The Shamrock Series is a once a year traveling game for the Irish that sees them face an opponent on the back of a whole weekend of festivities on the road. These games have been played in the likes of New York, Boston, and Chicago, and this is the second time (2009) that a series game will be played in San Antonio's Alamodome. Army is also trying to beat Notre Dame for the first time since a 14-2 victory in 1958.
Here are the three keys to beating the Irish:
1) Copy Navy's blueprint on offense
It is not often that we see a school face Navy and Army in back to back weeks, but that is exactly what Notre Dame is doing this season. Last Saturday, the Mids beat the Irish 28-27 and sent Notre Dame to the verge of a losing season with a 3-6 record. Navy runs a very similar offensive scheme to Army, so the coaching staff should be looking at what Navy did to spring the upset as seven-point underdogs.
Simply put: Navy never let Notre Dame touch the ball.
Against the Mids, Notre Dame ran a total of 56 offensive plays. This compares to their average in 2016 of 69 plays and the national average coming into last weekend of 72 plays. Offensive snaps vary, but even the team that runs the fewest plays per game (Illinois) averages 58 snaps per game. Notre Dame had just six possessions (and just two in the second half) as Navy ran the ball continuously, committed just one penalty, and did everything they could to keep the clock moving and shorten the game. Navy had 64 plays as they squeezed the life out of the Irish offense by keeping them off of the field.
2) Run the ball well
The Army option has been a strange beast in 2016. When it is working well, it looks nearly unstoppable, and the Black Knights have run for 527 yards (Lafayette), 424 yards (UTEP), 396 yards (Buffalo), and 348 yards (Rice). When it is not working well, however, like last weekend against Air Force when Army rushed for just 144 yards all game long, then the Black Knights offense looks like it cannot get out of its way.
Army needs to be much more like the team that averages 260.4 yards per game than the squad that showed up last week to face the Falcons. In their favor is the fact that the previous week Notre Dame faced a Navy team averaging 296.6 yards on the ground and gave up 320 yards rushing on the day. Air Force stopped Navy just like it stopped Army, so maybe that game will turn out to just be a case of a bad matchup. We will find out how strong the rushing attack is on Saturday.
3) Win the turnover battle
Obviously, the turnover battle is huge every week, but against an opponent favored to win by 11 points, it becomes even more vital. The Army defense has been excellent in 2016, but this Notre Dame attack (on paper at least) looks like the most potent they have faced to date. Army doesn't necessarily have to have a whole bunch of takeaways to win the game, but Ahmad Bradshaw and the offense cannot turn the ball over if Army expects to win. This has to be ball control at its finest as we have seen already this year (North Texas) how turnover problems can spiral once the Black Knights start to fall behind.