Notre Dame And Navy's Hoped-For Awakening

One year ago, Navy engaged Notre Dame in a thoroughly entertaining and memorable shootout, falling short only because of a slight slip on a well-designed misdirection play, combined with an effective reaction from Notre Dame's back seven. Through the first eight weeks of the 2014 season, it didn't seem that Navy could keep up with Notre Dame in a shootout, but maybe now, it's possible.


AFTER A SEASON-SAVER, CAN KEENAN REYNOLDS DELIVER A SEASON-MAKER AGAINST NOTRE DAME?

The Navy football team might have awakened last week against San Jose State. After weeks of struggles, Keenan Reynolds – infused with new health and vibrance – ran over, around, and through the Spartans, lifting Navy to a 4-4 record and making another bowl bid very likely this season. As the Midshipmen turn to Notre Dame at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, they come in contact with a few primary realities. The main one, though, is that one afternoon does not an awakening make. Navy has to stack one strong offensive performance on top of another to consolidate the gains made against San Jose State.

It’s true that for Navy, the importance of this game can be framed not in terms of the process, but the result itself. A lot of people thought before the season that a 10-2 record, the best in the Ken Niumatalolo era, was attainable, but that dream quickly died. The Midshipmen won’t even win the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy unless Army can do the improbable against Air Force this Saturday. A bowl bid is still likely to be attained, and naturally beating Army remains the foremost goal left for this season. Yet, with various goals off the board right now, one of the few signature accomplishments Navy can still attain in 2014 is to beat Notre Dame and ruin the Fighting Irish’s march to the College Football Playoff.

Beating Notre Dame would heal several wounds and fill in the empty spaces for Navy this autumn. When this team looks back on the season, knowing it scored a particularly significant (non-academy) win after allowing a claimable game to slip through its fingers against Ohio State would enable both the coaches and players to feel that this journey produced something substantial, something that will endure in the public memory and the annals of Annapolis football. These ideas and images point to the primacy of the result on Saturday in Landover.

Yet, as much as the result might matter, notions of an awakening – mentioned above – will be affirmed not if Navy wins, but if this offense maxes out. Why is this the case? You just need to go back to last year.

What was Navy’s best offensive performance last season? You could make an argument for the San Jose State game, but relative to the strength of the opponent, it was probably the game in South Bend against Notre Dame.

You know, the game Navy did not ultimately win.

Sometimes, a great performance and a victory do not coexist. Sometimes, a team leaves everything it has on the field but doesn’t get rewarded for it. As much as Navy would like to take down Notre Dame this weekend, the nagging component of the 2014 season has been that the offense hasn’t been itself. More particularly, Keenan Reynolds hasn’t been himself. Against San Jose State, these realities shifted, but as the focus moves to the Irish on Saturday night on national network television, the point is more granular and nuanced than the “win or loss” issue: Navy can lose – there would be no shame in losing against a College Football Playoff contender. What would really take the air out of the balloon for the Midshipmen is if the offense was brought crashing down to earth.

If Reynolds and his teammates can’t replicate at least some of the magic they found against San Jose State; if this offense is smothered by Notre Dame’s front seven, the San Jose State game will linger as an aberration, a cruel tease, not the sign of steady forward improvement. If Navy reaches the point where it knows its development is continuing, the program will move to 2015 freshly confident in its abilities. That’s more than a minor consideration before kickoff time.

That, in many ways, is why it’s important for Navy to show that yes, an awakening really did occur against San Jose State. Sustaining what was initiated last Saturday is what’s necessary for Navy to achieve against Notre Dame.

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