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OFD Gameday Countdown: Notre Dame vs. Navy

A preview of the Irish-Midshipmen showdown.

Is that Rex Grossman?
Is that Rex Grossman?
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Navy (+16) at Notre Dame

Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana

Kickoff: 3:30 PM ET

Television: NBC

Series: 73-12-1

Here is the One Foot Down preview of this weekend's game against the United States Naval Academy.

5 Factoids

  • 21

Paul Johnson resurrected the Navy football program back in 2003 after taking over in 2002. Since the beginning of '03 the Middies have won 21 games against teams from major conferences, including Notre Dame. In 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2009 Navy beat 3 major conference teams in each season. So far in 2013 they've already defeated Indiana and Pittsburgh.

  • 4

This is the fourth straight year that Notre Dame comes unranked by the AP into the annual game with Navy. The Irish are close sitting at No. 26 nationally, though. This is the longest unranked at the time of competition streak against Navy since the Irish went the 6 games from 1958 to 1963 outside the AP Poll. Notre Dame went 3-3 in those games.

  • 97

That is the most points a Brian Kelly-led Notre Dame offense has scored in back-to-back weeks which came back in 2011 with 38 points against Purdue followed up by 59 points against Air Force. The Irish scored 45 points last week against Air Force and would need 53 points against Navy to break this record. Notre Dame has also scored 50+ points against Navy in each of the last two meetings---the Irish have never done it three years in a row. The most points for ND in 2 straight meetings against Navy is 116 set by the 1993-94 Irish squads. That record may be safe as Notre Dame would need 67 points this weekend to break it.

  • 5

Notre Dame scored 20+ rushing touchdowns in both 2011 and 2012 but this season they only have 5 total scores on the ground---two apiece from George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel, with one from Andrew Hendrix. Only Southern Miss, Georgia State, South Florida, Purdue, Miami (OH), UMass, and Hawaii have fewer rushing touchdowns in 2013. Navy comes into this weekend with 25 rushing scores good for a tie for 10th place nationally.

  • 147

This is the amount of carries by Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds. Although that's only 36.2 percent of Navy's total rushing attempts it's almost double fullback Chris Swain who is second on the team with 76 carries. In closing, Reynolds runs the ball a lot from the QB position and has scored 11 touchdowns this season.

*Bonus factoid: Navy has 43 players on the roster who attended the Naval Academy Prep School. The cynic would tell you that this is how the Midshipmen redshirt their players.

4 Players to Watch

  • QB Keenan Reynolds

Last year Reynolds was only the third freshman in program history to start at quarterback. He came in late against Notre Dame last year in Dublin and ended up starting the final 8 games of the season. Coming into this weekend Reynolds is a solid 10-5 as starter and has put up some impressive stats throughout his career. He's averaging 19.4 carries per game and has already scored 21 rushing touchdowns in his career. His passing is pretty good as well with 1,565 yards and 13 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions.

  • FB Chris Swain

Junior Noah Copeland started every game last season for Navy but he's given way to sophomore Chris Swain for the majority of this season. Copeland did start against Pitt last week but left the game with an injury in the second quarter. Swain has taken the reigns and carried the ball at least 10 times in 5 of the Middies 7 games. His 284 yards in 2013 are second most on the team behind Reynolds.

  • NG Bernard Sarra

The sophomore from Pennsylvania saw a little bit of action last year and has moved into the starting nose guard role this fall. He lost a bunch of weight during the off-season but is still very stout at 303 pounds. Sarra isn't a big producer with only 13 tackles on the season however he's a nice War Daddy for the Middies and even offers some athleticism to move along the line in 4-man fronts.

  • LB Cody Peterson

Peterson is a senior from Washington state who started the final eight games at middle linebacker last year and is currently leading Navy in tackles for 2013. For his career he has 143 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, with one sack. He's had 12 tackles in each of the last three games and totaled double digit tackles in 5 of Navy's 7 games this season.

3 Concerns

  • Injuries

The Irish are a little banged up and will be playing without at least a couple starters on defense. Louis Nix is expected to suit up but who knows if he starts, how much he plays, or even if he'll re-aggravate any injuries he's dealing with.

  • Turnovers & Missed Opportunities

In the 3 losses to Navy since 2007 the Irish coughed up the ball 6 times but also missed 3 field goals and turned the ball over on downs 6 more times. The best way to beat Navy is to bury them with offense and the worst thing to do is leave a lot of points on the field with big momentum swings.

  • Gashed up the Middle

Nightmares of Alexander Teich are still fresh and don't go away so easily. However, Notre Dame has done a nice job against Navy fullbacks in the last two meeting holding them to 91 yards on 21 carries. That's still not great but miles better than the 210 yards Teich racked up in 2010. Barf.

2 Sides of the Line

Entering the game this Saturday the Midshipmen will be without a single senior starter on their offensive line. They didn't start the season that way, though. Senior Thomas Stone (6-3, 295) started the first three games of the season at left guard but has since been out with a knee injury. Fellow senior Graham Vickers (6-1, 254) had 15 starts under his belt coming into 2013, played at right tackle for 3 games, but had to retire due to concussions.

The starting lineup for Navy is now junior left tackle Bradyn Heap (6-3, 288) with 9 career starts, sophomore left guard E.K. Binns (6-3, 287) with 4 straight starts since Stone's injury, junior center Tanner Fleming (6-2, 276) a veteran with 18 career starts, junior right guard Jake Zuzek (6-0, 310) a two-year starter, and sophomore right tackle Brandon Green (6-3, 257) who's started the last 4 games since Vickers' injury.

This is a Navy offensive line with pretty good size for a service academy although their inexperience may be showing as they are currently averaging their lowest yards per carry since 2009.

The Middies have started every game with the same 3 defenders up front in their 3-4 scheme. On the ends are junior Paul Quessenberry (6-2, 251) and senior Evan Palelei (6-3, 247) the latter in his second year as starter. On the inside is the aforementioned Bernard Sarra (6-1, 303) another first-year starter. Navy doesn't get much production out of these starters as the trio has only combined for 46 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 1 sack.

A few more backups see significant time as well. Sophomore end Will Anthony (6-1, 238) has 35 career tackles, senior Travis Bridges (6-0, 318) offers another big body inside in addition to his 23 career tackles, and junior Aaron Davis (6-0, 251) has seen some reps with 7 career tackles.

Overall, this is a very non-threatening defensive line. They are 90th nationally in run defense and dead last in the entire country in generating sacks and tackles for loss from this position.

1 Prediction

Navy has played 3 BCS teams this year and they are 2-1 in those games. In their win last week against Pitt the Middies were -13 in total yardage but in their win to start the season over Indiana they were +34 in yardage. In both of these games Navy had a combined 1 interception and one missed field goal.

In their loss to Duke the Midshipmen were -116 in total yardage but lost 2 fumbles, threw an interception, and missed a field goal. Where I'm going with this is that if Navy protects the ball and limits the mental mistakes they are actually a solid football team.

Football Outsiders Advanced Stats for Week 10

F/+ 28 79
FEI 26 70
FEI Off. 16 59
FEI Def. 32 79
S&P 37 74
S&P Off. 24 63
S&P Def. 45 85

The one thing that gives me pause in this game is Navy's pass defense which has done pretty well this year. 3 out of their 4 secondary players are veteran returning starters and they've been able to keep 5 opponents under 203 yards passing. Then again, looking at those 3 BCS schools mentioned above Navy has allowed the following to opposing quarterbacks:

83 for 109 (76.1%), 867 yards, 9 touchdowns, 1 interception

Overall this does not appear to be a very good defense for Navy and the advanced stats back that up. They're likely a step above Air Force's defense so there's that. Their front seven does a poor job pressuring quarterbacks and making explosive plays and that should lead to a lot of damage inflicted by Notre Dame.

Offensively, this looks like an okay Navy unit but one that is probably a little too dependent on quarterback Keenan Reynolds. Against Duke he only completed 6 passes, was sacked twice, fumbled once, threw a pick, and only gained 31 net rushing yards despite a game-high 16 carries. Like many teams Navy's QB didn't play well and they were blown out but this isn't a triple option team that is getting by with Reynolds as one of a handful of playmakers.

This is especially evident at the slotback position where Navy really misses the dynamic Gee Gee Greene who rushed for 7.0+ YPC in both 2011 and 2012. This season, a rotation of four slotbacks (Whiteside, Sanders, Staten, and Thomas) are actually very productive but they're only getting a combined 11.8 carries per game in an offense that runs the ball nearly 58 times per game. For whatever reason, Navy has been content running the quarterback and fullbacks a whole lot this season.

Navy is typically the most talented and disciplined service academy and with a rising young star at quarterback I think their offense will have some success against the Irish. I don't think their defense will be so lucky. I foresee a productive day from Tommy Rees and a decent effort running the ball for Notre Dame.

Notre Dame 40

Navy 21