Monday, October 25, 2010

Notre Dame’s real ‘headaches' vs. Navy: outplayed, outcoached, outworked and outfought

Oh My God, the whining coming from Notre Dame people has become completely deafening. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be hysterically funny.

Let me say this to start: I honestly didn’t think I would live to see the day Navy beat Notre Dame. Most years, the Midshipmen had no chance to win the game because the Irish were just too big, too strong and too fast for them to compete. On those rare occasions when Navy did keep the game close something always happened: a great play by a future NFL player from Notre Dame; a missed play at a critical moment by a Navy player; a strange call from an official. It was always something.

Then in 2007, in SPITE of a strange call (to put it politely; let me quote NBC’s Pat Haden at that moment: “You can’t make that call.” Except they did) from an official in the third overtime, Navy finally ended its epic 43 game losing streak to Notre Dame. If the Mids had never beaten Notre Dame again I could at least say I saw it happen once. Then it happened again last year and Saturday, it not only happened a third time but it wasn’t even close. Navy beat Notre Dame 35-17 in the new Meadowlands Stadium and the game really wasn’t even THAT close.

This is where the whining comes in.

For years, while Notre Dame was routinely beating the Mids, all you heard from Notre Dame people was how great it was that the two schools played every year and how much they LOVED Navy. After all, Navy had come to Notre Dame’s rescue during World War 2 when the school was in financial crisis. That was why Notre Dame was happy to ‘repay,’ Navy every year by guaranteeing them a big payday. The Irish had so much respect for Navy; for the quality of the players; for the coaches; for the mission they were on; for their work ethic and their sportsmanship. It was just one big love fest.

Now, Navy plays dirty football. The coaches coach dirty football. Navy is dangerous to play against because it ‘chop,’ blocks all the time.

Hmmm. What has happened in the last three years to cause such a change? Let me think about that one for a second. It couldn’t possibly be three losses in four games could it? Notre Dame—Mensch University if you ever watch a game on NBC (or just about anywhere else come to think of it)—couldn’t possibly be, you know, bad losers?

Let’s deal with the ‘chop,’ block issue first. A chop block is, in fact, an illegal block. It is a 15-yard penalty and it is called when an official believes that a second blocker makes contact with a defender below the waist when he is ALREADY ENGAGED with another blocker. This makes sense because if a defender is already being blocked, he has no chance to avoid the second block or to use his hands to prevent the second blocker from getting his legs. It is a dangerous play that should be—and is—illegal.

During Saturday’s game Navy was called for—wait for it—ZERO chop blocks. In fact, it was called for ZERO penalties. Here was one headline in Sunday’s South Bend Tribune: “Chop Blocks a Headache for Irish.” Really?

Here’s what was a headache for the Irish: Being outplayed, outcoached, outworked and outfought by a group of kids who have absolutely no right to not only beat Notre Dame, but hammer Notre Dame.

The block that the Notre Dame people are referring to is a ‘cut,’ block. Cut blocks are legal. They are often difficult to defend against—just like the option offense—because defenses don’t see them that often. Teams that run normal pro-style offenses or spread offenses don’t cut block that often. Teams that run the option—Army, Navy Air Force—all cut block at least in part because their blockers are generally smaller than those of other teams and this is one way to take advantage of quickness, speed and, well, skill.

Navy has run an option offense for 14 of the last 16 seasons, dating back to 1995. Until recently, Notre Dame and its apologists in the media didn’t seem to be bothered by the option or by cut blocking. Now, cut blocks are suddenly dangerous AND dirty. Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly said this last week: “I’m not sure if they’re legal but we have to be ready for them.”

I’m sorry, you’re not sure if they’re legal? Read the rulebook coach. And, while you’re at it, check out the game tape and show me (or anyone else) exactly where and when Navy started running the veer, as you claimed during your halftime interview on CBS. The veer? What were you watching? Navy ran the exact same offense it has run all year, except for going to a heavy alignment on the goal line, adding an extra tackle. Really tough stuff to figure out.

There was nothing—as Kelly claimed—that they’d been ‘holding back.’ As for the adjustments Kelly said he and his coaches had made, um, they didn’t really work that well did they? Navy went 77 yards for a touchdown on its first drive of the second half and 73 for a touchdown on the second drive.

I’m also wondering if these dirty cut blocks had anything to do with the Notre Dame offense scoring 10 points the first 54 minutes of the game before getting a consolation score when the game was over and Navy had gone to a prevent defense. Did Notre Dame move the ball? Sure did. And just like last year—just like Buddy Green’s defense does to teams all the time—they rolled up yards but not points. Navy got a critical stop on the goal line on the game’s first series and Dayne Crist threw two key interceptions. Was that those dirty cut blocks too?

It was completely ludicrous a year ago when Charlie Weis’s defensive coordinator—I forget his name and he’s not worth looking up—whined about dirty play after Navy’s victory. He cited one play in which a Navy player, Nick Henderson, made a STUPID play, going after a Notre Dame defender after the whistle. Then he claimed Kenny Niumatalolo coached his players to try to hurt opponents.

I’m sorry have you ever MET Kenny Niumatalolo? Forget about how good a coach he is (23-12 since taking over for Paul Johnson when a lot of people thought the program would tank without Johnson) you just won’t meet a better man in any walk of life than Niumatalolo. Am I biased? Sure. But the reason I’m biased is I know the guy and I can tell you without any hesitation he would no more coach one of his players to play dirty than he would try to coach someone to hurt his own players. It’s just not who he is.

Here’s the bottom line: Navy should NEVER beat Notre Dame. The advantages Notre Dame has over Navy or any of the academies are uncountable. You can start with the fact that Navy NEVER gets to play Notre Dame at home. They go to South Bend one year; to a ‘neutral,’ site the next year where the majority of the crowd is almost always pro-Notre Dame. (Oh, and please don’t talk to me about how much money Navy makes. The PLAYERS make none of that money and they have to actually PLAY the games).

Notre Dame has been poorly coached most of the time since Lou Holtz left. Holtz is a bad guy—Saturday night on ESPN he literally refused to even discuss Navy’s win when Mark May brought it up; how about giving SOME credit there coach—but he was a superb coach.

That hasn’t been true of Bob Davie, Ty Willingham or Charlie Weis. The jury is still out on Kelly who has a great resume and is clearly a bright guy but was completely overmatched on Saturday. If Kelly does what he should be able to do: go out and get great players (note to Irish fans: Navy’s academic standards are probably tougher than Notre Dame’s and there is also that little matter of military duty after graduating so don’t buy into that excuse from your school) Notre Dame should be able to start beating Navy regularly again.

Whining isn’t going to get it done. All it does is make you look like what you are: bad losers. It’s one thing to complain about Miami when you can’t compete with them but Navy? Seriously, Navy? Give those kids some credit for being tougher, smarter and better prepared. And THEN thank them for what they’re going to do after they graduate.


Anonymous said...

johh...why are you so angry? Navy won. Enjoy it.

Bo Smolka said...

The cut block is a block by one player, and is legal. Notre Dame had no problem with the exact same blocks all those years they were beating Navy by 20 or 30 points. The bottom line is Notre Dame was totally unprepared for this game and they were flat-out whipped. They have only themselves to blame.

Dave Berman said...

John, I was there for the great play by a future NFL player. I was there for the missed play at a critical moment. I was there for a missed field goal, I was there for a play that was one yard short. And now I've been there for three wins in the last four years. The last two were close, to say the least. And I think if Ricky Dobbs had three more minutes, we might have won in 2008. But Saturday's game was just an old fashioned but whuppin' by a team that played harder and smarter.

You're right when you say that Navy should never win that game, but it goes to show that discipline, hard work, and heart can be a great equalizer against guys who, at every position, are bigger, stronger and faster.

Go Navy, Beat Army.

Oh, and Go Army, Beat Air Force.

Dave Berman
USNA '87

OldGoat said...

You are not bad for a Duke Guy. Thanks for expressing the frustration of many Navy fans.
My favorite line from Saturday night on ESPN was Reece Davis replying to Lou Holtz's comments on Navy spending more time on Football and not enough time on Ships was, "well Navy sees Notre Dame as a roster game."

Dave Spoerl
USNA '82

OldGoat said...

Thanks for venting the frustration of many Navy fans.
Lou Holtz rambles on about how to beat Navy and why they spend too much time on football. But Reece Davis got him with "well maybe Navy sees Notre Dame as a roster game."

Anonymous said...

Go John! As a Navy-Notre Dame couple, these last few years have been great in showing my wife that Navy cannot only come close we can even whip the bigger, faster, stronger 5 star recruits at ND.

Gunnar said...

It is really enjoyable to watch Notre Dame struggle. Navy played great Saturday, excellent game. The game was not nearly as close as the score indicates.

Momus said...

John --

If there's one thing I think I have learned from reading your excellent blog over the last 1+ year is that, given a choice, you will almost always choose the low road over the high road.

And so it was with today's post -- as anonymous pointed out, Navy won the game, so why are you so mad at Notre Dame? Enjoy the victory, and regale your readership with the joy, from the Navy perspective, in beating a program like Notre Dame. As you say, there's no way Navy should ever beat the Irish, much less 3 times in 4 years.

Instead, you offer up a mini-diatribe in response to ND's whining, excuses and complaining. In the process, it makes you seem small and petty yourself. As a colleague of mine used to say -- "if you're explaining, you're losing." One paragraph on the difference between a cut and chop block, pointing out that no penalties were called, and then move on to your insights on the game itself. We don't need to hear about Lou Holtz, or any of the other ND coaches. (I was actually mildly disappointed you didn't put a jab at Tiger into the post! "All of the lame excuses by the Irish die-hards is no better than what the garbage from Tiger apologists.")

And for that matter ...doesn't it take two to tango? Does Notre Dame force the Naval Academy to play at neutral sites when Navy is the home team? Or does Navy willingly enter into such an agreement, presumably for monetary reasons. If it's an issue of a larger stadium, why doesn't Navy host the game at Fedex or M&T, and actually have a "home" crowd behind it?

Seafox said...

It was raining here in the Pacific Northwest (now there's a surprise!), but Saturday's game made it the most beautiful day of the year! Notre Dame fans are beginning to appreciate when the Irish beat NAVY in 2008, thereby breaking NAVY's streak...

Anonymous said...

As a Navy grad I absolutely loved every minute of the game and agree with 99% of what you wrote. I would make two comments in defense of Notre Dame. Yes there is a lot of whining going on, but not from everyone. Mike Golic on ESPN radio this morning gave nothing but props and credit to Navy. He is both an ND alum and the parent of ND players. As for Lou Holtz, I think the tone of his statements was faceitious not serious. Remember, he is the coach (while at William and Mary) credited with the quote "These guys play a tough schedule" when he visited Navy Marine Corps Stadium and read the names of the battles the Navy and Marine Corps had fought in. Yes there are a lot of whiners, but a few ND'ers do give Navy credit.

Ed N. (Indy) said...

OK, some ND fans are way too intense. I'm an alum and season-ticket holder and can recognize that. But we're not all the same, and Lou Holtz is not a bad guy (wouldn't say Mark May is better than Lou!). There are many reasons to be proud of the university, and some people may carry it a bit too far (in particular after a loss). That was a bad loss, but Navy is a respectable opponent and institution. ND will rise again, but Navy is not as weak in football as it once was.

Doug Leland said...

Regarding home field venue for Navy, Midshipmen represent every state and U.S. territory, and upon graduation serve in every corner of the world. Home field is any stadium with families and fans who appreciate their contributions and are grateful that the values demonstrated on the filed are the same ones taken onto the field of battle. Home field is any field, be it Annapolis, South Bend or the new Meadowlands.

Fish said...

This reaction by ND nation is exactly why it is so fun to see the Irish lose. The players & fans act like they're entitled to win all the time. I was at the game this weekend and enjoyed seeing the mostly ND crowd watch Navy completely destroy the Irish.

jim said...

John...In fairness to ND....most allums are classy. It's the subway allums and most of the media that are the whiners. That Southbend reporter that was crying about chop and cut blocks was just showing his ignorance. Kelly is a good coach and not a whiner. He will turn the program around given time.

All that said, it sure did feel good to witness the masaquer in the meadowlands.

Jim McConnell

Ken said...

As I sat outside and smoked the third victory cigar in the last four years after a Navy victory over Notre Dame. I thought to myself ...... Yeah Baby! We kicked some Irish Booty today! It was done with teamwork, honor, heart and pride. Most college teams can't even begin to recruit and instill players with those traits. It was very evident on Saturday in the Meadowlands that the best team won. Pick a reason ....... there are plenty. GO NAVY ...... BEAT THEM ALL!

Mark said...

In all fairness to Brian Kelly, he did say after the game:

"We got beat today. Navy was a better football team today".

Sure, he spoke the obvious, but it sure is an improvement over Charlie Weiss' comments.

Go Navy!

Scott said...

I wish you were as passionate defending Air Force against these same claims in years past (see BYU)

elevenfourty* said...

As an ND fan I do agree with a lot of your assessment. Kelly's comments on the veer were way off-base. What I don't like is how you generalize that ND is the only team that's ever complained about Johnsons/Ken's cut blocks. The whole ACC has complained about playing Tech, Missouri openly complained in the Texas Bowl...and I'm a Tech fan too and have always liked Paul Johnson! Why is this different? Because ND plays Navy every year. I don't have a problem with cut blocks, but don't act like ND is the only one who does. And where, please tell, are ND's "apologists in the media"? Outside the the Tribune, Mike Golic, Holtz, and NBC, everyone HATES ND. No one on ESPN can ever muster a good word for us fans who just want to watch a good team, and not be subject to an army of haters that rivals the Yankees and Duke basketball.

Anonymous said...

Lou may have a worse lisp than Sylvester the Cat but he knows his football. He is the only coach to EVER lead 5 teams to bowl games. He is the only reason Notre Dame returned to the promise land long after Knute Rockne retired. And he is the only reason they continually bring in big time names, to this day.
And okay, he’s biased. Yes, I completely understand that and he may be to a fault on how biased he actually is. But you know who he’s rooting for every Saturday when the teams take the field in South Bend. And that I can appreciate.
Unlike Joel Klatt…. He is a bad announcer, he does color for FSN and takes over the broadcast with his not so insightful insight and anti-comical timing. But the thing that really rubs me the wrong way is that he’s unbiased or even against CU most of the time. Come on guy, the only reason you are doing this broadcast is because you are a CU alum. You were a Buffalo. Some us still remember you leading us to a Big XII title and then Fiesta Bowl lambasting at the hands of Joey Harrington. Joey Harrington of all people, but we forgave you. The execs at FSN would not, in their right mind, put you on any game that doesn’t involve CU. You’re just too bad. So root for CU just a little, come one Joel.

John Earhart said...

RE: Lou Holtz. I agree with your assessment of him as a coach and in his current roll as Mark Mays' foolish sidekick. I did not get to hear Mark and Lou after the game, but somewhere I heard that he said "Navy should pay more attention to National Defense than football". Even for Lou I felt this was a despicable demeaning comment. A new low for Lou. I am grateful to have you in Navy's corner. A better spokesman we could not find. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

My house was a house divided on Saturday. My husband worked at the Naval Academy in the athletics office a few years back and we both became huge fans of the great tradition that is Navy. We met some really outstanding people.
I grew up loving the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. My brothers, my parents, and I would gather around and watch Notre Dame every time they played. A few years ago one of my brothers and I actually went out to South Bend and it was awesome, that being said...We stunk on Saturday and there should be no blame game, no excuses, nothing. Navy was the better team and as awful it was in my house Saturday every Irish fan has to admit that. We are terrible and we've been terrible and hopefully in a few years we will start to get better. Navy and Coach Niumatalolo (who is awesome) deserve all the credit.
Go Navy, Beat Army!

Go Irish, GET BETTER!!!

Love your blog, keep it coming.

omnivore said...

What is a "roster game?"

BigSix said...

The Middies whipped ND from the 1st whistle Saturday. In an era where college football is strictly a path and showcase toward a player's NFL career, it goes to show you that kids that play a TEAM game like TEAM mates (aka "shipmates") can compete with athletes who are more physically able and suited for playing football. Not one of the mids has a chance to get drafted by a pro team, even if they didn't have a military committment to fulfill.

College football has lost its focus. It has morphed into the making of celebrities, showcasing themselves for future stardom on Sunday afternoons. A good TEAM will always win. The U.S. military is not a collection of celebrities but a TEAM and, given the opportunity by those in command, will always win.

Ken said...


You have some good points, but people have been complaining about Navy's cut blocking for years. And you don't address the issue: Is it illegal?

Durham, NC

Anonymous said...

John, did you even watch this game? It is a crime that people had to read this and hear so much misinformation. When Brian Kelly mentioned Navy and the veer, he was right. On almost every play, Navy had a guard pulling and taking on the inside linebackers, a blocking scheme that is one of the staples of the veer and that is rarely seen with a triple option. And yes, this blocking scheme was different than what Navy has run all season. So when BK referred to the veer, this is what he meant, not that they were running the true veer offense (obviously). Maybe you should watch the game and learn a little about what you are saying before you cut down on somebody like that again.

And claiming that Navy has higher academic standards than ND is just ignorant. Notre Dame has been ranked as one of the top 20 universities in the country according to the U.S. News and World Report for each of the last 15 years. Navy has not once been ranked in the top 30 in the past decade. Again, get your facts straight before you slam on an institution that is deserving of academic praise.

ChesapeakeSailor said...

Thanks John -

Very well put. Navy played their best game of the season, maybe the last two seasons. If only THAT Navy team had made an appearance in Colorado Springs.

Go Navy Beat Army!!
Go Army Beat Air Force!!

Mike Binnix
USNA '88

Randy said...


I have been a fan of yours for several years now and this post is not your best work (to put it mildly).

Who exactly are you referring to in this article? I realize there was a coach for ND that had some disparaging remarks last year. But let it go. He was about to lose his job, cut him a little slack.

As far as people not liking the rule - let them petition the NCAA if they want. It's like complaining you don't like the forward pass because you can't stop it. But there is no need to respond to their whining, with more whining.

I have followed this series closely ever since my brother went to the Naval Academy in 1993. I have never felt bad for Notre Dame in my life until this past Saturday. The ND fans there were very polite and respectful and the classiest I can ever remember at a football game (in defeat no less). Sure there are always going to be a few bad apples. But by and large they are a good group. (I may even root for them to beat Tulsa Saturday).

And can we retire the phrase "Navy should NEVER beat Notre Dame". Clearly that is no longer the case and you do the kids at the Academy a disservice by saying that.

Football at the Academies is more of a teaching tool than at other schools. These kids love a challenge, even in the face of impossible odds.

Anonymous said...

How come you haven't written about Rocco's amazing win - did you guys have a falling out or something? You co-wrote a book with him, he wins in almost unprecedented fashion, and then, NOTHING? I don't get it.

Anonymous said...

John: The best thing about your blog is your refusal to recognize sacrad cows. Oh yes,the fans at ND are the most entitled humans on the face of the earth. Raoul