Nov. 11, 2016
By John Heisler
Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s 2016 Notre Dame football team will be in San Antonio Saturday for a Shamrock Series reenactment on a couple of points. It’s the second visit to San Antonio for a Shamrock Series outing (the first one was played there in 2009 versus Washington State) and it’s the second Shamrock Series matchup with Army (the teams also played in 2010 at the new Yankee Stadium). Here are five things to watch as the Irish face the Black Knights:
1.Expect minimal possessions (again). Look for Army to try to do business in the same manner as Navy last weekend. The Black Knights will try to run the football. (Only one team in America, New Mexico, has been more productive with its ground game in 2016 than Army.) The Black Knights will try to control the football. (Army rates third nationally in time of possession.) The Irish defense will seek to find ways to get off the field—something that proved very difficult a week ago in Jacksonville.
2. Quarterback play will be critical. A week ago, Navy signal-caller Will Worth both ran for 175 yards and threw for 48—completing only five passes, but with one on third and nine to keep the final Mid scoring drive alive and another on fourth and six to allow Navy to run out the clock at the end of the game. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer was proficient with his 19-of-27 passing (for 223 yards and three scores) while also running for 52 critical yards. (Interestingly, Kizer has had three games in 2016 with more rushing yards—Texas, Duke and Stanford.) This time Army’s Ahmad Bradshaw looms as a big rushing threat on the edge, while Kizer again will need to optimize every Notre Dame opportunity.
3. Another Notre Dame-Army connection. Remember Todd Monken, a Notre Dame graduate assistant football coach in 1991 and 1992? Todd came to South Bend from Grand Valley State where he was on the same staff with current Irish head coach Brian Kelly. Todd went on to work as an assistant coach at Oklahoma State and LSU and was the Southern Miss head coach from 2013-15. A former NFL Jacksonville Jaguar receiver coach, he is now offensive coordinator for the NFL Tampa Bay Bucs. Todd is a cousin of current Army head coach Jeff Monken.
4. Notre Dame might be one of the better opponents Army has faced. Despite the 3-6 Irish record, Notre Dame could well qualify as one of the more potent teams the Black Knights have faced so far in 2016. Army’s most impressive wins to date are a road victory over a 7-3 Temple unit to open the season and another road triumph over a 6-3 Wake Forest squad. The Black Knights lost last weekend to an Air Force team that currently stands 6-3. Army’s overall schedule rates 121st nationally—both in terms of FBS competition by past opponents (21-36 for .368) and in terms of the overall Black Knight slate (29-44 for .397).
5. Check out the military angles.
Anytime Notre Dame plays one of the service academies, the military connections are front and center—and that’s no exception this weekend. Two individuals with Notre Dame connections will be part of the game presentation Saturday. Joining the captains and officials for the coin toss will be former standout Notre Dame running back and 1967 team captain, four-time Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Vietnam veteran Rocky Bleier. Retired U.S. Army Major General Patrick H. Brady will be recognized at the end of the opening period and presented with a framed Irish jersey. A San Antonio resident, recipient of an MBA from Notre Dame in 1972 and the only living Notre Dame alumnus to receive the Medal of Honor, Brady commanded an ambulance helicopter in Vietnam. He flew more than 2,000 combat missions and helped evacuate more than 5,000 injured soldiers stranded near enemy lines during two tours of duty. His military decorations include the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and Purple Heart.