Navy (+20.5) at Notre Dame
The Massacre at the Meadowlands.
Jerseyed in Jersey.
The Defeat of Diaco.
Another loss to Navy.
Last year's 35-17 defeat at the hands of the Midshipmen was the second straight loss in this annual series and the third loss over the past four meetings.
That record breaking winning streak once upon a time is certainly ancient history at this point.
With Notre Dame coming off a disappointing loss to USC last week, the pressure has increased to beat Navy at home and avenge last year's debacle.
Navy should be plenty hungry themselves coming into this Saturday's contest riding a 5-game losing streak---their longest skid since losing 10 in a row during the 2002 campaign.
Here is a preview of the 85th edition of Notre Dame-Navy.
How Has Navy Been Doing This Year?
With that five game losing streak---not so good at the moment.
Most experts thought Navy would take a step back from last year (and eight straight seasons of 8 or more wins), but it's been worse than expected.
The Middies opened the season with a 40-17 win over FCS Delaware and followed that up with a road shellacking at Western Kentucky to the tune of 40-14.
After two games the post-Ricky Dobbs era was looking pretty bright.
Even a week three loss to South Carolina didn't dampen the season outlook as the Middies took the ranked Gamecocks right down to the wire, eventually losing by three after a late-game interception.
They tried to rebound after a bye week but lost in heartbreaking fashion to rival Air Force (unsportsmanlike penalty in OT with a resulting missed PAT) likely also losing the Commander-in-Chief Trophy for the second year in a row after a 7-year ownership of the trophy from 2003-2009.
As if those two losses weren't bad enough, Navy played Southern Mississippi without star fullback Alexander Teich and lost in humiliating fashion 63-35. Despite racking up 569 yards, the Middies failed to score on a couple opportunities deep in Southern Miss territory, while also surrendering a season high 584 yards.
Two weeks ago Navy was able to hang with Rutgers, but lost yet again with a blocked field goal late in the game being their demise in a 21-20 defeat.
Last weekend, East Carolina was able to ride a stellar performance from quarterback Dominique Davis (NCAA record 26 straight completions to start the game) en route to a 38-35 thrilling win over Navy.
The Midshipmen now come into this game against Notre Dame with a 2-5 record on the season.
Notre Dame Defense vs. Navy Offense
Here it is---redemption time for Diaco and the Irish defense against the vaunted Navy triple option.
Notre Dame catches a break this year not only with the graduation of quarterback Ricky Dobbs, but current starter Kriss Proctor is out this weekend with a dislocated elbow injury.
That means true sophomore Trey Miller is going to be the quarterback for Navy with only 19 rushing and 14 pass attempts to his name.
However, Miller is surrounded by a nice core of veteran and experienced players.
On the line four starters return from 2010 in junior Josh Cabral at left guard, senior Brady DeMell at center, senior John Dowd at right guard, and Ryan Basford at right tackle. Junior left tackle Andrew Barker is the lone new starter of the bunch.
Navy is starting two new players at receiver in senior Doug Furman and sophomore Matt Aiken, but junior Brandon Turner is back from last year as the playmaker of the bunch (Middie wideouts are primarily blockers) and currently leads the team with 9 receptions for an impressive 228 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Supporting QB Trey Miller in the backfield are a trio of talented runners.
Junior John Howell didn't play much last year and is the lone new starter at slotback, but has racked up 278 yards on just 24 carries in 2011. His outstanding 11.6 rushing average is boosted by 4 touchdowns as well.
At the other slotback position Navy returns junior Gee Gee Greene who is a tremendous athlete. He's followed up his 2010 campaign (492 yards on 72 carries [6.8 YPC] with 5 touchdowns) with 291 rushing yards on just 34 carries this year. Greene's 8.5 rushing average is accompanied by just one score this season.
At fullback the Midshipmen return senior Alex Teich---and he needs no introduction to Notre Dame fans.
Teich rumbled for 210 yards on 26 carries last year in Navy's victory over the Irish, making that performance the most yards ever by a fullback in Navy history, as well as the most rushing yards by a Midshipmen in series history against Notre Dame.
As Coach has pointed out each of the last two seasons---the primary focus of the Irish defense should be shutting down Teich at the fullback position.
Without even mentioning responsibilities and post-snap movement, I thought last year's base defensive formation against Navy was pretty awful.
As I said after last year's loss, I totally believe Diaco thought it would be fine to go with 3 down linemen, and that nose guards Ian Williams or Sean Cwynar would easily eat up two blockers (look how isolated the nose guard is!), with Te'o and Calabrese coming in to clean up and fill the gaps.
We know now that the defensive ends didn't crash, and Navy was easily able to neutralize the Irish nose guard and kick out linemen to block Te'o and Calabrese.
That's how a fullback runs for over 200 yards.
Against the last two option teams, Diaco has thankfully ditched the above defensive set and shifted linemen closer to the ball in the middle.
Against Navy, there were only 7 defenders within the proximity of the line of scrimmage, with the nose guard alone defending the middle of the field.
Against Army last year and Air Force a few weeks ago, Diaco put another big body with his hand down, compacted the line more towards the ball, and brought an additional defender closer to the line of scrimmage on most snaps.
The Irish defense might not have always followed Coach's wise gameplan over the past two games against option teams, but they have been utilizing it much more often (especially crashing the defensive ends on the fullback).
Coupled with a smarter formation, I think it's easy to understand why Notre Dame has breezed by both Army and Air Force since the Massacre in the Meadowlands.
Without Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson being limited or not effective, the job of shutting down Navy's offense got a lot more difficult for Notre Dame. However, if the Irish commit to shutting down the fullback and stay in the formation we've seen against Army and Air Force, we should see an improvement over last year's contest with the Midshipmen.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Navy Defense
Navy is returning 7 players on offense to form a great nucleus of leadership, but on the other side of the ball there are a lot of new faces.
In total, just two full-time starters return on defense for the Middies.
On the line senior nose guard Jared Marks is fairly inexperienced, as is junior end Josh Dowling-Fitzpatrick. However four-year starter Jabaree Tuani is back and is leading the team with 5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
At linebacker four new full-time starters are being broken in this year, but junior Tra-ves Bush, senior Caleb King, and junior Matt Warrick have a good amount of experience on defense. Warrick's 62 tackles currently leads the team while Bush is second in team tackles with 51.
Junior Brye French is the lone starter without much experience among the linebackers.
In the secondary Navy is the least experienced and it is showing with how successful teams have been moving the ball through the air against them.
Corners Johnathan Wev and David Sperry are both new starters, while Chris Ferguson is a true freshman starting at free safety. Senior Kwesi Mitchell is back and moved to the all-important rover position as the unit's lone returning starter.
The result of so many new starters has been a dreadful defense in 2011 for Navy---both the traditional and new-school rankings are very damning.
The Midshipmen are giving up 6.2 yards per play and are 83rd in scoring defense (giving up 30.3 points per game), as well as 103rd against the run in the national rankings.
Navy fares a little better with the 61st pass defense in the country, but they are giving up an astonishing 8.0 yards per attempt and an eye-popping 150.72 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks (9th worst in the nation).
Using the traditional NCAA metrics, Navy is 94th in total defense.
Using Football Outsiders up-to-date S&P rankings, the Middies currently have the 114th ranked defense (7 spots worse than Air Force) which is 46 spots lower than where their defense finished in 2010.
By just about any metric you want to use, this is likely the worst defense Notre Dame will face this season.
That means despite whatever the Irish do on defense, they should win this game because the offense simply puts too many points on the board and overwhelms Navy.
With all the talk about stopping the triple option it sometimes gets lost that Notre Dame should always score copious amounts of points against Navy.
Over the past two meetings (both losses), Notre Dame has combined for a total of 38 points.
Say what you want about the defense the past two years, but that offensive output is just as shameful.
Over the past 14 meetings against Navy, the Irish have scored 40+ points only 3 times and 35+ points only 4 times.
This is bad offense.
We always talk about Lou Holtz' team being strong defensively, but during his 11 years in South Bend the Irish surrendered 14.9 points per game to Navy in comparison to 20.2 points per game since.
The major difference in so many comfortable Holtz-led Irish wins over Navy?
Notre Dame scored 50+ points In 5 of the 11 meetings in the series under Holtz, and they scored 35+ points in 9 of the 11 games.
The Fighting Irish may be giving up a little over 5 more points per game to Navy since Holtz, but they are also scoring just over 13 fewer points per game---a huge damnation of the offense.
There's reason to be concerned about Navy's offense, and having two true freshman likely starting on the defensive line isn't helping matters, but Notre Dame is catching a break with an opponent that does not have an experienced quarterback or a quality defense.
Navy isn't as bad as their 2-5 record indicates (with 4 close losses) and we know from experience that Navy is going to bring their A-game and not back down against the Irish.
I expect a better performance on defense for Notre Dame, but with the injuries up front I doubt it will be a vastly improved effort. Keeping Navy under 300 yards rushing, under 400 total yards, and under 30 points is a safe goal I would set for the Irish.
I predict we see fewer big plays from Navy, but enough third and fourth down conversions to keep drives alive and still put a good amount of points on the scoreboard.
Offensively, Notre Dame should have a field day and there's really no excuses not to.
Last year, Notre Dame was still working the kinks out in a new system and was only in the second game of the post-Kyle Rudolph era. Armando Allen was also banged up and the starting receivers were a non-threatening trio of TJ Jones, John Goodman, and Duval Kamara.
This 2011 Irish offense is flat out better everywhere on the field and should be able to march up and down the field against Navy.
This is a game where Tommy Rees has to be lethal with his throws and have an outstanding day---especially if he's called upon to throw the ball 30 or 35 times. This isn't the type of game where we can turn blame away from Rees simply because he completes 60 percent of his throws, passes for 220 yards and only turns the ball over once.
Over the last four games, against one BCS team (Rutgers---and they are not good offensively), Navy has surrendered the following stat line to opposing quarterbacks:
111 attempts, 94 completions (84.6%), 1,080 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions.
This is the game where Rees needs to have another Air Force-like effort with 300+ yards and 3 touchdowns being easily attainable.
We'd all like to see Kelly run the ball more often, but this is the type of game where you want to score early and often---so expect a 60-40 split in favor of tossing the rock unless it's a blowout for the Irish.
Everyone is worried about the defense in this one, but I'm also concerned with the offense too because they have derped it up against Navy over the past two seasons.
There are some significant signs pointing to a comfortable Irish victory, such as Navy's bad defense and inexperienced second-string quarterback, but I believe the Midshipmen fight hard in this game and keep it close.
Ultimately, the Irish pull out a win and end Navy's winning streak in South Bend.
Notre Dame 42