Head-to-head: Navy vs. Notre Dame

The Navy Midshipmen open the 2012 season when they "host" the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Dublin, Ireland. GoMids.com compares different critical team areas of Navy and Notre Dame and indicates which team has the edge. We also predict the final score.

The Navy Midshipmen travel to Dublin, Ireland to play the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Emerald Isle Classic at Aviva Stadium this Saturday. The Irish hammered Navy 56-14 last year in a rout at Notre Dame Stadium. Navy, after winning three of the previous four games, suffered its worst loss in the series since 2000. Current Navy quarterback Trey Miller's made his first career start against the Irish last season. Notre Dame enters the game ranked No. 24 in the USA Today Coaches' poll. Notre Dame and Navy will play for the 86th straight year this Saturday which makes it the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in the country. The Irish hold a 72-12-1 all-time advantage in the series. These two teams played in Ireland once before in 1996 with the Irish beating Navy, 54-27, at Croke Park.

Navy rushing offense
vs.
Notre Dame rushing defense
EDGE: EVEN

Last year Navy was ranked fourth in the nation in rushing. The Mids averaged over 312 yards per game on the ground. New quarterback Trey Miller made his first career start against Notre Dame last year. His second will once again be against the Fighting Irish. Hopefully the result is better. After running all over the Irish in 2009 and 2010, Navy ran for only 196 yards and averaged just 3.9 per carry last year. Trey Miller struggled at times with his reads and was indecisive. The Irish took away the pitch reads from Miller and his inexperience made it difficult for the Mids to sustain drives. Slotbacks Gee Gee Greene (501yards, 7.8 avg., 3 TDs) only ran for one net yard last year and John Howell (340 yards, 9.7 avg., 3 TDs) ran for just 22 yards. The Irish like to have their safety follow the pitch back and run the alley. Navy perimeter blocking must improve over last season to give the A-back the room to make plays. It will be interesting to see how quickly Navy's new interior of the offensive line jells.

Notre Dame employs a 3-4 defense. The Irish ranked 47h in the nation in run defense in 2011. Last year the Mids were unable to block Irish superstar inside linebacker Manti Te'o who made 13 tackles. Te'o led the team with 128 tackles including 13.5 behind the line of scrimmage. Notre Dame's defense allowed only eight rushing touchdowns in 2011. Only four teams in the FBS allowed fewer rushing touchdowns than the Fighting Irish. The solid front line of the Irish, senior defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, junior nose guard Louis Nix and sophomore defensive end Stephon Tuitt have a combined 43 starts.

Navy passing offense
vs.
Notre Dame passing defense
EDGE: EVEN

Trey Miller completed 5 of 13 passes for 33 yards and threw a touchdown pass in his first career start last year against Notre Dame. Miller rolled out and hit Gee Gee Greene who ran a well concealed drag route for a 9-yard touchdown. In his second career start this Saturday, Miller will be working with new starting wide receivers in Casey Bolena and Shawn Lynch. Navy's best wide receiver Brandon Turner will not travel to Dublin. The Mids rebuilt offensive line will have its hands full handing Notre Dame's pass rush. Miller showed last year that he has the arm strength and the accuracy to hit receivers down the field. Notre Dame's secondary is one of the weakest areas of their team. They lost three starters from the 2011 team. Keivarae Russell will be the first freshman ever at Notre Dame to start at cornerback in The Opening game. Senior safeties Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta are the only players with starting experience. Top recruit Aaron Lynch, a potential star defensive end, transferred after an impressive freshman season. The loss of Lynch could hurt the Irish pass rush.

Notre Dame rushing offense
vs.
Navy rushing defense
EDGE: Notre Dame

Last season Notre Dame's running backs averaged 153.2 rushing yards per game, 5.8 yards per carry and scored 23 rushing touchdowns. Navy received a small break when head coach Brian Kelly suspended starting running back Cierre Wood who rushed for 1,186 yards last season for a violation of team rules. However the Fighting Irish offensive line is showing up. This is one area of the team that Kelly has upgraded substantially. With Wood not making the trip, Theo Riddick who was a slot receiver last year is expected to replace him at running back. Riddick has rushed 54 times for 252 yards in his career. Speedy sophomore George Atkinson III is also expected to see time at running back on Saturday. Last year Navy allowed 186.9 (87th in nation) yards a game. The Irish simply ran over them in last year's game. The Irish averaged 5.2 yards per carry and rushed for seven touchdowns. It was the most rushing touchdowns scored by the Irish in 19 years. Navy was out manned by the ND's huge offensive line which knocked them off the ball all day long. The Mids are breaking in two new starters on their defensive line. New nose guard Barry Dabney will be tested right out of the gate. Defensive coordinator Buddy Green needs more consistent tackling out of this year's group of linebackers. Reliable senior Matt Warrick led the team with 103 tackles last year.

Notre Dame passing offense
vs.
Navy passing defense
EDGE: Notre Dame

Sophomore quarterback Everett Golson won the early battle to replace the suspended Tommy Rees. Kelly is looking for improved play from the quarterback position which turned over the ball too much last year. New Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin have been impressed by Golson's ability to manage the game. With playmaker Michael Floyd graduated and in the NFL, the new wide receivers are expected to be Robby Toma (19 rec. for 207 yards, 1 TD), John Goodman and T.J. Jones (38 rec. for 366 yards, 3 TDs). The Irish have one of the best tight ends in college football in senior Tyler Eifert. He is consensus preseason first-team All-American. Eifert (63 rec., 803 yards, 5 TDs) led all FCS tight ends in receptions and receiving yards in 2011. Speedy Davonte Neal was Arizona's Gatorade Player of the Year following his high school junior and senior seasons and could see time as a slot receiver.

Navy's secondary allowed over 74% of their opponents passes to be completed against them last year. They almost made every passer look like a Heisman Trophy candidate. The Mids need to have someone emerge as a pass rusher in place of Jabaree Tuani. Junior Jonathan Wev is the replacement for last year's starter David Sperry. I expect to see cornerback Parrish Gaines and free safety Chris Ferguson benefit from the extensive playing time each received by starting as freshmen. Senior rover Tra'ves Bush is the best returning player in the secondary. Bush earned All-East honors and was the second leading tackler for the Midshipmen with 93 tackles last fall. He made two interceptions and returned one for a 49-yard touchdown. Inside linebacker Matt Warrick does a nice job on his pass drops and needs to help cover Eifert underneath.

Special Teams

EDGE: Notre Dame

Navy Plebe Nick Sloane won the kicking competition in summer camp. Colin Amerau will handle the kickoffs against Notre Dame. The Navy staff hopes Sloan can solve the chronic kicking issues from last season that saw Navy miss nine kicks. The Mids had a kick blocked in four games. Navy struggled last year on both returns and coverage. Marcus Thomas, one kickoff return for a touchdown in 2011, and Bo Snelson will return kickoffs. Shawn Lynch replaces the injured Matt Aiken as punt returner.

Notre Dame's Nick Tausch, returns from an ankle injury to reclaim the starting job. Tausch set a Notre Dame record as a freshman in 2009 by connecting on 14 straight field goals. After an early season slump ND's Ben Turk averaged 41.6 yards per punt over the last 11 games with 17 of 44 punts landing inside the 20-yard line. The Irish didn't punt at all against the Midshipmen in the 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009 games. Notre Dame is dangerous on returns. New punt returner Davonte' Neal is explosive. George Atkinson III equaled the school record for most kickoff returns for touchdown in a season with two last year.

Coaching

EDGE: EVEN

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 Coach of the Year honors, a couple of Division II national championships and nine conference titles. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco after struggling to stop Navy's attack in his early meetings, beat all the service academies the last three games against the triple option.

Head coach Ken Niumatalolo is trying to turn his team around after the program's first losing season since 2002. Buddy Green is looking to rebuild his defense after last year's struggles. Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper needs to get the offense untracked after last year's debacle.

Intangibles

EDGE: Notre Dame

Notre Dame enters this game confident it has found the answer to defending the triple option. They held the Midshipmen to 14 points last year. The travel to Ireland benefits the Irish, naturally, since it will their crowd for a Navy "home game". Turnovers and big plays seem to often rule the day in this series. In seven of the past 16 meetings between these teams, one of the two teams has scored at least one touchdown on defense or special teams. The Irish have suspended a number of key players bin this game which may help the Mids. ND's quarterback Everett Golson will be making his first career start and maybe nervous early.

PREDICTION: Notre Dame 41-24. I'm interested to see how much Trey Miller has improved as an option quarterback since last year. I like the new interior of Navy's offensive line and the speed on offense. Navy will miss Brandon Turner for sure. I have no idea about how the defense will match up against Notre Dame's physical offensive line. The Irish are the best team on the schedule and Navy will probably struggle against their running game.

See what Navy fans are saying about this upcoming game in the GoMids.com FORUM.

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