Stringing wins together no easy task for Irish

By Nancy Armour

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Oct. 28 2011 1:59 p.m. MDT

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is not so different than all those zealous Irish fans.

He wants a 12-win season, and 13 would be even better. He wants the Irish to be in the middle of the BCS debate, not watching wistfully from the sidelines. And he'd like all of this to happen now.

But as Notre Dame (4-3) showed in last week's lopsided loss to Southern California, it's not there yet.

"We're a work in progress. We're working through it," Kelly said. "We can string together three or four (victories), and that's not good enough."

Considering Notre Dame's recent history against Navy, just winning Saturday will count as progress.

This is the 85th straight year Notre Dame and Navy (2-5) have played, making it the longest continuous rivalry in college football. And for much of the last five decades, it might have been the most lopsided, too, with Notre Dame winning 43 in a row from 1964 to 2006.

Since then, however, the Midshipmen have won three of four, including the last two.

"We definitely want to get back on a winning streak against them. Or start a winning streak against them," Irish defensive end Ethan Jones said. "Any team is like that. You don't want to lose to any team, and you don't want to string losses together any time."

Rebuilding takes time at any program, even Notre Dame. Kelly, 12-8 so far, is still working largely with players he inherited from Charlie Weis, and he freely admits they're still adjusting to one another. His goal right now is consistency, in everything from the weight room to the practice field to the actual games.

Notre Dame seemed to be making progress, winning four straight after opening the season with back-to-back losses. But Kelly didn't like the way his players looked as they got ready for USC, and his fears were realized as the sloppy Irish quickly fell behind 17-0. They got back into the game, only to snuff out any chances for a comeback with three second-half turnovers.

"It's about being accountable, it's about doing it the right way all the time," Kelly said.

There is even less margin for error this week.

Navy has lost its last five games, including a 63-35 thumping by Southern Miss, and it ranks near the bottom of the country in just about every defensive category. But the triple option is a quirky offense, one most opponents see only once a year, and it makes Navy a far bigger challenge than it might appear on paper.

The Midshipmen are averaging almost 435 yards of total offense per game, including 325 yards on the ground, and they've scored 34 or more points in three of their last four games.

Making the challenge even greater is Notre Dame's inexperience on defense. The Irish will start at least three underclassmen in the front seven after losing defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore to a knee injury. The senior had 17 tackles, including one sack, in the last two games against Navy.

Though Notre Dame has already seen one option team in Air Force, there's nothing that can really prepare a young player for Navy.

"It's just the speed of the game. All the offensive linemen are as quick as some linebackers on Navy's team," said Jones, who is expected to play after missing the last two games with an ankle injury. "The fact they've played Air Force is good. But Navy is its own beast. They run it a little bit differently and they're good at what they do. ... Just don't get frustrated if you don't have success early in the game."

Navy likely will start sophomore Trey Miller at quarterback after Kriss Proctor dislocated his left elbow last weekend. It's the fourth time — and second time this season — that Proctor has dislocated that elbow.

"We're just concerned that if he comes back quick, will it pop out again? We're also concerned about the kid's long-term health," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said.

Proctor has had a hand in 14 of Navy's 27 touchdowns, and leads the team with 591 yards rushing.

But losing him isn't quite as big a deal as losing a quarterback would be at another school, with the option making the personnel secondary to the scheme. Besides, the Midshipmen still have fullback Alexander Teich, who rushed for a career-high 210 yards on 26 carries last year against the Irish. Teich is averaging almost 86 yards rushing this season.

"This game is huge for us. A win here could solve all the problems of the past five weeks and make everyone feel better," Teich said. "Right now, I think we're all a little uptight about why weren't not winning. Getting a big win would get the monkey off everyone's backs."

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