NOTRE DAME — Time to examine an old, familiar foe.
Notre Dame’s 2012 season opener is less than a day away, and Navy is first in line for the Irish.
Bill Wagner, the Navy beat reporter with The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., was kind enough to put some time aside in his busy schedule to answer five questions about Navy’s plan for Manti Te’o and Everett Golson and if off-season issues have affected the Mids for the season opener.
Q: (Quarterback) Trey Miller made his first career start against Notre Dame last year and finished 5-of-13 for 33 yards, 62 on the ground. What has he done over the spring and summer to present more of a threat in the opener?
Bill Wagner: They’ve worked on getting him to know the offense better. The key to being the Navy quarterback is understanding triple option and all the checks they do at the line of scrimmage.
The hardest thing about being the Navy quarterback is reading defenses and knowing what changes to make ... and he seems to have a better grasp of defenses.
He has a decent throwing arm. He’s not Ricky Dobbs but he’s better than Kriss Proctor. He’s a good runner, not as fast or as elusive as Proctor, but better than Dobbs.
Q: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was a one-man wrecking crew against Navy’s offense last year. On top of that, Navy graduated three starters on the offensive line. How are the Mids prepared to stop the ND defense this year?
BW: That’s a big concern. Notre Dame can manhandle you up front. Manti gets his job done when defensive linemen in front of him occupy blockers and stay on their feet. If a guy like Te’o can run free, he’s going to make plays.
One of the things they may do is try to make sure they run away from him as much as possibly can be designed to stay away from someone. At some point you have to at least get in his way. I’ve seen times where Navy has sent two blockers at one guy, a dominant linebacker they’re trying to contain.
Obviously he had a great game last year and Navy is going to take that into account. Navy needs to get defensive linemen on the ground with cut backs. They don’t need to make great blocks, they just need to get in their way and slow someone down in their pursuit.
Q: Three Navy players failed physical readiness tests before the start of camp, including last year’s top receiver Brandon Turner and starting linebacker Josh Tate. Does that affect how those three will be ready for the season opener?
BW: No other Div. I team in the country makes its students pass a physical readiness by school standards. All three guys are in great shape.
The way Navy does the test is sometimes difficult for fast-twitch athletes like receivers or cornerbacks because they have to pass a mile and a half run in 10 and a half minutes. Sometimes the fast-twitch athletes have trouble with the endurance.
The strength and conditioning trainer at academy say it doesn’t mean they’re out of shape, it doesn’t mean they’re doing anything wrong.
They have all since passed.
(Note: Since the interview, Navy has announced that Turner will not make the trip to Dublin.)
Q: Everett Golson was recently named Notre Dame’s starting quarterback against Navy. How are coaches preparing for a fast guy like Golson who can also throw the ball?
BW: (Navy defensive coordinator Buddy) Green is very, very familiar with Everett Golson because he recruits in the North Carolina and South Carolina areas for Navy. He recruited a player out of same high school, same year as Golson, so he’s very familiar with his numbers and stats.
Green said that he saw the spring game, he said that (Golson) had a good strong arm and can throw the deep ball, that he was a very dangerous threat to get on the perimeter, on the edge either in a sprint out or quarterback roll out plays.
They’re working on contain and holding the edge in case he breaks containment and tries to get outside. It’s a difficult thing because speed is a big factor.
(Notre Dame has) receivers who can really stretch the field, a tight end that, Green said, is the best tight end in all of college football. That’s a major concern for them, so he’s got to devote people to that as well.
It’s kind of like you run out of defenders; you can’t cover it all. “I can’t put too much tension on the quarterback because I have all sorts of other weapons I have to defend.”
Navy likes to play an umbrella defense. They like to keep everything in front of them. They will drop deeper than most teams and give up shorter type plays in an effort to give short gains instead of the long ones.
Q: If Navy is going to come back from Ireland 1-0, what’s it going to take on both sides of the ball?
BW: Number one, it’s somewhat to Navy’s advantage to play Notre Dame in season opener. If you catch Notre early before they hit their stride, you can beat them whereas Navy prides themselves on running like a well-oiled machine throughout the season
The advantage is to catch them in the season opener, while they’re still working out bugs and kinks like a new, raw quarterback.
Navy must execute the triple-option to perfection. The way Navy beats Notre Dame or Ohio State or Penn State is when they execute their triple-option at a high level because it’s a unique offense and it’s so difficult to defend.
When they’re not getting their blocks or quarterback not making the right read, those are when Navy doesn’t move the ball and struggles.
They’ve got to move the ball, They’ve got to score points. They’re not going to win 13-7.