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Irish defense has task of stopping option

Mike Gilloon | Friday, November 11, 2005

Despite a 5-3 record and close proximity to its third consecutive bowl appearance, Navy enters Saturday’s game at Notre Dame as a 24-point underdog.

While low outside expectations are due in part to Notre Dame’s offensive success (more than 38 points per game), they also account for Navy’s lack of size along the offensive line.

Navy’s starting tackles, guards and center weigh an average of 270 pounds. Notre Dame’s offensive line, on the other hand, is led by 311-pound right tackle Mark LeVoir and averages 295 pounds per player.

The Irish defensive line averages 271 pounds, while the Midshipmen front three on defense average 260 pounds. And Navy coach Paul Johnson indicated that average may overshadow even lower numbers.

“Let me just tell you,” Johnson said. “Our starting offensive guard [Antron Harper] weighs 232 pounds. I don’t think that’s a big secret.”

Harper is listed on the Navy athletics website as 249 pounds, but Johnson made his point – the Midshipmen are significantly smaller than the Irish. Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn is listed on the team’s athletics Web site at 231 pounds, only one pound lighter than Harper.

Whether its been about size or not, Navy has struggled in the past to maintain a solid rushing game against Notre Dame.

The Midshi-pmen ran 61 times for 216 yards in last season’s 27-9 Irish win at The Meadowlands (N.J.), an average of 3.5 yards per carry and below their 2004 season average of 289.5 yards per game.

Despite the physical mismatches on the offensive line, Johnson looks at the game against the Irish as an opportunity for his team.

“We just have to get ready and go play,” Johnson said. “We probably wouldn’t beat anybody if we went off height and weight and speed. Having said that, it’s multiplied by 10 this week.”

But the size differential is not just for the offensive line. Notre Dame receivers Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall are both 6-foot-5 and have combined for 93 receptions and 18 touchdowns this season. Meanwhile Navy’s two starting cornerbacks, Greg Thrasher and Keenan Little, are 5-foot-8 and 5-foot-11, respectively.

“[The Irish] are solid,” Johnson said. “If you look at their football team, they were probably all high school all-Americans. They didn’t just go down to Podunk High School and take somebody that nobody was recruiting and all of a sudden coach them up.”

Though Navy may be physically smaller, Johnson believes his squad will be focused against Notre Dame. He said the Midshipmen have been looking forward to the matchup for a while.

“That’s why a lot of these guys came to school [at Navy],” Johnson said. “They wanted to play Division I football, and this was the opportunity they had and they need to make the most of it.”