Head coach Bobby Ross might need another speech like that one this Saturday. The 3-7 Black Knights come to Notre Dame Stadium this weekend to face the Irish. Kickoff is set for 2:43 p.m. and NBC will have the national television coverage. Army is not riding into the game on a high note. They've lost four in a row, all by two touchdowns or more. Currently, the Black Knights are 31 point underdogs to the No. 5 Irish. Ross knows it'll take a special performance from his team to come back to West Point with a victory.
"I don't know that we would have to play a perfect game, because I don't know that I've ever had one in all of my coaching years," Ross said on Tuesday. "We have to play well and then we have to get a little luck. Ball State had Michigan hanging on. We had a shot at beating Texas A&M. Things like that can happen. We're not going to go up there and lay down. We're going to go up there and we're going to fight like hell and compete and see what happens."
The first priority should be to stop Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. The Irish signal caller has been on fire as of late, not throwing an interception in his last 223 pass attempts dating back 26 quarters to the Michigan State contest. On paper, Army has the tools to defend the Notre Dame passing attack. They rank 18th nationally in pass defense.
But take a closer look at their schedule: the Black Knights have faced only two passing offenses ranked in top-60 and four ranked 101st or worse. This might explain why Army is third to last in Division 1A in sacks. The key to stopping Quinn and the Irish offense is pressure the quarterback. That might be tough on Saturday.
"It would help to get some pass rush," Ross said about Quinn. "That has been the weakness of our defense this year. We're not getting the pass rush that I was hoping for. Part of it is that we haven't had our front four totally in tact the whole year, and that has hurt us. We need to try to get to him a little bit. I think anybody is going to react to pressure the same way. He's going to have to move around a little bit in the pocket. The problem is that he throws very well on the run, and he can run too."
And how good does Ross think Quinn is as a quarterback?
"In Brady Quinn, they have one heck of a quarterback," Ross said. "I don't know that I've ever seen a stronger arm with a quicker release than what he's got. Many years ago when I was special teams coach in the National Football League, I remember we played against Baltimore and they had a guy named Burt Jones. Burt Jones had a gun of an arm and I don't know that (Brady Quinn) doesn't have one about the same way. He threw a 23-yard shot to his tight end, in which the defensive back was in pretty good shape. Before (the defensive back) could react, the ball was in the tight end's hands for a touchdown."
What could make Army's task a little tougher is the possibility of a freshman quarterback starting on the road. Carson Williams turned down scholarship offers from Arkansas, North Carolina State and Vanderbilt to attend West Point. In his first start vs. Tulane, he connected on 16-of-24 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns but struggled mightily in a 43-0 home loss to Air Force. In that contest, Williams threw four interceptions. He's tossed three touchdowns to seven interceptions on the season. Ross said on Tuesday that both Williams and David Pevoto would see some time at quarterback on Saturday.
Can Army pull the upset with the possibility of a freshman quarterback on the road and a pass rush that is one of the worst in college football? It'll be a tall order. Add these to the fact that Notre Dame is vying for an outside chance at a spot in the national title game. Next week, the Irish face No. 3 USC. Ross doesn't expect the Irish to be a forward thinking bunch.
"This game is as important to them as next week," Ross said. "They are fighting for a position. If I'm Charlie Weis, I'm going to get out there and get ready to play. They might look at us as a team that's not real competitive to them but at the same time, they're not going to not prepare properly either."
***This story was helped greatly by the Army Sports Information Department.