Head-to-head: Navy vs. Notre Dame

The Navy Midshipmen visit South Bend to take on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame for 85th consecutive year. It is the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in the country. Both teams are coming into the game off disappointing defeats.

Navy lost to East Carolina 38-35 as another Navy comeback fell short when kicker Jon Teague's game tying field goal attempt banged off the right upright as time ran out. The Mids have lost five straight for the first time since 2002. After dropping its two opening games the Irish rebounded with four impressive wins until being outplayed by USC at home 31-17 last week. The Irish hold a 71-12-1 edge in the series. The Mids snapped the Irish 43 game winning streak in 2007. Navy has won three of the last four games played.

Notre Dame
Navy rushing offense
Notre Dame rushing defense
Navy is currently ranked third in the nation in rushing. The Mids are averaging 325 yards per game on the ground. Navy will be without starting quarterback and leading rusher Kriss Proctor (591 yards, 4.5 avg., 8 TDs in 2011). Sophomore Trey Miller (19 att., 38 yards, 0 TDs) will start in his place. Navy will miss Proctor's speed. B-back Alexander Teich (518 yards, 4.8 avg., 2 TDs) rushed for 210 yards on 26 carries against the Irish last year. Big play slotback John Howell (278 yards, 11.6 per carry, 4 TDs) cutback well against ECU running seven times for 49 yards. Gee Gee Greene (8 att., 92 yards, 1 TD) had his best rushing day of the season as the toss sweep worked most of the day against the Pirates. Last Season Navy ran for 367 yards and averaged 6.1 yards per carry against the Irish as ND was unable to stop the fullback all day.

Notre Dame employs a 3-4 defense. The Irish rank 58th in the nation in rush defense. The Notre Dame run defense which had been solid, allowed 363 yards on the ground Saturday against USC. The strength of the Irish defense is their linebackers. Inside linebacker Manti Te'o is a tackling machine. He is active, runs well and leads team with 69 tackles. Navy has been able to take advantage of Te'o's tendency to fly to the ball which is a problem when you're playing assignment football against the option. Senior defensive end Ethan Johnson is expected to return against the Mids. Johnson played in 43 straight games during his Notre Dame career before missing the last two games. Notre Dame's defense is tied for second in the nation in fewest rushing touchdowns allowed (3) all year. Over the last 16 games only two running backs have recorded a rushing touchdown against Notre Dame, one of them being Gee Gee Greene. The Irish have shut down the two other service academies since Navy's last win over Notre Dame. Safety Harrison Smith (54 tackles) has done an excellent job shadowing the pitch man and running the alley the last two games against Army and Air Force. They have to prove they can stop Navy.  
Navy passing offense
Notre Dame passing defense
Last week Kriss Proctor injured his throwing elbow and will miss the game. Sophomore Trey Miller starts in his place. Miller joins past Navy quarter back like Brian Madden and Kaipo in making their first starts after replacing an injured starter against Notre Dame. Trey Miller threw the ball well completing 5 of 12 passes for 126 yards and threw two fourth quarter touchdown passes. Miller was poised and did a great job in leading the comeback. Brandon Turner (9 rec, 228 yards, 25.3 avg. 3 TDs in 2011) has emerged as a threat in the passing game. Brandon Turner caught two passes for 72 yards including a 59-yard touchdown pass. Turner beat the defense on a post pattern and was wide open with 56 seconds left in the game but Miller overthrew him Matt Aiken (9 rec, 164 yards, 18.2 avg., 2 TDs) was almost the hero against ECU but the officials ruled it wasn't a catch when he dived into the end zone. Matt Aiken started the rally with a 37-yard touchdown catch. Aiken made another apparent touchdown catch.

ND ranks 58th in the nation in pass defense. ND's secondary has a terrific safety in senior captain Harrison Smith. Smith has posted 54 tackles this year. The Irish do a good job pressuring the passer and have 15 sacks this year. Inside linebacker Manti Te'o leads the team with four sacks. Senior outside linebacker Darius Fleming leads Notre Dame with 14 career sacks and 30 career tackles for loss. Cornerback Gary Gray has seen action in 40 career games and has 27 career starts. Gary has two interceptions this year and six for his career.  
Notre Dame rushing offense
Navy rushing defense
Notre Dame ranks 46th in the country in rushing offense averaging 172 yards per game. The Irish are averaging 5.8 yards per carry which ranks them eighth in the nation in rushing. In the modern era the Irish school record is 5.6 yards per carry which was set in 1992.The Irish ran for only 41 yards against USC. There is a big difference playing Navy than USC. Cierre Wood leads the Irish with 655 yards (5.6 avg.) and six touchdowns. Jonas Gray is a big play threat rushing 51 times for 433 yards, averaging 8.5 per carry and scoring 5 times. Rees is mobile but he's not a threat to run normally. The Notre Dame offensive line front five averages 306 and they dominated fellow service academy Air Force. Against the Falcons the Irish put up a season high 59 points and rushed for 266 yards.

Navy is ranked 103rd in the country in rush defense allowing over 198 rushing yards per game. Navy's defense continues to struggle at the point of attack. ECU running back Reggie Bullock grinded out 104 yards and three touchdowns against the Mids last week. The Mids are hurting physically as well as on the stat sheet. Inside linebacker Matt Brewer, the team's fifth-leading tackler, did not play against East Carolina and is questionable for Notre Dame this week. Starting nose guard Jared Mark has missed time because of a knee injury. Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green made some changes last week looking for answers. This is a very difficult match up for Navy.  
Notre Dame passing offense
Navy passing defense
Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees sustained a knee injury and left the game against USC but later returned. Rees will play Saturday against Navy. This season Rees has completed 163 of 248 passes for 1,693 yards (65.7%) with 14 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Wide receiver Michael Floyd (57 rec., 667 yards, 11.7 avg., 4 TDs) was limited to four catches for 28 yards by the USC defense but shouldn't have problems against Navy. Floyd is a future NFL wide receiver. Another match up nightmare for the Mids is big tight end Tyler Eifort who had seven catches for 66 yards against USC. This season Eifort (6-6, 249) has 39 catches and 429 yards. Speedy wide receiver Theo Riddick (29 rec, 292 yards, 10.1, 3 TDs) is a threat. The Irish have done a great job protecting their quarterback this year. They haven't allowed a sack in the last 133 pass attempts.

The Mids rank 111th in the nation in pass defense. Navy's struggling secondary is also battling injuries with cornerback David Wright (21 tackles, 1 pass defenses) out and his replacement Jonathan Wev getting hurts last week. During its current five-game losing streak, Navy is allowing an average of 36.2 points and 465.6 total yards. The Mids are making no plays on defense and rank110th in sacks and 117th in tackles for loss. East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis completed 40 of 45 passes for 372 yards and two touchdowns. He hit all 26 of his first half passes against the Mids hapless secondary as ECU raced out to a 17-7 first half lead cornerback David Sperry made 10 tackles but usually after ten or fifteen yard receptions. Free safety Chris Ferguson made eight tackles. Plebe cornerback Parrish Gaines made five tackles in his first start before leaving after being shaken up. Kwesi Mitchell had seven tackles but always seemed a step late. This is not a good match up for the Midshipmen  
Special Teams
Notre Dame kicker David Ruffer has hit 4 of 8 field goals this year. Ruffer once was automatic when he had a streak of hitting 23 consecutive field goal attempts in a row. Punter Ben Turk has averaged 37.3 yards a punt. Turk has allowed only three punt returns. Notre Dame has been awful on punt returns averaging 0.3 on ten returns. George Atkinson (30.4 avg.) is a dangerous return man. Against USC he returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, his second long run back of the season for a score. He had an 89-yarder against Michigan State.

After Navy had seen a kick blocked in three consecutive games, Jon Teague hit the upright on a potential game winning attempt. Teague has missed or had blocked four extra point attempts and four field goal attempts. On the year he has hit six of ten field goal attempts. Plebe punter Pablo Beltran has averaged 39.1 yards per punt. Last week kick returner Marcus Thomas bounced off the pile and raced 90 yards for a kickoff return touchdown to open the second half. Navy has struggled on kickoff coverage allowing an average of 26 yards on kickoff returns. On punt returns sure handed Matt Aiken (8.3 avg.) has replaced the ineffective Gary Myers who failed to catch too many punts costing valuable field position.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has producing winning programs at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati with his spread passing game. Kelly has won six various Coach of the Year honors, a couple of Division II national championships and nine conference titles. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has struggled stopping Navy's attack both last year and when he coached at Eastern Michigan in 2003.

Head coach Ken Niumatalolo has to be stunned this season as Navy has lost five in a row. They've hadn't been able to win the close games and have lost four games by a total of eight points. Buddy Green's defense has been terrible on third downs. Opponents have converted 53 of 93 (57 percent) third down situations.
Notre Dame enters this game looking for some payback from the last two years. Navy has gotten off to slow starts in their last four games being outscored 80-31.  

PREDICTION: Notre Dame, 45-28. Both teams should move the ball. The way Navy's defense has looked the last month I can't see them making enough stops.

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