Despite falling to No. 8 in the College Football Playoff Rankings following the blowout loss to Miami, there is a perfect storm scenario that could push Notre Dame into final four contention, although the number of moving parts makes the possibility highly unlikely.
But those who want to dream a little dream know that the Irish have no shot at all if they don’t look impressive over the next two weeks, starting with Navy on Saturday. The Middies survived a late SMU surge last weekend by kicking an 18-yard field goal as time expired for a 43-40 victory.
Navy broke a five-game losing streak in the series by beating Notre Dame last year in Jacksonville, Fla.
Navy at Notre Dame
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 18 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Notre Dame -17.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Notre Dame quarterback situation
Brandon Wimbush (above, right) had a terrible night in south Florida. His 10-of-21, two-interception stat line doesn’t even begin to tell the story. He missed open receivers, made bad decisions, and made few plays running the ball. When he was replaced by Ian Book, Miami nabbed a pick-six to go up 27-0 at the half. Even if a spot in the College Football Playoff is realistically out of reach, Stanford and perhaps a major bowl game are coming down the line, and Wimbush must be a more effective passer if the Irish are going to reach their 2017 ceiling. Making strides against Navy, just a week after such a poor performance, would be a nice first step.
2. Navy’s defensive line
There is always a question when the undersized Midshipmen face a top-level opponent. Considering the offensive line they’re going up against this week, there are even greater concerns. Notre Dame’s offensive front has had some issues with speed teams like Georgia and Miami, but Navy doesn’t have those kinds of defensive weapons. The Middies have only 12 sacks on the year with just one coming in the past three games. Navy’s defense has fared better against the run than the pass, but Notre Dame will be a tough group to stop on the ground. At best, Navy needs to hold its own on the defensive line.
3. Notre Dame tackling
Against the Navy option attack, defenders have to be able to get off blocks and must be in the right position. But tackling is at a premium as well, and the Irish have slipped in this area in recent weeks. Wake Forest broke more than a few tackles in its game with the Irish two weeks ago, and Miami ran through Notre Dame defenders all night long. Mike Elko’s crew was solid in this area earlier in the year, and there is no reason why solid tackling can’t make a return appearance.
It will be very interesting to see how this Irish team responds to the devastating loss to Miami. There is still plenty to play for, and in the last home game of the year, Notre Dame should be ready to play. Navy has given the Irish fits over the last decade, but things should be different this year. This is not one of Ken Niumatalolo’s elite groups, and the Irish offensive line should have its way. Look for Notre Dame running back Josh Adams to get back on track and for Brandon Wimbush to rebound nicely against a team that struggles in coverage. Navy should score some points of its own, but not nearly as many as the Irish.
Prediction: Notre Dame 41, Navy 21
— 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.