses problems by the nature of what it does. It requires you to have a lot of discipline and really be on your mark."

Running back Ryan Grant said the Irish offense was not happy with their performance against Stanford, and that they didn't live up to the standard they set for themselves.

"We didn't play very well, especially in the first half," said Grant. "We didn't play well at all in the first half. We didn't execute. We know the ability we have on this team, and guys don't accept mediocre play."

Grant has been battling his hamstring injury, but returned to play against Stanford. The senior admits the injury has been a very frustrating thing to deal with.

"Absolutely because it something that really prohibits you from doing what you do," he said. "I can play through pain—pain is not a problem. When it stops you from doing something that you have no control over, that's very frustrating."

Grant also agrees that the Irish will likely see Navy's best game on Saturday.

"We always know when we play them that it's going to be a big game," Grant said. "We take it as a big game. We know they're a really good team. They're going to fight us the whole game."

Senior linebacker Mike Goolsby said even the Irish coaches don't like preparing for Navy.

"A lot of preparation," Goolsby said about the game. "I know Navy drives the coaches nuts because it's such a completely different type of offense to prepare for.

"It's tough to get prepared for just because there's so much discipline involved. One mistake can lead to a touchdown. I think we're mature enough as a defense where we'll be able to handle it."

Goolsby also has a lot of respect for Navy fullback Kyle Eckel. He and Eckel will likely meet a number of times in the middle of the field.

"That kid will put his head through a wall, he really will," Goolsby said. "It's definitely a challenge. It's something that we're all going to have to get mentally prepared for, facing him and facing that whole offense. We're looking forward to it."

The senior linebacker said he hopes the Irish coaching staff puts in an attacking game plan this week.

"Hopefully we have an aggressive package put in because you don't like to sit back on your heels and let them dictate what's going to go on," he said. "Hopefully it shouldn't change our approach that much. We've sort of developed an identity as a defense and hopefully we can stick with that."

One thing is certain. The Irish players do have a lot of respect for the Midshipmen. They certainly respect the effort this team always brings to the game. Top Stories