HEAD TO HEAD: NAVY VS. NOTRE DAME

Navy hosts visits Notre Dame on Saturday. GoMids.com's Jim Lawler compares the two teams in several critical areas. We also make a prediction on the game's final score.

Navy Midshipmen travel to South Bend, Indiana to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Last week Navy used a fourth quarter comeback and a last second Nick Sloan field goal to defeat Pitt 24-21. Notre Dame enters the game with a three game winning streak following it blow out win over Navy's service academy rival Air Force 45-10. This is the 87h meeting between the two teams. Navy won three of the four games played between 2007 and 2010. The Irish have reasserted their dominance putting up at least fifty points in each of the last two games as they outscored Navy 106-24.

NAVY PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
NOTRE DAME PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
REMARKS: Keenan Reynolds has thrown 13 touchdown passes against four interceptions in his 15 career starts. DeBrandon Sanders has replaced Gee Gee Greene as the best receiver at slotback with a team leading nine reception for 176 yards, a 19.6 average and a touchdown. Fellow slotback Marcus Thomas caught a 58-yard touchdown pass against Pitt last week. Casey Bolena leads the wide receivers with eight receptions for 97 yards and a 12.1 yard average. Junior wide receiver Brandon Dudeck (3 for 29 yards) has seen more playing time recently. Navy's offensive line ranks dead last in the nation in sack percentage allowed. The Midshipmen had to replace the entire right side of their offensive line due to injuries. Sophomore right tackle sophomore Brandon Greene has really struggled in pass protection. This is not a good match up for the Mids against Notre Dame talented defensive front line.

The Notre Dame passing defense ranks 46th in the nation allowing opponents an average of 220.4 yards per game. Senior cornerback Bennett Jackson leads the Fighting Irish secondary with 46 tackles, and an interception which was returned for a touchdown. Sophomore Keivarae Russell mans the opposite corner back spot. He has 26 tackles, including 23 solo stops, and leads the team with five passes defended. Junior safety Matthias Farley leads the team with two interceptions but the safety play of the Fighting Irish has been inconsistent. While the Irish recruit top high school talent it seems no one in the secondary can regularly make plays on the ball. Stephen Tuitt leads the team with five sacks. Outside linebacker Prince Shembo (3 sacks) can bring pass rush pressure off the edge

NAVY RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
NOTRE DAME RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
REMARKS: Navy option offense is ranked sixth in the nation. They are averaging over 304 rushing yards per game. Navy is hoping Keenan Reynolds (546 rushing yards, 3.7 avg., 11 TDs) is healthy after hobbling around a lot last week after Navy guard E.K. Binns accidentally stepped on his leg. Navy's fullback Noah Copeland (226 yards, 4.3, TD) left the Pitt game early with an injury but is expected to start. Sophomore Chris Swain (284 yards, 3.7 avg. 3 TDs) is a big physical 232 pound fullback with surprising speed if he can get in the open field. Quentin Singleton (6-0, 204) showed a nice burst and scored a touchdown off the bench as he replaced the injured Copeland last week against Pitt. All of the top four slotbacks in the rotation Darius Staten (175 yards, 9.7, 2 TDs), Geoffrey Whiteside (183 yards, 8.7 avg., 3 TDs), DeBrandon Sanders ( 208 yards, 8.0 avg.), Marcus Thomas (208 yards, 11.6 avg.) are averaging over eight yards a carry. They do an excellent job of blocking on the perimeter.

Notre Dame's 3-4 defense ranks 42nd in the nation allowing 144.1 rushing yards a game. Last week they allowed 290 rushing yards and 4.6 yards a carry but just a single rushing touchdown to Air Force. Inside linebacker Carlo Calabrese leads Notre Dame with 55 tackles. Notre Dame's strength is up front with All-America senior Louis Nix III (22 tackles, 2 TFL) and All-America junior Stephon Tuitt (29 tackles, 6 1/2 TFL, 5 sacks). These two dominated Navy's offensive line last season. Nix missed the Air Force game and is questionable for Saturday. Fifth year senior inside linebacker Dan Fox (49 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 INT) has played well after regaining his starting job.

NOTRE DAME PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
NAVY PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
REMARKS: Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees threw for 284 passing yards and five touchdowns last week against Air Force. Rees has completed 136 of his 246 pass attempts (.553) for 1,944 yards with 20 touchdowns and just six interceptions. His top targets are senior wide receiver T.J. Jones (44 catches for 631 yards and six touchdowns), junior wide receiver DaVaris Daniels (30 catches for 463 yards and four touchdowns) and junior tight end Troy Niklas (20 catches for 328 yards and five touchdowns). Freshman wide receiver Corey Robinson (five catches for 101 yards and a touchdown) is the son of Navy basketball great David Robinson. Robinson considered Navy before he was offered by Notre Dame.

Navy's pass defense is ranks 21st in the nation and is allowing just 204 passing yards per game. Last week Pitt quarterback Tom Savage completed 20 of 27 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns against the Mids revamped secondary. Chris Ferguson returned last week after missing a game moving from free safety to Rover replacing Wave Ryder who had struggled. Parrish Gaines (34 tackles, INT) moved from cornerback to free safety. Freshman cornerback Brandon Clements, who started earlier in the year for an injured Kwazel Bertrand, returned to the starting lineup and joined Bertrand. Navy should match up better than Air Force did against Notre Dame last week.

NOTRE DAME RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
NAVY RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: NAVY
REMARKS: The Fighting Irish running game isn't has productive as it's been in recent years. Navy fans are used to seeing the Fighting Irish pound the ball successfully behind a big physical offensive line stocked with high school All-American recruits no matter who's carrying the ball. This year the running game is ranked only 95th in the nation. Two Irish running backs see plenty of playing time. Junior Cam McDaniel leads the team with 417 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Junior running back George Atkinson III has run for 381 yards, a 5.4 average and two touchdowns. The Fighting Irish managed just 135 rushing yards (3.6 YPC) and a touchdown against undersized Air Force last game.

The Mids are ranked 89th in the nation in run defense. The Mids allowed Pitt just 135 rushing yards, 3.6 yards a carry and no touchdowns. They held Pitt below their season average. Navy's run defense hasn't been great but if the linebackers show the gap discipline they played against Pitt they may have a chance to at least force some field goals. The last two years against Notre Dame the Mids were dominated at the point of attack and failed to maintain their gaps against the Irish's zone running plays. The Irish were running downhill all day and have blown out the Mids the last two years. The Irish haven't run the ball as well so far this year. The strength of the Navy defense is their linebackers. Navy defensive captain Cody Peterson (72 tackles) is a tackling machine at inside linebacker. Fellow inside linebacker D.J. Sargenti is a converted quarterback. He is second on the team with 55 tackles, has made an interception, a sack, forced a fumble and knocked down three passes. Junior striker linebacker Chris Johnson is a very athletic defender with range who can drop in coverage. Johnson has made 48 tackles with three interceptions and two passes defensed.

SPECIAL TEAMS
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
REMARKS: T J Jones has been effective averaging 9.5 yards per punt return. George Atkinson III has handled kick return duties, averaging 27.3 yards per return. Junior kicker Kyle Brindza set a new single-season school record in 2012, making 23 of 31 field goal attempts in 2012. This season Brindza has hit 9 of 13 field goal attempts, with a season long of 53 yards. In his first season punting Brindza has averaged 40.8 yards per punt, with six punts over 50 yards. Notre Dame's coverage teams have struggled at times this year.

Navy kicker Nick Sloan rebounded from a rough game against Toledo had a rough game last week. Sloan missed a 38-yard field goal in the first half that hooked left. Sloan hit a clutch 40-yard field goal to force overtime. Sloan went from hero to goat then back to hero this week. Sloan has hit 5-of-8 field goal attempts this year. Punter Pablo Beltran is having a great season. He is averaging 42.7 yards per punt on his 24 punts with eight downed inside the twenty yard line. Marcus Thomas is averaging 20.8 yards per kickoff return. Punt returner Shawn Lynch is averaging 5.3 per punt return. The coverage teams have been played well this season.

INTANGIBLES
EDGE: EVEN
REMARKS: Notre Dame had a chance to practice the last few weeks against the option playing Air Force and Navy back to back. Notre Dame has won 26 of its last 32 games. The Irish have the sixth-best overall FBS winning percentage since Sept. 17, 2011. Notre Dame has punted more than two times just once in the last eight meetings with Navy. In fact, the Irish have totaled only seven punts since 2005, including three meetings without a single punt. The Irish hold a 73-12-1 (.855) edge in the series. Navy will be looking for some payback after Notre Dame dominated them the last two years. Notre Dame is always the Everest on Navy's schedule and the player should be pumped up for the challenge.

COACHING
EDGE: EVEN
REMARKS: Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has a 205-70-2 all-time record. Kelly is the second winningest active NCAA FBS football coach since 2001, trailing only Oklahoma's Bob Stoops. Kelly delivered a perfect regular season last year before being blown out by Alabama in the BCS championship game.

Ken Niumatalolo said last week the Mids needed to "get out of this rut" and get back on the winning track. I give credit to him for not pulling Reynolds when it looked he was hobbling badly. He let him play through the pain and rally the team. The fact the Mids never lost their composure and kept battling comes from the top. Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper was able to get his unit in synch just in time as the offense scored on their last three possessions. Defensive coordinator Buddy Green did a great job firing his inside linebackers to limit the Pitt running game. He had Peterson and Sargenti run blitz the "A"-gaps after Pitt's first drive and they never adjusted. His decision to shuffle his secondary worked well.

PREDICTION: Notre Dame, 31-24. Unlike the past two years I think Navy can play with Notre Dame if not pull an upset. The Irish haven't run the ball as well so far this year. If the Midshipmen can avoid the big plays, limit the run and force a few punts and field goal attempts they have a chance if their offense is clicking. Notre Dame still has a lot of talent and speed but I don't believe they will destroy Navy in the trenches like they have the last two seasons.

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