This week, the Navy Midshipmen travel to take on the mighty, Notre Dame Fighting Irish in sunny San Diego. The Midshipmen are currently 2-5 on the year, where the Irish are a perfect 7-0.
In order to get a better understanding of the Notre Dame team, we had an exchange of question and answer with Pat Rick from SBNation’s Notre Dame site, One Foot Down. And of course, get him a follow on twitter, @psully226 .
Without further ado, let’s see what he had to say!
1. Notre Dame has a pretty clear path to the College Football Playoff. Are the Notre Dame fans afraid of blowing it and being upset by a team left on their schedule? Which team scares you the most? Or are they confident the Irish will win the rest of their games?
I think you will probably find a wide variety of thoughts and feelings among ND fans as to how confident they are with the final 5 games of the season.
It’s easy for a lot of fans to look at the last 5 games of 2018, see that none of the teams are ranked or even really very scary opponents (either because they’re teams like Navy, Northwestern, and Syracuse that ND should just about always beat, or they’re USC and Florida State teams that are clearly in down years), and conclude that they are confident this ND team, with its swarming defense and potent offense with Ian Book, will run the table.
Any ND fan who stops their thought process there is a fool.
Do I think this Notre Dame team has a great chance to run the table? Definitely. But does history of recent Brian Kelly teams indicate that the team is due for a loss or two in November? Absolutely.
Last year, it was a devastating blowout against Miami and then an embarrassing collapse against Stanford. In 2015, it was a horrific defensive performance with 30 seconds to go against Stanford. In 2014, it was losing to just about everyone down the stretch. It’s a pattern at this point.
Something to note -- the last time ND had a defense this good, they weathered the storm and finished the regular season undefeated (2012). Add in that this Irish offense is arguably much better than the 2012 offense and that this stretch of 5 games indeed isn’t very daunting, and my confidence in this group definitely rises. But let’s not kid ourselves -- most of us are very cautious about ND’s prospects down the home stretch, and rightfully so. We’ve been the Charlie Brown trying to kick a football many times in the Brian Kelly coaching tenure.
Final 5 games, in order of how afraid of them I am:
1. Florida State: I know they’re bad (maybe the second worst team remaining), but an overlooked, 5-star-heavy team against ND in November just screams disappointment for us. I am terrified FSU putting it all together for this one.
2. Syracuse: Having to travel to New York in November to play a team that nearly beat Clemson is not something that makes me feel good.
3. Northwestern: 2014 still haunts me, and the Wildcats nearly beat Michigan this year. They’re capable of putting it together for a game and knocking off the Irish.
4. USC: similar to Florida State, but if the Irish head to LA at 11-0, they’re not overlooking this game. Also, USC’s high school QB (JT Daniels -- assuming he’s healthy by then) against the ND pass rush makes me more excited than worried.
5. Navy: the triple option always freaks me out, but it’s a down year for the Midshipmen and the Irish are coming off a bye. Rust might be a factor early on, but I’m not too worried about this one, at least relatively.
2. Despite winning every game so far this year, the quarterback position started off sort of shaky. How much faith do you really have in Ian Book?
At this point, I have a lot of trust in him.
I was wary of making him the starter back in September considering the (limited) data we had didn’t suggest he’d be a definitive upgrade over Brandon Wimbush and considering Wimbush was something like 12-3 as a starter, but Book’s been unbelievably accurate (first in the country in completion percentage), has generally taken care of the ball, and has enabled the Irish offense to open up and explode in the past 4 games.
He’s still prone to the occasional bad decision (e.g. his INTs vs. Pittsburgh), but I trust Book as a QB good enough to lead this offense, in conjunction with defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s swarming defense, to the College Football Playoff.
3. How does Notre Dame prevent an upset against Navy? How does Notre Dame allow the upset to be completed?
If the defense tackles and gets good penetration and containment (so incredibly important against the triple option), I think the Irish win going away. Navy needs to eat clock and limit the number of possessions Ian Book gets while also scoring points. If the ND defense can prevent long drives and keep the Midshipmen out of the end zone (even if it means the occasional field goal), I think the Irish offense will score enough to win.
If ND allows Navy to do what they did two years ago, dominating possession and scoring on most of their drives, Ian Book and co. might not have enough opportunities to outscore them. The defense HAS to take care of business.
4. Is Brian Kelly forever safe at Notre Dame? Or is there a chance he could be on the hot seat in a few years?
I think he’s safe for the next couple years, despite my best efforts as a pessimist and Brian Kelly hater.
I’ve been ready for a new coach for a few years now, but considering a 10-3 season in 2017 and a current undefeated season and potential playoff berth, there’s no way he’s gone anytime soon. And honestly, if ND makes the playoff and is competitive when they get there, I will personally cool off his seat a bit. That would be a major step forward for his program, which has either not gotten to the biggest stages or has been embarrassed when it does (2012, 2015).
5. Who is the best Notre Dame player to follow on Twitter and why?
This is a tough one, considering I don’t follow many current players. Back in my time at ND, I followed guys like Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt who were absolutely hilarious on Twitter, but nowadays there aren’t many guys I actually follow.
After listening to some recommendations from members of our One Foot Down staff, though, I’d say guys like Nic Weishar can be pretty good (the guy is nicknamed “Dad Body” by his teammates and helps run a foundation in his late brother’s name to fight cancer), and Dexter Williams was fun when he had his unannounced 4-game suspension earlier this year and kept tweeting cryptic things.
Finally, I know Chris Finke had some funny stuff when I profiled him during the summer and found a picture of his pet bird and Dexter Williams bonding in one of his tweets, so maybe the “Slippery Fox” is the best guy to follow on that beautiful social medium.
6. Sooo…would you consider it cheating to have Catholic Priests on your side? Can we all agree it’s an unfair advantage?
Hard to say -- would you consider it cheating to have the most powerful navy in the world on your side?
My only other thought on this -- having Catholic priests on our side has not been very useful for the past 25 years...maybe those priests of old have moved on to influencing bigger and better things?
7. Do you all recruit and hand out scholarships to your leprechaun mascots? We all know about the intensity of the team equipment managers and the effort required of them. But we don’t really know where you find real life leprechauns.
I’ll let my good Twitter friend Joe Fennessy (@CupsOJoes) answer this one, as a former Notre Dame Leprechaun:
While the Leprechauns do receive drug testing and mandatory lifts as part of the cheerleading team, there are no scholarships (yet). We’re working on forming a union in the meantime.
Leprechauns can really come in all shapes and sizes in South Bend -- you’ve just got to have a loud voice and be a little out of your mind. While many believe Notre Dame has strict requirements for the gig, it’s honestly open to any rowdy individual in the student body. The final round of tryouts is open to the public and after a month or so, the finalists showcase their brouhaha on a Friday night to a raucous (and buzzed) crowd.
The finalists compete in a mock pep rally, TV interview session, push-up contest, and other skit-like challenges. Anything goes. You can make it as weird or serious as you want and that’s really where the Leprechaun magic comes from.
**Editor’s Note: So you won’t admit to the Catholic Priests helping you win but you will acknowledge the Leprechaun magic? Interesting.
8. Brian Kelly vs. Ken Niumatalolo in a karaoke contest - what song(s) does each coach sing, who has the better stage presence/charisma, and who ultimately wins?
Brian Kelly sings something by Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi. I’ll go with “It’s My Life” as a song he shouts directly at the numerous haters (me included) in the crowd who are booing him, telling them that he did it his way. Surprisingly good stage presence and delivery, but his charisma is obviously lacking.
Ken Niumatalolo sings something with a little more soul -- something that starts slow but builds to a crescendo as he brings the house down with his rendition of “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston. He doesn’t hit the high note but it doesn’t matter. He owns it and the crowd eats it up.
Ken wins via Applause Meter measurement in a landslide.
9. Hypothetical: the US has instituted The Purge, where one night per year all crime is legal. Which 3-5 ND players do you choose for your survival squad, for what reasons, and do you all survive the night?
Let’s start with LB Te’von Coney as a given: he’s a fierce competitor, super strong and fast, and has developed into an excellent leader. I need his swagger and toughness in my Purge crew.
Give me LB Drue Tranquill for similar reasons to Coney, but also because he’s an engineering grad and that skill/training could CERTAINLY be useful in any situation where we need to build or fix something to help us fight/escape bad guys.
Next give me RB Dexter Williams and WR Chris Finke -- Williams’ agility and breakaway speed will be crucial in him being our scout or our guy to run down targets as we purge our souls that night, and Chris Finke, who is nicknamed the “Slippery Fox,” will be extremely useful in getting us into locked or difficult-to-enter places for whatever purging we are up to.
Finally, I want DT Jerry Tillery -- he’s 6’6” and 300+ pounds (and thus provides some serious muscle), but moves like a man much svelter. More importantly, though, he’s super smart and inquisitive, which will help us out of sticky situations and also forge alliances with like-minded purgers. And, finally, he’s hysterical as a personality and would provide much-needed comic relief following harrowing, life-or-death situations.
Bonus: ND players I’d be scared for our crew to run into after having not chosen them for our group: DEs Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara, CB Julian Love, C Sam Mustipher, and P Tyler Newsome (he just seems like he could be scary good in a Purge situation).
10. Anything else Navy fans should know about the Notre Dame team, program, fans, traditions, history, etc.?
I think ND and Navy fans know just about everything about the other’s respective program at this point. The Irish and their fans have a TON of respect for the Naval Academy, hence this long-running series and the traditions of singing each other’s songs after the game, etc.
We all know Navy helped ND stay afloat (pun intended) during the war -- that’s something ND will never forget and thus I don’t think this series will ever end. Playing Navy is rough in terms of it not being a very useful game for the Irish’s resume, but the other reasons for playing are plentiful and good. Excited for the next chapter on Saturday, even if it is in San Diego instead of one of the teams’ home fields.
11. Prediction time -- give me a score, who wins, and your reasoning why.
Notre Dame 38, Navy 16
I don’t think the Irish will struggle as much with Navy this year as they have in the past. Early on the Midshipmen might be able to move the ball alright and hang around, but as the game goes on, I expect Clark Lea’s defense to once again wear down, and shut down, the opposing offense, and I do not expect Ian Book and the ND offense to have many issues moving up and down the field or scoring TDs once in the red zone. Being fresh off the bye will definitely help in this one. Irish roll on to the final third of their schedule with their flawless record intact.
Once again, thank you to Pat Rick and the One Foot Down staff for their informative, funny, and interesting responses.