Navy (+14) at Notre Dame
Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana
Kickoff: 3:30 PM ET
Date: Saturday, October 10, 2015
Series: 75-12-1 Notre Dame
Here is the One Foot Down preview for this weekend's game against the United States Naval Academy.
Respect. Honor. Tradition
If you enjoy the schmaltz of the Notre Dame-Navy series you will be excited to know the two programs will be sharing some of the same gear this weekend. The Irish and Midshipmen will wear the same baselayer, gloves, socks, and cleats this weekend in honor of the nearly 90-year old football series. Also, the program "Onward Notre Dame: Mutual Respect" aired on NBC Sports Network Monday evening and will be re-aired Saturday at 2:30 PM ET.
As someone who enjoys the uniform world this makes me want to gag. I mean, come on does anyone from Navy besides the gray-haired high ranking officers who get to enjoy the game from the sideline enjoy this kumbaya with Notre Dame? The good news is at least we'll get to see the Irish in white cleats at home. It's going to be like 1978 up in the stadium.
Navy, AAC Favorite?
The Middies made the jump from the independent ranks to a league this year and are currently 2-0 in the American Athletic Conference. They've yet to play anyone within their division but picked up victories over East Carolina and UConn so far. Among the AAC teams, Navy is 1st in S&P sitting at 21st nationally. That's also 2nd among all non-Power 5 teams just behind No. 15 Toledo.
73 Rushing Touchdowns
Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds is currently tied in 2nd place for the most rushing touchdowns in college football history with 73 scores. He needs just 4 more rushing touchdowns to tie Wisconsin's Montee Ball for the all-time record. Reynolds would've had a better shot at breaking the record in Notre Dame Stadium except he did not score last week versus Air Force--the first time he did so since Navy played the Fighting Irish last year.
5 Years Since 10 Wins
Ken Niumatalolo pretty much has the Middie's on auto-pilot in his 8th season as head coach of Navy. He's 5-3 against Air Force, 7-0 against Army, and is on track for his 5th Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. Will this be the first time since 2009 that Navy win 10 games? A late-season stretch against some explosive offensive teams may be the big challenge. The Middies face Memphis, SMU, Tulsa, and Houston in a row during November, 3 of them on the road.
Score Enough & You'll Win
I bring this up every year against Navy--overwhelming them with points is absolutely crucial. In Notre Dame's 12 losses to Navy over history we scored an average of 12 points per game. And that includes the 44 points scored in the 2007 loss which went to triple overtime (ND scored 28 in regulation). Since getting back on the horse following the 2010 loss to the Middies, the Irish have scored an average of 48.2 points per game in the rivalry.
4 Players to Watch
QB Keenan Reynolds
Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas had his hat in the ring as the best quarterback the Irish would face this season and played poorly in South Bend. Last week, Deshaun Watson played well but didn't put up huge numbers. Now, Keenan Reynolds and his 6,737 total yards and 98 touchdowns in his career gets his last chance to play the Irish.
FB Chris Swain
It feels like Swain has been at Navy forever. Now in his 3rd year of starting minutes, he's totaled 1,628 rushing yards so far in his career to go with 14 total touchdowns. Swain and Reynolds take the bulk of Navy's carries (66.2%) and have scored 13 out of the team's 17 rushing scores. The Middies are not a slot-back heavy offense right now with nearly 3/4 of the carries going to the quarterback or fullback positions.
WR Jamir Tillman
Returning starter who put up an impressive 386 yards and 3 touchdowns in the triple option offense last year and is off to a nice start in 2015 with 97 yards and a score. He's a big body (6-4, 206) who can use his size on the edge as a blocker, too.
LB Micah Thomas
Navy is breaking in some new linebackers including this sophomore from Texas who has taken over the middle linebacker spot for the Middies. Through 4 games he's leading the team with 32 tackles and has added 2 TFL.
Losing the Turnover Battle
The Irish were even in turnovers heading into last week and of course we all know what happened in Clemson. The Irish have tumbled down the national turnover margin rankings now but perhaps the larger issue for Saturday are Navy's lack of turnovers. Through 4 games, the Middies have only lost 1 fumble and haven't thrown an interception. Quite the turnaround from last year when Navy lost 17 fumbles, so perhaps they are due?
Clemson Hangover, USC Look Ahead
This was a major topic of Brian Kelly's Tuesday press conference that the Irish couldn't afford to look past Navy and have to give the Middies all of their attention. After suffering their first loss last week Notre Dame should be sufficiently motivated against Navy.
Niumatalolo's Adjustments from the GT Tape
The Irish came out with a great gameplan against Georgia Tech but gave Navy a few weeks to study all the little things Notre Dame did to the Yellow Jackets. With a solid outing this weekend, the Irish might be finally free of the triple option nightmares. It'd be 8 straight wins against triple options teams and 5 straight against Navy. For now, we're all a little concerned.
2 Sides of the Line
The Midshipmen are breaking in a few new full-time starters on their offensive line. One of those is not senior Joey Gaston (6-5, 281) who moved to left tackle after starting on the right edge last year. Left guard is manned by another experienced player in senior E.K. Binns (6-3, 295) who is back as starter. He missed the UConn game with an elbow injury but came back last week against Air Force.
Senior Blaze Ryder (5-11, 277) had off-season knee surgery and has slowly been worked back into the lineup this year. He was a backup in 2014 and has started the last 3 games playing 20, 35, and 50 snaps in each of those games. If he doesn't play the whole game senior Brandon Greene (6-3, 265) will get reps.
Senior Ben Tamburello (6-2, 275) is the new starter at right guard. Right tackle saw junior Blake Copeland (6-4, 258) open the season as the starter but he's been supplanted by sophomore Robert Lindsey (6-4, 267) over the last 3 games.
Navy has 2 starters back from their 3-4 defensive scheme. Senior nose guard Bernard Sarra (6-1, 297) has 15 tackles and half a sack this year. Senior defensive end Will Anthony (6-1, 254) is having a very nice season with 23 tackles, 3 TFL, 1.5 sacks, and 2 pass break-ups.
The lone new starter at the other defensive end spot is junior Amos Mason (6-1, 250) who has totaled 19 tackles, 1 sack, 2 pass break-ups, and 1 forced fumble.
Navy is kind of flying under the radar from the Notre Dame perspective. Since they've joined the AAC this year their non-league games have given their schedule a different flavor than usual. Most years, we've been able to see how Navy performs against a Power 5 team or two before squaring off against the Irish.
This season, there's been no such comparison.
I think that's why this game is so scary. Not just because it's Navy and they'll scrap and claw to beat Notre Dame. Not just because the triple option can wreak havoc on any defense. But because this might be the best Navy team in many years.
Navy has never finished higher than 40th in F/+ since 2008 and they come into South Bend this weekend ranked 29th. That's higher than Arizona State, Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, and Oregon. I guess it shouldn't be too shocking that the Midshipmen with senior Keenan Reynolds might be the best Navy team of Coach Ken's tenure.
If you are reluctant to believe that it might be because this isn't an overly veteran Navy squad. Six new starters are being used on offense, and the Middies just lost rover Kwazel Bertrand to a broken ankle, which drops them down to 5 new starters on defense.
Right now, the USNA is playing perfect Midshipman football. They're efficient and finishing drives on offense, and limiting the opponent's explosiveness on offense. Throw in only one turnover in 4 games and you see why Navy is so highly rated.
My focus for Saturday is on creating explosive drives on offense against Navy's defense. Through 4 games, the Middies have limited teams to just 8 plays of 20+ yards, tied for 2nd nationally. Last year, Notre Dame had 7 plays of at least 20 yards in the game at FedEx against Navy.
I think we'll see a solid effort on defense by Notre Dame, but at times frustrating and not as dominating as the effort against Georgia Tech. I expect, as usual, a very efficient day for the offense--and just enough to pull away in the second half.