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October 31, 2007

Efficiency essential for Irish offense

David Grimes can appreciate the necessity of efficiency. Now the junior wide receiver needs the rest of Notre Dame's offense to feel a similar sentiment.

Grimes watched Notre Dame cruise by Navy the past two years not because Charlie Weis solved Paul Johnson's option riddle but because the Irish turned the Midshipmen's ball control style against them.

Grimes caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Brady Quinn in last year's 38-14 streak extender as Notre Dame turned a paltry eight possessions into five touchdowns. The Irish were even better the year before, taking their eight allotted drives and manufacturing six touchdowns in a 42-21 win.

Shortening the game is supposed to fluster Navy's opponent, but Notre Dame's offensive efficiency meant the Midshipmen suffered a case of self-induced stress.

"I think the biggest thing when you're playing Navy is you know we're going to have the ball fewer times," Grimes said. "We have to score every time when we have the ball.

"I wouldn't call it pressure. It's just something you just have to go out there and do.
If you make it pressure then you probably feel the pressure."

The Irish say they don't sense any unique stress with their NCAA-record 43-game winning streak dangling over the week. The possibility of picking up an eighth loss, which would tie a program worst, doesn't register either.

The worries are more here and now. And if the here turns into the end zone and the now becomes every possession, those historic worsts will tabled for another time.

The problem for Notre Dame is the disparity between the production against Navy the past two years and what's passed for offense this season. During those two Navy wins the Irish averaged two touchdowns for every three possessions. This year Notre Dame averages one offensive touchdown for every 14 possessions.

"I think we're very confident in the plays we're running," said quarterback Evan Sharpley. "Hopefully that will show up in points."

It had better.

Navy has scored 24 points or more in every game this season.

Notre Dame hasn't scored more than 20 in any game this year.

"They put a ton of points on the board so we've got to put that on our shoulders to score one more than they do," said offensive tackle Sam Young.

Notre Dame won't assume offensive success, but Navy's defense means the Irish should expect it. As poorly as the Irish have played on offense this season, the Midshipmen have been almost equally miserable on defense. They rank dead last in pass efficiency defense and among the nation's worst in total defense, sacks and scoring defense.

Those numbers suggest Notre Dame could be ready to break out. Then again, there's little evidence the Irish are actually prepared to do so although the return of running back James Aldridge from a right ankle injury might help.

"I don't see how we would take any team lightly with everything that's gone on this season," Aldridge said. "I don't see why we wouldn't be (ready to score points). We sure practice for it."



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