Navy football feels aches and pains entering game against Notre Dame
At practice on Tuesday, Blake Carter was not wearing one of the special green or red jerseys that signify limitations because of injuries. He was in his regular white jersey. So that must mean that the senior cornerback is one of Navy's healthy players, right?
"I feel beat up," Carter said with a smile. "It's Week 10, and no bye weeks -- it takes a toll on you. After every game, it feels like I was in a car crash or maybe even a plane crash."
This was never going to be an easy week for the Midshipmen (6-3), who travel to South Bend, Ind., to face 19th-ranked Notre Dame (6-2) on Saturday. But it will be more challenging considering their banged-up state following nine straight weeks of games. Navy, which had its five-game winning streak snapped last week with a 27-24 loss to Temple, needs one more victory to book its spot in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 31.
"We could pretty much have all of our 22 starters in green [non-contact jerseys]. Everybody has something," said Coach Ken Niumatalolo, whose team will finally get a free Saturday on Nov. 21. "We're just trying to be smart with some of our guys that might have some nicks and bruises and hopefully get them to the game."
"We're definitely tired, definitely beat up," senior guard Osei Asante said. "But this is a critical game for us."
Three defensive starters -- linebacker Tony Haberer, safety Wyatt Middleton and cornerback Kevin Edwards -- were in green on Tuesday; all three are expected to play Saturday. Slotback Marcus Curry, who missed the past two games with a pulled quadriceps, was in red, and did not participate in the padded portions of practice. He is doubtful for the game, Niumatalolo said.
Junior quarterback Ricky Dobbs, who did not start the past two games as he rested an injured right knee, will start against the Fighting Irish and "looked great" while running the first-team offense, Niumatalolo said. Dobbs is wearing a neoprene brace to protect his right kneecap, which has a small crack. He said his muscles felt tight while running sprints on Monday, but he expects to be able to play at a high level Saturday.
"Whatever I got, I'm giving," Dobbs said.
The Midshipmen knew from the start that the first two and a half months of the season were going to be especially grueling. They had to travel to Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame -- three teams that are now ranked in the top 25 -- and make back-to-back trips to Texas to play Rice (Oct. 10) and SMU (Oct. 17). Navy also had to face two very physical opponents in Air Force and Temple.
"Coming into the season, we knew it was going to be a grind," said senior linebacker Clint Sovie, who played through a rib injury earlier this season. "It goes back to taking one game at a time, playing one play at a time. Don't focus on the next week or the next play, just focus on the task at hand. . . . I guess the mental aspect [of being at an academy] and dealing with different situations, the best way to say it is we're able to compartmentalize things. That's what helps us a lot."
One of the hallmarks of Navy's program is the physical way it practices; even with all the aches and pains, the Midshipmen were still in full pads on Tuesday. But the coaches have tried to find a way to prepare their players to play while also making sure they get some rest.
"There are things we try to do in our hotels, in our schedules to try to get them some rest," Niumatalolo said. "We try to cut back on certain things, but we've got to be pad-ready too. We're playing a physical team, and there's that fine line: do you come out in [shells] and try to give them some rest, and then the first time you hit is Saturday? You just got to be smart. Give them some rest but also make sure they're pad-ready."