Notre Dame put together one of its best performances of the season Saturday against Duke, beating the Blue Devils 38-7 on the road while holding them to just 197 total yards and gaining 469 of their own.
It was an all-around solid performance for the No. 16 Irish, who reached 7-2 without much of an effort. Now, they turn to face a much different challenge as they'll welcome 21st-ranked Navy to South Bend on Saturday. The Midshipmen went a dismal 3-10 last season, the worst record of coach Ken Niumatalolo's 11-year tenure, but have rebounded to a 7-1 mark this year and climbed into the top 25 for the fourth time in five seasons. Their lone defeat is against fellow one-loss AAC powerhouse Memphis and their triple-option offense, difficult to defend even in down years, is averaging more than 40 points per game, ninth in the country.
"We know them well, and each game is a very difficult game because you're preparing only two or three days for a very, very good and efficient offense," Irish coach Brian Kelly said at his press conference Monday. "Really good football team. Deserving of being nationally ranked, and will be a great challenge for us as we prepare for them this week."
Here are some more highlights from Kelly's weekly press conference.
On Jamir Jones, who will start at defensive end in place of Julian Okwara this week (Okwara broke his leg against Duke and is out for the season):
"He's probably – and I think (defensive line coach) Mike Elston would tell you this too if he was standing here – performance versus trust, and (Jones) ranks up there in the top corner of both. In other words, trust in assignment and doing what he's asked to do and performance, he's about as good as we have on our football team. Just a really smart football player. Assignment sound.
"A couple weeks ago against Virginia Tech he was asked to stop the outside zone play against the quarterback, and at the same time, hold on to the tight end on the throwback. That's a tough assignment. You know, you get caught up in the wash there and you forget about them. But we trusted him so much that he could do that dual assignment. That's how we feel about him."
On Okwara's impact on the program during his time at Notre Dame:
"I think he brought a lot of notoriety to our defensive line in terms of development and how you can develop. He came in 210, 215 pounds and developed into an explosive, powerful, player. So player development, you can come in here and develop as a defensive linemen. I think a lot of that credit goes to him and our strength and conditioning program. But I think it says a lot about him and his want and desire to be the best he can be. All the credit should go to him and our staff."
On what makes the Navy offense so effective:
"They've seen everything. First of all, their in-game adjustments, the ability, and certainly the coaching. I mean, (offensive coordinator Ivin) Jasper and Ken (Niumatalolo) have seen everything. They can made adjustment to what you're trying to do in a split second. Not that the coaches at the high school level can't. They've seen it all as well. But you've got the best and brightest that are playing at the academy that can make some quick adjustments in game, at halftime, so they're not going to be fooled by what they see.
"Secondly, they're generally going to have an outstanding quarterback that is going to be able to stress you in so many areas and get the ball on the perimeter and force you to defend him. Because at the end of the day, when you're talking about the quarterback, how do you defend him? Really, you have to play a lot of the cover zero against them. If you're not, it's a slow march to the end zone because they certainly do a great job of having a quarterback that can continue to make yards each and every down."
On Notre Dame responding with two straight wins after the loss to Michigan:
"Well, there is really good leadership not only amongst the captains, but there is real accountability amongst all of the players. That means that it shows up during the week to a standard that's been set in how they prepare. They know that you reap what you sow. That means if you work really hard during the week, put in the time, hold each other accountable to that end, that it's going to pay off for them.
"They're at high level of mental toughness in that they hold each other to a level and a standard that has allowed them to continue to work towards getting better as a football team. As long as they stay in that mindset, they'll be pretty good."
On Ian Book's performance against Duke:
"I think there was some significant progress made. Maybe just he got back to the starting line for many people that were viewing him, but I think for Ian, playing the quarterback position requires him to eliminate a lot of clutter that goes along with the position.
"I think he finally did that and he just went and played quarterback at Notre Dame. It was nice to see. I was happy for him. I think he just needs to continue to do that, have fun, go play, enjoy it, and I think good things will happen to him."
- Julian Okwara: Okwara, who leads the team in sacks and is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss, is out for the season with a broken leg suffered against Duke. The injury ended his Notre Dame career with 24 TFLs, 15 1/2 sacks, four forced fumbles and two interceptions.
- Tony Jones Jr.: Jones played against Duke, but Kelly said he wasn't quite back to 100% yet after suffering a rib injury against Michigan. Coaches expect him to be much closer to his old self this week.
- Tommy Kraemer: The right guard remains out with a sprained MCL suffered against Michigan. The original diagnosis was 4-6 weeks so he is not yet close to a return. Fifth-year senior Trevor Ruhland will start in his place for the third straight week.
- Braden Lenzy: The redshirt freshman wide receiver did not travel with the Irish to Duke because of "fatigue", according to Kelly. The coach said the issue is not related to the concussion that kept Lenzy out against Georgia earlier this season. Kelly attributed the issue to a "long year of academics and football." It seems unlikely Lenzy will be at full strength this week and questionable at best that he will play.
- Jack Lamb: The redshirt freshman, one of Notre Dame's top special teams players who also has two tackles for loss and a sack this season, is out for the year with a torn hip muscle sustained against Michigan.
- Isaiah Foskey: Foskey, a true freshman defensive lineman who has impressed the Irish on the edge, will not play this week. He has played three games this season and Notre Dame wants to preserve his redshirt, meaning he can only appear in one more game this season. Kelly wants him on the field against a traditional offense rather than Navy's triple option.