No one at today's weekly press conference at the Naval Academy had to remind football coach George Welsh that Saturday's opponent. Notre Dame, has whipped the academy 13 straight times, 40 times in the 54 games played and is coming off a devastating 49.19 victory over highly regarded Southern California.
"They're stronger now than they were earlier in the season. They have the best defense against the rush of any of the teams well play this season," said Welsh, with s somber expression that showed his concern over the game at South Bend. "Notre Dame is bigger, stronger and mroe experienced than us. If we play well, we'll be in the game. If they play well, they'll win."
Welsh, whose team is 4-3, was not merely saying nice things about the fighting Irish (5-1), he was talking facts.
Since being upset Mississippi, 20-17, Notre Dame has beaten Purdue, Michigan State, Army and Southern Cal.
Joe Montana took over at quarter-back and the Notre Dame offense began to skyrocket. He and end Ken MacAfee became immediate buddies, hooking up for eight receptions last week for 97 yards and two touchdowns. MacAfee, with a season total of 33 catches for 420 yards and four touchdowns, is now the third-leading receiver in the nation.
"Maybe we ought to let him get his seven or eight catches and concentrate on stopping everyone else," Welsh said. "He's big and has excellent hands. We'll stick with our own pass defense, but we'll watch him very closely."
Several other Notre Dame players also deserve watching especially running back Jerome Heavens (613 yards, 4.4 average) and defenseive and Ross Browner. Although the All-American lineman has not yet captivated the Heisman Trophy committee. Browner is still the same vicious hitter he has always been.
"People have just run away from him and double-teamed him most of the year," said Notre Dame coach Dan Devine, reached by telephone in South Bend.
"He hasn't made many of the big plays he's known for but he's definitely our leader on defense."
The fact that Browner and company are ranked sixth in the country in rushing defense, allowing 92.8 yards per game and one touchdown, also must worry Welsh.
Led by tailback Joe Gattuso, the Mids have rushed for 1,439 yards to take much of the burden off the arm of Bob Leszezynski. Gattuso ran for 250 yards last week in leading Navy to a lopsided 42.17 win over William & Mary. The senior, now with 820 yards and a 5.3 average, for the year, was selected as the ECAC offensive player of the week for his performance.
"We hope to move the ball against them," Welsh said. "We don't want to throw too many times."
Last year Navy had little choice but to go upstairs and Leszezynski responded with a sparkling 21 of 45 effort for a school-record 294 yards. The Midshipmen lost, 27-21.
Devine said his team would "naturally be a little down emotionally" after last week's game, but he was sure his players would perk up for Navy and Leszezynski.
"I'm sorry he's still there. I wish he was here," said Devine. "But then Navy (4-3) is improved in a lot of other areas, too. We won't be overconfident going into this game."
In addition to bolstered offensive line, the Mids have a defense that is much better against the rush. Line backers Tom Paulk and Bob DeStafney and defensive tackle Pfunandre Redvict anchored the defensive unit.