Haven’t we been here before? Notre Dame, coming off a last second loss on the road against a top ACC program, has to adjust to defending the Navy triple option. Last year, following the Florida State heartbreak, Notre Dame had trouble stopping Navy, but won 49-39 because Navy couldn’t stop the Irish either.
There are some differences this time around. Notre Dame had great success defending Georgia Tech and their option attack three weeks ago. Knowing that they would face two teams with the same style, defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder started prepping the Irish defense on the option in camp and it paid off in the win over the Yellow Jackets.
Things are a little different for Navy this year as well. Star quarterback Keenan Reynolds battled injuries last season and his health was a big reason why the Middies were 4-4 entering the Notre Dame game. This fall, with Reynolds 100 percent Navy is rolling at 4-0. They took the first step towards the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy by beating Air Force 33-11 last Saturday.
Navy and Notre Dame have played every year since 1927 and the Irish hold a 75-12-1 edge.
College Football Podcast: Week 6 Preview with Tom Dienhart
Navy at Notre Dame
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Notre Dame -15
Three Things to Watch
1. Controlling Reynolds
Fans of teams that play Navy were very excited when Ricky Dobbs left the Academy four years ago. However, Reynolds was next in line and as good as Dobbs was Reynolds is better. Fullback Chris Swain is averaging 90 yards per game and a lot of that is due to the threat of Reynolds. Interestingly, the top three slot backs have combined for just 53 carries. Reynolds has rushed 87 times himself and Swain has carried the ball 68 times. Sheldon Day and Daniel Cage need to own the middle of the line so Swain has limited running room and the rest of the defense needs to get by the chop blocks so they can do to Reynolds what they did to Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas.
This is not just about what happened against Clemson, though that was obviously a huge problem. Navy is tied for third in the nation with a plus-eight (+8) turnover margin. Notre Dame was minus-three (-3) against Clemson and is minus-three (-3) on the season. The Irish have only forced four turnovers this year and Navy has given it away just once. Notre Dame needs to at least be even in the turnover contest against Navy and that probably means not surrendering the ball at all.
3. Navy Stopping the Run
The Middies are No. 56 in the nation in run defense allowing 147 yards per game. They held Air Force way below their season average last week. But Notre Dame’s running game is not like the Falcons’. The Irish have a much bigger offensive line than Air Force and as is usually the case, Navy is undersized. Notre Dame is coming off a game where their offensive line struggled to create holes for running back C.J. Prosise. The Irish will want to get back to imposing their will on the opposition and will try to overpower the Middies.
Coming off the emotional loss to Clemson, Notre Dame has to be glad that they faced Georgia Tech earlier in the year. After throttling the Yellow Jackets, the Irish defenders have to have confidence in the plan that’s in place to stop Navy. On the other side of the coin, Navy has taken a long, hard look at what Notre Dame did against Georgia Tech and has most assuredly made adjustments to combat the Notre Dame looks. Perhaps the most important question this week is what is the attitude of the Irish? Are they fixated on pounding Navy or are they still dwelling on Clemson? Brian Kelly would like to avoid last year’s pitfalls when the season went downhill after the Florida State game. We will probably get the answer on Notre Dame’s focus shortly after kickoff. Notre Dame will win this game, but I don’t think it will be easy. It rarely is against Reynolds and Navy.
Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Navy 28
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.