FACTS & STATS: Site: Notre Dame Stadium (80,795) -- Notre Dame, Indiana. Television: NBC. Home Record: Navy 3-0, Notre Dame 3-1. Away Record: Navy 1-3, Notre Dame 2-1. Neutral Record: Navy 0-0, Notre Dame 1-0. Conference Record: Navy 0-0, Notre Dame 0-0. Series Record: Notre Dame leads, 73-12-1.
GAME NOTES: The Navy Midshipmen and Notre Dame Fighting Irish are set to play one another for the 87th consecutive year on Saturday when they square off at Notre Dame Stadium.
Just one week after Navy suffered a heartbreaking, 44-43, loss to Toledo in double overtime due to Nick Sloan's missed extra-point try in the second extra session, the sophomore place kicker redeemed himself with a game-winning field goal that lifted the Midshipmen to a 24-21 victory over Pittsburgh. The victory snapped a two-game slide and improved Navy to a 4-3 overall record. Coach Ken Niumatalolo's squad enters Notre Dame Stadium with a 1-3 mark in away games and has lost three straight on the road since its season opening victory at Indiana (41-35).
Brian Kelly's Fighting Irish notched their third straight win last week with a 45-19 rout of Air Force. Notre Dame has won five of its last six games to arrive at a 6-2 overall record. The Irish improved to 13-0 under Kelly when not committing a turnover and set a new-season high in points scored last week.
Notre Dame holds a sizeable, 73-12-1, all-time series lead in its rivalry with Navy. The Fighting Irish have outscored the Midshipmen, 106-24, over the span of the past two encounters. They have also won 46 of their last 49 meetings in the series.
While the Navy offensive attack has been up-and-down thus far, it has consistently done the majority of its damage on the ground, ranking 10th in the nation with 292.1 rushing ypg. Over the last 12 years, Navy has consistently had one of the highest producing ground attacks in the country, never finishing lower than sixth in rushing.
Since the Midshipmen average only 13.1 pass attempts per contest, it is no surprise that 23 of their 27 offensive touchdowns have come on the ground. Due to the lack of opportunities for quarterback Keenan Reynolds through the air, the Midshipmen's passing attack is one of the weakest in the FBS at 103.9 ypg.
Reynolds is the team's leading rusher with 546 yards and 11 TDs on 147 carries. He has also been serviceable as a passer in his limited chances, going 39-of-74 for 667 yards with four TDs and two picks.
Chris Swain is the primary running back, although he has averaged only 3.7 yards per carry en route to 284 yards and three scores. Marcus Thomas has emerged as a big play back with an astounding 11.6 yards per carry on 18 totes. DeBrandon Sanders is a multi-threat player as he leads the team in receiving yards with 176 on just nine catches to go along with his solid contribution of 208 rushing yards on only 26 attempts.
Navy's defense held three of its first four opponents under 20 points, but has surrendered an average of 33.7 ppg over its last three outings. The Midshipmen's defensive unit made up for the offense's weak performance last time out by holding the Panthers to only 338 total yards, 18 first downs and 3.6 ypc. On the season, Navy is allowing exactly 396 yards per contest and ranks 54th in the nation yielding in points allowed per game (24.6). Cody Peterson has been the heart and soul of the defensive group and leads the team with 72 tackles, which is 17 more than any of his teammates.
Tommy Rees has assumed the leadership role on the field for Notre Dame and even though he has guided the group to just 389.3 ypg in total offense (81st nationally), Notre Dame has gained steam as the season has progressed. Rees tossed a career-high five touchdown passes last week versus Air Force and finished 22-of-27 passing, for 284 yards. The quarterback has completed 55.1 percent of his throws for an average of 243 ypg with 20 touchdowns against six INTs on the season.
Cam McDaniel has taken over the role of lead back for the Irish and has compiled a team-high 417 yards and two touchdowns on 91 carries. George Atkinson III has also been useful in the rushing attack with 381 yards on 70 carries. Atkinson and McDaniel each have a pair of touchdowns. Wideouts TJ Jones (44 catches, 631 yards, six TDs) and DaVaris Daniels (30 catches, 463 yards, four TDs) are a dangerous tandem downfield. Troy Niklas has also made an impact with 41.0 receiving yards per game and five touchdown grabs.
Notre Dame's defense was the key to its undefeated run through the regular season and into the BCS Championship Game last season. Although the Fighting Irish are ranked just 32nd nationally in total defense (364.5 ypg) and 28th in scoring defense (21.6 ppg), they returned to their dominant ways from a year ago last week against Air Force, which finished with only 339 total yards. The Irish also held USC to just 10 points one week before holding the Falcons to the same total.
Linebackers Carlo Calabrese (55 tackles, 5.0 TFL) and Dan Fox (49 tackles, 3.0 TFL) are the top tacklers for Notre Dame. Bennett Jackson (46 tackles, 4.0 TFL, one INT) is an excellent playmaker in the defensive backfield, while stars Stephon Tuitt (29 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks) and Louis Nix III (22 tackles, 2.0 TFL) are leaders along the defensive front.
Kelly has done a great job of getting Notre Dame back on track after its tough loss to Oklahoma. The Irish defense seems to be stepping up its play just as Rees is hitting his stride. Navy is never an easy out due to its powerful rushing attack. However, the Midshipmen's poor play on the road is not very encouraging as they visit Notre Dame Stadium, where the Irish have won 13 of their last 14 games.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Notre Dame 38, Navy 20
Saturday, November 2, 3:30 p.m. (et)