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Outside the Irish Huddle: Navy Runs Over Notre Dame

This was easily the hardest post-game recap to write this season, no big surprise there. It's all over the place, it probably doesn't make sense in places, and it's probably a poor effort all around. Just like the loss to Navy.

Let’s take a deep breath before we get into this.

Settled down? Okay, we’re going to get this all off our chest right now.

On Navy

I’m not going to disagree that this was a bad loss or that this was a pathetic effort by the entire team.

But what I won’t do is belittle our opponent and cry out that this was the worst loss in Notre Dame history or even the worst loss in recent Irish history.

We got thumped. We got outworked. We got outhustled. We got pushed around. We got outcoached.

But all of those things happened against a very GOOD team.

All of that happened against one of the best Navy teams of the past 50 years, with one of the best quarterbacks in school history for the Middies.

Don’t lump this loss in with some of the truly epic losses that Notre Dame has suffered over the past few years, because I don’t think it is quite at that level.

I’m not happy with the loss and thinking about it is really sickening, but it’s not the end of the world. I repeat, it is not the end of the world.

If this team lost by 18 to Purdue, or Western Michigan, then we’ll talk about the worst losses. If the Irish come out and get roughed up by Tulsa next week, then we’ll consider that a terrible loss.

As it is now, this was a tough loss. It was a loss that we didn’t expect, a loss that could have and should have been avoided, but it is not the worst loss ever or an indictment on the Brian Kelly era.

I’m sick and tired of people saying that we shouldn’t ever lose to Navy, that Brian Kelly is never going to lose to Navy or that it is a downright shame that Notre Dame has lost three out of the last four to Navy.

The Midshipmen have been a good team for the last half decade or more and Notre Dame hasn’t. Maybe the recruiting rankings and speed and talent tell a different story but the story that matters is the one that is played out on the field.

On Crist

Well then.

Besides the defense (oh yes we’re going to get that in a bit), Crist’s play was the most troubling aspect of this loss.

The truth is that I am at a loss of words at how to explain what is going on.

What bothers me most is that Crist seems to have so many intangibles and qualities that it is hard to think that he won’t be a big success at Notre Dame.

He’s got the size, the arm strength, the smarts and the leadership qualities on and off the field. In sum, you’d have a hard time building a better "Notre Dame guy" to take snaps for the Irish.

That all adds up to one promising talent and who at some point should become a difference maker for Notre Dame.

The problem is that we keep seeing performances from Crist that seem to indicate that maybe, just maybe, he doesn’t have that special "IT" inside of him.

It is still too early to tell if this is really the case, but there’s a creeping feeling that maybe Crist won’t be the player we all think he will be. He could very well take a big leap during the offseason and go on to take this offense to a different level, but he simply has not improved as the year has gone on and he has regressed in a lot of ways.

With that said, I don’t think the loss was his entire fault obviously and he did make some nice throws (particularly on Jones’ TD catch), but as long as he is inconsistent this Notre Dame offense is in trouble.

I was happy with his mobility and running today, but it is evident that he’s not going to take the offense to the next level with his feet either. Again, if he continues to be erratic with his throwing and decision making, Brian Kelly will have no choice but to look elsewhere for a quarterback.

On the Offense

We’re just not there yet and I don’t think we will be this year.

Notre Dame is kind of good at everything (yes I think the running game is good, just underutilized), but not really very good at anything and far too inconsistent to be a dangerous offense. And without Kyle Rudolph and Theo Riddick for the long term, things won’t get any easier.

Before the season started I thought the Irish had the horses to be a very good spread offense, even in the first year of Brian Kelly’s tenure. But after the loss to Navy this was the first time I really thought that Brian Kelly probably wants some fresh faces on that side of the ball, including possibly going in a different direction at quarterback.

Overall, I wasn’t too angered by the offense against Navy. If they had scored on the first drive and not turned the ball over on the interception at the end of the half, this could have been a much closer game.

The way the defense played the Irish still probably would have lost, but the offense had its moments where it was clicking. The injuries on that side of the ball have to be factored into the equation too. The defense didn’t have any of those excuses.

There’s just a bit of melancholy because Brian Kelly’s overall philosophy demands a dynamic and explosive offense and it’s just not there.

On Hendrix

I don’t want to be too alarmist at this juncture, but if Crist doesn’t improve to finish this season, will current freshman Andrew Hendrix challenge for the starting job in 2011?

We already know that Hendrix has as strong, if not a stronger arm and that he can bring an added dimension of running that doesn’t exist right now. The word from campus is that he is mature and physically ready to play, so if Crist continues to struggle with his accuracy and decision making, I think there’s a definite possibility Hendrix gets into the mix.

I was very impressed with Hendrix in high school and that may mean squat at the next level, but I think there is a good chance that he is sharing at least some snaps next year with Crist and pushing for some serious playing time.

On the Defense

Flat out, I did not like the game plan against the triple option and I thought it had more to do with the loss than anything else.

The Coach broke down how the Irish would attack and it appeared that they did exactly as he said. I’m not a football expert nor do I claim to have the answers to what went wrong schematically, but from a common sense standpoint, this did not look good.

All Navy had to do was block our three down linemen and they could run the ball right up the middle with ease. The middle linebackers were continually so far from the line of scrimmage that they couldn’t effectively get to the ball in time before being blocked.

You could say that Notre Dame got pushed around on defense and that is true, but I saw things a little differently.

What I saw is a defense that is a little slow and a defense that is not smart.

The latter issue is the biggest. There just isn’t any backyard instinctive play from anyone save Manti Te’o. The defense is a step slow recognizing where the ball is going, or they are taking a bad pursuit angle and miss a tackle.

They won’t just stop and jump up for a ball, but will grab a player’s jersey and pick up a holding call. And when they do make the right read they seemed content with getting blocked and not fighting to get to the ball carrier.

There’s a lot of talk about the team not playing with emotion and lacking intensity and that is certainly a valid argument. But I would say that the defense just got beat and couldn’t do anything about it.

That signals to me that it really isn’t about the team playing without intensity but that maybe some new blood needs to come in and make a difference. Sometimes, the players you have just aren’t good enough and a very precise and intelligent Navy offense might have proved that point on Saturday.

There isn’t a whole lot more to say. The defense stunk and so did most of the team.

What’s Brian Kelly Thinking?

Does this loss expose major problems for Notre Dame?

That’s a tough question to answer. Like I said earlier, Navy is a pretty solid team and even though they kicked the crap out of our defense maybe we should put this loss in perspective.

I’m very concerned how this loss affects the rest of this season and possibly recruiting, but I don’t think it is crippling. It just can’t be only eight games in Brian Kelly’s tenure in South Bend.

Offensively, I don’t think there are major problems although we could very well struggle for the rest of this year with the injuries there. But even if this team limps to the end of the season struggling to move the ball, I think we should trust that Brian Kelly is going keep improving the offense, even if that means making some serious changes.

Defensively, there are a boat load of questions.

Part of me feels like there’s a boat load of bad luck and bad mojo with this group of players. There’s that feeling of "of course this run defense teased us and started to look much improved in recent weeks and then Navy rolled way over 300 yards."

How do you explain the performance on defense?

We’d probably all agree that there needs to be an infusion of talent on defense, but the talent that is present is nowhere near as bad as the way they looked against Navy.

Is there just an aura of losing back there that can’t be changed? It sure seems that way after this loss.

I guess what we do know is that the road back is going to be a little longer and a little harder than we previously thought and the future is probably going to be bleaker too.

So this isn’t a great place to be in right now. We’ll be besieged with thoughts of things never turning around, never getting better or even things getting worse.

We’ll just have to wait and see.