Irish Set Sights on Navy

Notre Dame beats Stanford 31-10 and they slide down the rankings. The Irish rally late to dramatically defeat UCLA 20-10 and the team inches further away from the top. The style points have not been there lately although No. 9 Notre Dame (6-1) keeps on winning ballgames. Head coach Charlie Weis, a master at figuring out opposing defenses, hasn't been able to decipher the polls yet.

"One of the teams that jumped us had the same game as we had," Weis said on Tuesday in reference to Tennessee leapfrogging Notre Dame in a poll. "They're down, playing at home and they win by a field goal. Another team that jumped us wasn't even playing. They are sitting at home eating cheeseburgers and they jump us. That befuddles me. We come from behind and win a thrilling game and get jumped. Because we win a thrilling game, lets move us down and jump us with a team that was eating cheeseburgers and another that played the same game as us. Tell me how that works? Maybe I'm stupid."

There might be a few theories on why: the Irish rallied late at home to beat an unranked UCLA with their second-string quarterback or Notre Dame's only top-25 win, Georgia Tech, got a woodshed beating at Clemson. Nevertheless, the Irish will have another chance to improve their No. 9 BCS ranking this weekend as they travel to Baltimore to face the Naval Academy. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:12 EDT at M&T Bank Stadium and CBS will have national television coverage. Weis even acknowledged that it's a remote chance his team ends up in the national title game. The next best thing: another appearance in a BCS contest. The Notre Dame head coach will know in a little over a month if his team is deserving of a top-10 spot.

"I think we'll know that in five weeks," Weis said. "We might be a top-five team in five weeks. If you are basing it off one game, our defense played a top-10 game and our offense didn't. Ask me that at the end of November. I couldn't answer that now."

All Notre Dame can do is continue to win. A familiar opponent in Navy is next up on the schedule. There two teams need no introduction. This will be the 80th straight meeting between the institutions, making it the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in the country. Lately, it's been completely one-sided. The Irish have won 42 straight games over the Midshipmen, which is the longest current streak in the NCAA. There have been a few close nailbiters recently, although last year Notre Dame pounded Navy 42-21. As many can remember, Weis had his team go with the Midshipmen players and sing their alma mater song. It's all part of the respect that the Irish head coach has for places such as Navy.

"We've played this game 80 times in a row," Weis said. "Obviously, the guys who go to Navy are different than the guys who go the Notre Dame in the fact that when they buy into going to Navy, they buy going into the armed services after they graduate. The next month, we have three teams that all fit this criteria. Our team better look out because they got a lot bigger picture in mind than we sometimes do."

The Midshipmen are coming off a bye but have a huge hole to fill. Their starting quarterback, Brian Hampton, sustained a serious left knee injury in a 34-0 loss to Rutgers. Hampton was the team's leading rusher and passer this season and has totaled 12 touchdowns in 2006. It sets the stage for Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada to start his first game ever in a Navy uniform. In place of Hampton in the Rutgers contest, he completed 4-of-11 passes for 53 yards and ran the ball 22 times for 11 yards.

"He's been considered one on their better athletes," Weis said of the new Midshipmen quarterback. "He killed in the spring game. This is not a guy that they are lacking with confidence in being in there. Because they've had two weeks to get this guy ready to go, they will not feel uncomfortable about what they're doing. If it was a short week to get him ready to go, it would be a little different."

For the Notre Dame defense, it'll be a challenge against Navy's second-ranked rushing offense that averages 316 yards per game. The Irish are coming off last week's performance when they held UCLA to 26 yards on the ground. The Irish are ranked 44th in Division 1A in run defense, surrendering 119 yards per contest. Weis wants his defense to be more simple in what they do vs. the option and good at the few things they do.

"This is not a tricky type of situation here," Weis said. "But you really have to play physical, fundamental, sound football when you're playing a team like Navy because they study the run game just the way I might study the pass game. They are so good at what they do, if you don't play physical, sound fundamental football, you are going to put yourself in a bind. What you also leave yourself suspect to is by being overly aggressive against the run, you leave yourself open to play action passes."

On the flip side, the major problem for the Notre Dame offense has been their ground attack. It's been lacking this season, to say the least. Darius Walker ran for 53 yards on 21 attempts against UCLA and as a team they totaled 41. The Irish rank 99th nationally in rush offense. The blame can be spread around to a lot of people, players and coaches alike. It'll definitely be a priority this week to get it back on track.

"It's not just Darius," Weis said. "It's Darius, it's the offensive line, and it's the tight end. Everyone is involved in the run game. It's scheme. It's the coach. There are a lot of things involved. There's been an inordinate number of hours the past two days to see if we can get the run game headed in the right direction. We'll see. I'm expecting some positive residual effects."


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