It's November and its time for Notre Dame to step up.
The four game set this month will decide if ND goes "big time" bowling or "minor" bowling, or bowling at all. The Irish start today with Navy and continue on the road at Pitt in two weeks. That's followed with the final home game against Connecticut and then the regular season finale at Stanford. It is not an easy task, especially starting today with a Navy team that seems to give a Charlie Weis coached team all it can handle, no matter what their record is or what talent they have to put on the field. More on Navy later.
Last week the Irish finally got a game that was decided at halftime and those of us with faint hearts were able to relax. Not every thing was great in the lopsided 40-14 win. The Irish looked good on offense in the first half racking up 30 points. In the second half the Irish offense was anything but impressive. Jimmy Clausen was pulled when his turf toe injury caused him some problems. He could have continued to play but Weis decided with the lead the Irish had it was better to rest him.
But the win had big pluses in the play of running back Robert Hughes and the continued outstanding performance of Golden Tate. The minuses were the second half lackluster play and the penalties - 74 yards and eight flags against the offense. In a close game that would have been the difference between a win and a loss.
One of the bright spots of the second half was the play of backup QB Dayne Crist and the 64-yard TD passto John Goodman. Crist went down late in the fourth quarter with a knee injury. That injury has tunred out to be a season-ending one for the sophomore. ND announced Crist was scheduled to undergo surgery on Friday to repair a torn ACL in his right knee. That puts pressure on the Irish as senior Evan Sharpley moves up to number two. Sharpley is steady but does not have the fire-power of Clausen. Clausen must stay healthy the rest of the reason because the only QB left on the roster after Sharpley is Goodman, the man who caught the TD pass from Crist. He is a converted QB to receiver and now will be back at QB. More about this later.
Hughes, who was a forgotten man for the USC and BC games, was in the lineup for Armando Allen, who is still hampered by ankle and knee problems. He was expected to play last week but Weis decided to give him the week off to rest him for the November stretch.
Hughes responded in excellent fashion. He finished with 131 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Hughes was a big part of the success of the Irish running attack that finished with 255 yards and 5.3 per rush average. Anytime a team can average over five yards per carry you can bet you'll be in the game and most likely than not, be winning the game.
More stats later.
Today the Irish host a Navy team that enters at 6-3 and is a very dangerous opponent for ND. Navy's option attack has given the Irish plenty of problems in the past. You can't forget last year when the Irish were ahead 27-7 in the fourth quarter only to hold on for a 27-21 victory. The Midshipmen used two recovered on-side kicks to get in a position to win the game. So Irish fans, this might be another one of those down to the wire contests.
The Middies are led by QB Ricky Dobbs. He's the one who led them back to the brink of victory last year. It is no surprise by the type of offense Navy plays that Dobbs is the leading rusher with 691 yards on 170 carries and 16 touchdowns this year. Vince Murray is the other leading rusher with 639 yards on 135 carries and four scores. Also in the rushing attack are Marcus Cory with 46-407 and four scores and Dobbs' backup at QB, Kriss Proctor, with 53-234 and five scores.
The Middies don't pass much. Dobbs is 33 of 66 for 618 yards and two interceptions and three TDs. Proctor is 2-4-1- and 27 yards. Leading receiver is Mario Washington with eight receptions for 144 yards.
ND leads the series, 71-10-1, with Navy breaking the long ND streak two years ago and have been in every game with the Irish as long as I can remember.
The game will be televised nationally by NBC-TV with a 2:30 p.m. start. Note the hour earlier starting time since daylight saving time is over.
IRISH NOTES: ND is now 15-0 in games played on Halloween and 6-2 for the first time since 2005.....Some more Washington State game stats. Clausen finished with 22 completions on 27 attempts for 268 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions. Crist was two of six for 69 yards-64 coming on the long TD play. Backing up Hughes was Tate with four carries and 61 yards, Theo Riddick nine for 52 and Jonas Gray, eight for 21. Receiving had Tate with four catches for 80 yards and a score, Kyle Rudolph six for 59, Duval Kamara three for 36, and Goodman two for 73 (64 on the TD play). Defensively Kapron Lewis-Moore had five tackles with Kyle McCarthy and Jamoris Slaughter four apiece....With the wn over lowly WSU, the Irish moved up in the polls. ND is 19th in the writers' poll and 21st in the coaches' poll. Weis said that is more due to teams ahead of you losing rather than the caliber of team you beat....Weis is now tied with Bob Davie for seventh place on ND's coaching career list with 35 wins....The crowd at the Alamodome was 53,407, about 11,500 short of capacity. It was the first "home away from home" game for the Irish. The attendance was a less than the usually home crowd of over 80,000 in South Bend....It was the 10th time in Weis' tenure that the Irish got over 500 yards of total offense in a game. ND finished with 592 yards with 255 of it rushing yards. It was also the most first downs in a game this year with 32 and the 40 points was a season high....Clausen now has 50 career TD passes....The game in San Antonio had another plus to it. Cornerback Toney Hurd of Marshall High in Missiouri City, Tex., committed to the Irish the night before the game. He's the 18th commitment for the Irish. Hurd is an important catch because of other recruits from Texas the Irish are after. He is rated a three out of five star catch by CBS analyst Tom Lemming....Crist's injury has a lot of lingering questions. If Clausen decides to pass on his senior year and go pro next season the Irish do not have a seasoned QB left. Sharpley moves on to a baseball career and incoming freshmen Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix are it. Weis will have to try and keep Clausen at ND. By the way, there has not been any kind of indication from Clausen that he is even thinking of going pro, this is all speculation in the South Bend Tribune....Good news is that WR Michael Floyd will return to the lineup today. Weis said he got a full medical ok to play, only that the number of plays he gets in on will be limited, to a degree....OG Trevo Robinson, injured last week is doubtful for today and Armando Allen, with a ankle injury that kept him out of last week's game is "day to day" according to Weis. Weis did say he would like to keep Allen out of today's game if at all possible. If Hughes plays like he did last week, that won't be a problem keeping Allen out....Clausen and Tate were both selected as semifinalists for the 2009 Maxwell Award, presented annually to college football's Player of the Year. They are two of 16 finalists. Clausen is one of six QBs and Tate is one of two wide receivers on the list. The three finalists will be announced on Nov. 23....Today will be a tough game for ND because the Irish have a history of not handling Navy's option offense. ND's defense has not been exactly stellar this year adding to the worries for today's game. The Irish offense should not have trouble scoring as long as Clausen is healthy. My preseason pick in this one was ND. I'll stay with it with fingers crossed.