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Q&A With The Birddog

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I don't know if you've heard, but Notre Dame is playing a football game tomorrow. And it's in Ireland. Crazy, right?

To get ready for the game, we bring you a Q&A with Mike from the excellent blog The Birddog. He took the time to answer a few questions to give us the Midshipmen's view on the season opener. We talk new quarterbacks, jet lag, and defense.

Let's get to it.

1. Trey Miller struggled in his first career start against Notre Dame last season. What do expect to see from Miller on Friday? How much improvement do you expect to see in Miller?

Trey didn't have a great game, but I'm not sure that Roger Staubach would've done much better given the way Navy's offensive line played. Often when the line makes mistakes, it can look like the quarterback made the wrong read. That was the case in South Bend last year. As for why the offensive line played so poorly, I don't know. Notre Dame's defensive front was good, no doubt, but not so good that Navy should've looked as hopelessly overmatched as they did. South Carolina's was the most athletic defensive line that the Mids faced in 2011, and Navy's line held their own well enough against them. I don't like to comment on things like effort or attitude because unless you're in the locker room or in a guy's head, it's nothing but pure speculation. Whatever the reason, though, Navy's line didn't play as well as they were capable of. For a team like Navy, anything less than their best against a team like Notre Dame will result in a very ugly game.

As for Trey, he's your typical Navy quarterback. He's not the fastest guy in the world, but he's fast enough to get the job done. He doesn't throw as well as Ricky Dobbs, but he's a better passer than Kriss Proctor. I don't think you'll see anything too unusual out of the Navy offense. They started running some zone option plays more last year, and you may see some of that, but to the average fan it won't look much different than what Navy usually runs. I know the team experimented a little with shotgun formations over the spring, but I don't know if you'll see them other than in obvious passing situations (if at all).

The most important thing for Navy is to be able run the triple option. Everything the offense does depends on taking advantage of what defenses do to stop the option. They couldn't do it last year, and the result won't be any different if they can't do it this year.

2. A lot of Irish fans are worried about the effect the jet lag from this game will have on subsequent games. Do Navy fans feel the same way? What are your feelings on playing in Ireland?

Honestly, until I read this question I never even thought about jet lag.

Paul Johnson used to tell a story from his days as Hawaii's offensive coordinator. The WAC had a lot of high-altitude venues, and before going on the road to play at one of them (Wyoming or Air Force or whoever), Bob Wagner (the head coach at the time) had the head trainer talk to the team about all the effects that playing at high altitude can have on the body. He made sure to have plenty of oxygen tanks on the sideline and told the players to use them if they were feeling winded. Well, game time rolled around, and after only two plays Hawaii had guys coming to the sideline saying, "Coach, I think I'm feeling some of that altitude stuff you were talking about!" while sucking down oxygen from the tanks. The lesson, Johnson said, was that by making too big of a deal about that kind of stuff, coaches ultimately psych out their own players. I haven't heard anything from the Navy camp about jet lag, and I don't expect to. Besides, even if it is a problem, it's one that both teams will have to deal with.

I went to the '96 game in Dublin and had a blast, so for those able to make the trip, I'm sure it's a great thing. I won't have quite the same feeling watching from my couch. Navy is expecting to break even financially. Since they'd usually make $1-2 million playing in Baltimore or New York, I'd rather play the game stateside.

3. The Navy defense had trouble stopping the Irish last year. How are the Midshipmen planning to shut down the Irish on Saturday?

I have no idea. With Golson at quarterback, I'm not sure there are many comparisons to be made to last year anyway. This is the ideal situation for a guy like Golson to be making his first college start. He's playing behind what will probably the best Notre Dame offensive line in recent memory against an underdog team that isn't exactly known for playing a high-pressure defense. My guess is that Navy is going to focus on keeping Golson from running the ball and force him to make plays with his arm, hoping for some bad decisions here and there. We'll see.

4. Besides Trey Miller, who are the playmakers on offense for Navy? What about the defense?

The slotback in Navy's offense is sort of a hybrid RB/WR position, and Gee Gee Greene is pretty good at both roles. He ran for 501 yards and 3 TDs last year while adding another four touchdown catches. Those numbers won't blow you away, but Navy slotbacks don't usually get too many touches. It's more about quality over quantity here; the slots don't always get the ball, but they're expected to make plays when they do. Gee Gee has averaged 7.1 yards per carry in his career, so he more than meets those expectations.

Navy's new fullback is sophomore Noah Copeland. He's young, but don't let that fool you; the coaches are very excited about him. At 5-10, 205, his size is more like your average tailback than your stereotypical option fullback, but that just adds to his versatility. I wouldn't be surprised to see the coaches find ways to get him the ball outside in addition to the usual Navy fullback runs between the tackles.

Navy's best player on defense is Tra'ves Bush. He's been a jack of all trades for Buddy Green, playing everything from cornerback to linebacker before finally settling back into his natural safety position this year. He had 93 tackles and two interceptions in 2011 and was named ECAC All-East. OLB Keegan Wetzel is one of those guys that plays well when he gets into the game, but has had a hard time staying healthy. You'll probably see Navy rotating 5-6 guys on the defensive line.

5. What's your prediction for the game?

I know it's cheesy, but I don't like to make predictions. So much of the outcome depends on game planning and management that are impossible to guess. Obviously, Notre Dame is a big favorite for a reason. On paper, they should never lose this game. I do think that Navy will play better than last year, though. They can't play any worse.


Thanks again to Mike for answering our questions. If you haven't read his excellent preview of tomorrow's game, do yourself a favor and give it a read.