Scouting Report

The Fighting Irish of the University of Notre Dame du Lac travel to Baltimore, Maryland, to meet the Midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy in the 82nd renewal of this rivalry. The Irish hold a 70-10-1 record in a series that began in 1927 and has been a yearly contest ever since.

The Irish are 26-4 against the Middies at Notre Dame. On the road the Irish are 44-6-1 against Navy with the emphasis on the term "on the road." Notre Dame has never played Navy on the Annapolis campus at the Navy-Marine Corps memorial Stadium.

Last year, in three overtimes, the Midshipman defeated the Irish 46-44 ending 43 years of frustration for the Naval Academy and the nation's longest losing streak to one team. The loss to the Middies left Coach Charlie Weis with a 2-1 record against Navy. Navy Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo is in his first year as the Navy head coach. Navy is 6-3 with losses to Ball State, Duke, and Pittsburgh. Navy's wins have come against, Towson, Rutgers, 16th ranked Wake Forest, Air Force, SMU, and Temple.

Coach Weis has done a noble thing showing respect for the military academies by having Irish players stand behind the academies when they play their alma mater after games. In this day and age it's more than proper to revere the sacrifices that all academy kids make as students and down the road in serving their country. As one who served during a period in our history when ridicule was often heaped on servicemen and women I like what Weis has done in showing respect for the service academies.

That being said let's keep that level of respect on hold until game's end. Navy is just like any other opponent on the football field. You should respect them and every opponent. However, you have to "hit them in the mouth" just as you would Purdue, Michigan, or any other opponent. It's time the Irish come forth with the fire that they showed against Michigan.

Navy's Offense

The triple option is my favorite offense and I could go on and on about it. It basically uses the same formation and the same play action to attack the middle, off tackle, and the perimeter of the defense with a running game that adjusts on the run. The passing game is not the strong suit of any option team when they have to throw, but throwing when you want to makes an option team's deep passing game every bet as effective as any passing offense's deep game.

One goal the Middies have is to lead the nation in rushing which would be the fourth consecutive year they have done so. Navy is second in the nation in rushing averaging 308 yards per game for an average per carry of 5.4.

As you would imagine the Navy passing offense is statistically ranked at the bottom of the NCAA statistics for Bowl Championship teams. That rank is 118th and the Middies put up an average of 67 yards per game. However, the average per completion is over 16 yards per reception indicating the surprise aspect of the triple option offense. Navy has only thrown 60 passes this year but they've completed 62% of those passes. Five of their passes have gone for touchdowns and 4 passes have been intercepted. Under the passing when you want to mantra against SMU the Middies did not throw a pass the entire game. Navy averages 29 points a game and is above average in the Red Zone. The Middies have been in the Red Zone 34 times and have scored 30 of those times with 18 rushing touchdowns, 1 passing touchdown and 11 field goals.

The triple option starts with the quarterback and Navy has three that have seen extensive playing time this year. Each brings something different to the position and Navy can win with either player at the helm of their offense. Each causes a subtle change in the Middies' offense because of their skill level and experience. As a trio the Navy quarterbacks have produced 15 rushing touchdowns, 5 passing touchdowns, and 4 interceptions.

Senior Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada has been bothered off and on by a hamstring injury. A starter since 2006 he has started four games this year that has produced three Navy wins. Kaheaku-Enhada has rushed for 170 yards for an average of 5.0 yards per carry and three touchdowns. He has only passed 18 times completing 13 for 211 yards and 2 touchdowns. That's a 72% completion rate for a 16 yard average per completion. Kaheaku-Enhada is more apt to pitch the ball to the trailing slot back than the other two quarterbacks.

Senior Jarod Bryant has started five games and Navy has won three of those games. Bryant encountered a right shoulder sprain against SMU, left the game, returned, re-injured the shoulder, and is week to week. As a runner Bryant has gained 510 yards for an average of 3.4 yards per carry and 6 touchdowns. He has passed 32 times, completing 18 for 265 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. He has a 56% completion rate and average 15 yards per completion.

The third quarterback, true freshman, Ricky Dobbs has replaced both Bryant and Kaheaku-Enhada through injury, or to spark the offense. And spark it he does. Dobbs has rushed for 348 yards for an average of 5.1 yards per carry and 6 touchdowns. He has thrown for 126 yards on 7 passes, completing 6 for 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Those completions have averaged 21 yards per completion. Dobbs is less apt to pitch to the trailing running back than Kaheaku-Enhada or Bryant, keeps it himself, and is the best runner of all three quarterbacks.

The man who meshes with the quarterback almost every play for Navy is fullback Eric Kettani. Kittani has accumulated 673 yards rushing for an average of 5.5 yards per carry and 2 touchdowns. The 243 pound fullback also has a longest run of 57 yards, testifying to the big play potential of the triple option. He hits up inside, reads blocks well, and can slide to the outside with an ability that belies his size.

The most dangerous runner for Navy is senior slot back Shun White, White has amassed 834 yards for an average of 8.4 yards per carry and six touchdowns. His longest run this season was an 87 yard run. White has caught 3 passes averaging 25 yards per catch. He is the perimeter weapon of choice for Navy whether taking an option pitch or a pitch on the quick sweep.

The other slot backs have very high yards per attempt averages. White's backup, Bobby Doyle averages 14 yards per carry. The other starting slot back Greg Shinego averages 4.9 yards per carry and his backup, Corey Finnerty, averages 7 yards per carry.

The Middies' receivers don't see a lot of passes, but make the most out of what's thrown their way. Wide receiver Tyree Barnes has 25 receptions, averages 19 yards per catch, 2 touchdowns and a longest pass reception of 68 yards. His counterpart, Curtis Sharp, only has one catch for 6 yards, but at 247 pounds he's out there to block. The other dangers, besides Barnes, are the top four slot backs and they average 18 yards per reception as a group. The biggest passing threat from Navy is the unexpectedness of the pass as the defense is trying so hard to stop the running game.

Navy has scored on every opening drive this season. The major reason for this is no prep team can prepare a defense for what they experience that first drive. Navy's entire skill unit is made up entirely of seniors if Kaheaku-Enhada starts. That's four years of repetitions that have developed the speed and precision that no scout team can approximate. It takes a series or two for a defense to get acclimated to the game speed of Navy's triple option.

Many casual fans think that Navy succeeds in its running game on the uniqueness of the option alone. That assumption isn't true. Navy is a good blocking team that not only excels in cut blocks, but in all phases of blocking. Shun White blocks as hard for the other slot backs as they do for him and they all are good blockers. The mesh and the reads of the triple option are so very important, but like any other offense, blocking is always in the forefront of successful teams. Navy blocks very well.

Navy's offensive line will have no one that goes to the NFL, but they are hard nosed, quick, and get to the second level extremely well be it blocking for the run or for screens. Navy has strengthened a productive offensive line with the emergence of right tackle Matt Malloy and are a better unit for adding him to their mix. Malloy brings a defensive lineman's attitude with him and has made the position a better one for Navy in only two starts.

Navy Special Teams

Matt Harmon is Navy's place kicker and he's a good one. Harmon has hit 14 of 16 field goals with a longest of 49 yards. His two misses are in the form of one block and one miss from 47 yards. Harmon is 29 of 31 on extra points.

The punter for the Academy is Kyle Delahooke who averages 41 yards per punt with a longest punt of 55 yards, 7 punts inside the twenty, 6 fair caught, and 2 blocked. The punt coverage team and Delahooke combine to hold their opponents to under 6 yards per return and no touchdowns.

The kicker for Navy on kickoffs is primarily John Teague who averages 66 yards per kick with 7 touchbacks. Several of those touchbacks came against SMU with a 25-30 mph wind behind him. Navy allows 22 yards per kick off return and have not allowed a touchdown.

The punt returns are most often handled by Mario Washington who averages 8 yards per return. Blake Carter, in his one return, took it to the house for a 44 yard touchdown.

Kick returns are shared by Greg Jones who averages 17 yards per return and by John Angelo who averages 22 yard per return. Neither has a touchdown. Although he hasn't returned a kick off this year it wouldn't surprise me if the Irish saw Shaun White deep on kick offs this Saturday as Navy might want to get more speed in their returns.

Navy Defense

Navy employs an odd man 3-4 defense and they will bring a linebacker up to present an even front look. Their defense yields an average of 373 yards per game, 116 yards on the ground, and 257 yards through the air. Navy's opponents average 25.6 points per game. The offenses that they've faced this year rank from Ball State's 11th to Pitt's 42nd on the high end to Wake Forest's 103 to Temple's 115th on the low end.

The Middies' Red Zone defense has allowed 23 scores on 30 trips into the Red Zone. The Middies have yielded 13 touchdowns via the run, 7 through the pass, and have allowed 3 field goals.

Two of the three teams that Navy has lost to, Ball State and Duke have had their biggest days of the season in passing yardage against the Middies. Pittsburgh also had their biggest rushing game of the season against Navy. Pittsburgh had a very balanced day offensively and not coincidentally handed Navy their worst loss this year.

Three fourths of Navy's defensive backfield is made up of seniors led by free safety Wyatt Middleton, the team's second leading tackler, and Rover Jeff Deliz. The defensive backs, starters, nickel, and backups have 7 of Navy's 11 interceptions. The Mid's secondary has given up 16 touchdowns on the year.

Navy's defensive line is led by Nate Frazier at nose guard. The defensive ends are both under 250 pounds, but the trio can produce a lot of push on passing situations. Between starters and backups the Mid's defensive line has 7 sacks with right end Matt Nechak having 4 of the sacks and 7.5 tackles for losses.

Navy's interior linebackers have adequate size for their positions, but the outside linebackers are sized more like safeties than outside linebackers. Ram Velia is listed at 193 pounds and the team's leading tackler, Corey Johnson checks in at 205 pounds. As a group they have 5 interceptions.

Notre Dame Offensively

Navy's goal is to limit the possessions the other team has, thereby limiting their scoring opportunities. In order to beat that concept the opposition must outscore Navy since the Middies are going to put up points more often than not. In nine games the Middies' opponents have had between nine and thirteen possessions. Notre Dame had fifteen possessions against Michigan, twelve against Purdue, and managed five touchdowns in each game. Against Boston College they had twelve possessions and no touchdowns. It won't be about the number of possessions for Notre Dame. It will be about what the Irish do with their possessions.

I think that the Irish can pad their rushing statistics this week. Last year the Irish, with one of the weakest running games in the country, racked up roughly 190 yards rushing in regulation against Navy, and added another 45 yards in overtime. Navy is better defending against the run this year, but Notre Dame is better at running the ball this year than last. The lack of size of Navy's defensive ends and outside linebackers needs to be exploited.

Navy will try to take away the deep pass most likely by rushing three and dropping eight with a blitz thrown in here and there. They'll try to force the Irish to make long scoring drives, something that tapes tell them Notre Dame hasn't shown the patience or ability to do consistently.

Broken record-cliche time…Jimmy Clausen needs to be patient and move the chains. So does Coach Weis. Every series lost to impatience makes the game that much tighter and the Irish lose their talent advantage as the pendulum swings to Navy because they may be throwing away possessions.

The Naval Academy has good enough athletes and can scheme to handle one dimensional offenses well enough to stay in any game, but Navy cannot handle a two dimensional offense. Notre Dame has a hard road if they are one dimensional. If the Irish offense is two dimensional the game shouldn't be close.

Notre Dame Defensively

Navy's had a week off to heal up, prep for Notre Dame, and put in a wrinkle or two. Some sort of trick play seems imminent solely based on a hunch on my part. Perhaps Navy tries a throw back or something of that nature.

Irish defenders have to play each play with two thoughts in mind. The first thought is to do their job each and every play. The second thought is to make sure they make the tackle. They should also not be obsessing over the fact they are playing a cut blocking, option team.

The Irish need to be aware of who's at quarterback for the Middies. Each changes the fabric of the Navy offense presenting different problems for Irish defenders. The most dangerous is Kaheaku-Enhada as his experience drives the triple option to its maximum potential. Bryant brings a better runner to the quarterback position and is more physical. Dobbs is the superior athlete, but the least experienced, is hesitant to pitch the ball, usually preferring to keep it himself.

Last year's Notre Dame defensive scheme left a lot to be desired. The Irish were too passive and the only pressure being applied was Navy's pressure on the Notre Dame defense. Hopefully, that changes this year and the Irish are less content to sit back and are more proactive.

Notre Dame should not lose to a Navy team that has lost to Duke, Ball State, and was given a gift win by the coaching staff of 3-6 Temple.

Prediction: Notre Dame 35 Navy 24


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