The Navy Midshipmen travel to South Bend, Indiana to meet the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this Saturday. Last week Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds ran for 183 yards and threw for 117 passing yards and a touchdown in defeating Air Force 33-11. This victory was Navy's largest margin of victory in the series since 1978. The Fighting Irish's comeback fell short as the dropped a 24-22 battle against the Clemson Tigers in Death Valley. Notre Dame is ranked 15th in the nation and has had to endure numerous injuries this season but has played well. This is the 89h meeting between the two teams. Navy fell just short of upsetting the Irish each of the last two years. Notre Dame held off Navy 49-39 in a wide open game where both teams combined for 987 yards of offense at Fed Ex field last season.
NAVY'S PASSING OFFENSE VS. NOTRE DAME'S PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
Keenan Reynolds has completed 14-of-27 passes (51.9%) for 265 passing yards with two passing touchdowns. Last week he threw for a 27-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Thomas Wilson. He made a nice leaping catch in the end zone. Wilson now has three career catches and two touchdowns including one against Norte Dame last year. Reynolds completed 6-of-15 passes for 118 passing yards with two touchdowns and an interception against the Irish last year. Keenan made a few nice throws but will have to avoid missing the opportunity to strike. Last year in the fourth quarter he failed to connect with a wide open Jamir Tillman (6 rec., 97 yards, 16.2 avg., 1 TD) running all alone deep on a post pattern. Reynolds needs to hit the deep target when they are open.
The Notre Dame passing defense ranks 32th in the nation while allowing opponents an average of 182 yards per game. The strength of the ND secondary is their safeties Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield.
Safety Elijah Shumate leads the secondary with 29 tackles and a pass defensed. Safety Max Redfield (68 tackles, INT in 2014) has posted 24 tackles and a pass defensed in four games this year. Cole Luke has a team leading two interceptions at cornerback. Senior defensive tackle Sheldon Day leads the Irish with two sacks. This is an experienced defensive line. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s scheme is very aggressive and he likes to blitz often on passing downs.
NAVY'S RUSHING OFFENSE VS. NOTRE DAME'S RUSHING DEFENSE
Navy's spread option offense is ranked third in the nation in rushing. They are averaging over 339 rushing yards per game. Last year Navy ran for 336 rushing yards, a 5.6 average and scored three rushing touchdowns against the Irish. Keenan Reynolds carried the ball 24 times for 183 rushing yards last week. Fullback Chris Swain (361 yards, 5.3 avg 4 TDs) scored twice last fall against the Fighting Irish. Slotbacks DeBrandon Sanders (143 yards, 10.2 avg.) and Dishan Romine (92 yards, 7.7 avg.) struggled to gain the edge against Notre Dame's team speed on defense the last time they played. The Mids offensive line received a boost last week with the return of 2014 First team all FBS Independent guard E.K. Binns to the starting lineup.
Notre Dame's 4-3 defense played well early this year shutting down Georgia Tech's spread option offense and holding them to 216 rushing yards. The Irish are ranked 59th in the nation in run defense, allowing 150 yards a game. The Irish defense is led by a future high ranked NFL draft prospect in middle linebacker Jaylon Smith. Smith leads Notre Dame with 38 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, a sack, three pass break-ups, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. Smith was the hero two years in South Bend when he dropped Navy's Shawn Lynch short on fourth down on the final end around play to end the game. Former walk-on senior Joe Schmidt has been very productive at linebacker in his ND career. He has excellent instincts, is a sure tackler and has made 29 stops. Navy's offensive line will need to get to the second level against Smith to cut off his pursuit.
NOTRE DAME'S PASSING OFFENSE VS. NAVY'S PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
Notre Dame has had to shuffle quarterbacks. First last year’s starter Everett Golson transferred then new starter Malik Zaire suffered a fractured ankle against Virginia and is out for the year. Sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer took over for the injured Zaire. Kizer showed great poise against Clemson in rallying the Fighting Irish in Death Valley against the Tigers. Kizer has completed 63-of -99 pass attempts (.636) for 862 passing yards with seven touchdowns against three picks this year. He has a lot of targets. Wide receiver Will Fuller has 24 receptions for 491 yards and six touchdowns and is averaging 20.5 yards per catch. He is a match-up nightmare. It doesn't get easier as speedy Chris Brown has 20 catches for 261 yards and two touchdowns. Corey Robinson is son of Navy basketball great David Robinson. He has been hampered by injuries and has caught five passes for 60 yards this year.
Navy's pass defense is ranked 35th in the nation while allowing over 186 passing yards per game. Last week the Mids secondary lost Rover Kwazel Bertrand to a leg injury. That hurts and it falls to junior Daiquan Thomasson to step up. I thought Thomasson was the most talented defensive back during the 2012 NAPS season and he outplayed Brandon Clements. I thought he had the potential to be an impact starter but he never took the next step. He has all the physical tools for a Navy rover but this is a tough spot to make your first start. Brandon Clements (14 tackles, INT, PD ) made a nice driving interception off a tipped pass last week against Air Force. Navy's secondary had a rough time matching up with Irish speed the last two years but they have produced three turnovers over the last two years.
NOTRE DAME'S RUSHING OFFENSE VS. NAVY'S RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
The Fighting Irish running game is ranked 13th in the nation and averaging 251 yards per game. ND had struggled to find a 1,000 yard rusher since Cierre Wood but they found one when they moved wide receiver C.J. Prosise to running back. Prosise has rushed for 650 yards and six touchdowns on 89 carries and 7.3 yards per carry. He is also a threat out of the backfield as a receiver with nine catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. The Mids saw that speed last year when Prosise scored on a 78-yard touchdown reception on just the second play from scrimmage. Freshman Josh Adams has run the ball 25 times for 201 yards and three touchdowns. DeShone Kizer is a big mobile quarterback who can scramble.
Navy is ranked 55th in the nation in run defense and are allowing 147 rushing yards a game. The Mids have struggled trying to slow down the Notre Dame running attack even the last few years where the Irish struggled establishing the run against a lot of their opponents. The Mids allowed the Irish 218 rushing yards, 5.6 yards a carry and four touchdowns in 2014. Navy’s nose guard had one of his best games in his career against Notre Dame last year, Bernie Sarra had four tackles and a sack for a loss to force the Fighting Irish's only punt. Sarra broke up a third down screen pass that forced a ND missed field goal. He later blocked a field goal attempt.
Freshman kicker Justin Yoon has hit 5-of-7 field goals but has missed a few extra points. New punter
Tyler Newsome is averaging 44.4 yards per punt, with 11 placed inside the twenty yard line and nine nailed over fifty yards. C.J. Sanders punt return touchdown against UMass was the first punt return of the Brian Kelly era. Sanders is averaging 9.0 per punt return. Amir Carlisle is averaging a 19.5 on his kickoff returns. Notre Dame's coverage teams are just average.
The Navy kicker Austin Grebe has hit all his field goal attempts the last two years. Grebe missed an extra point against Air Force last week. It was his first miss of any kind since he took over last year. Grebe rebounded to close out the scoring by nailing both field goal attempts from 37 and 24 yards respectively. Grebe has 10 touchbacks on his 29 kickoffs. Alex Barta is averaging 43.8 yards per punt with two of his nine punts placed inside the 20 yard line. Dishan Romine has averaged 25.0 per kickoff return. DeBrandon Sanders is averaging 8.2 on punt returns. Navy's coverage teams have not been as stellar the last two weeks as they have the last two years.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has a 220-78-2 all-time record. Kelly has recorded the seventh-most wins (92-31) among active NCAA FBS coach since 2006. Kelly has done an excellent job rebuilding the Irish into a legitimate FBS contender again. Kelly is 5-1 against Navy. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder shut down Paul Johnson's Georgia Tech's option running attack as the Irish jumped out to a 30-7 lead before two late scores made the final 30-22.
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo joined Eddie Erdelatz (1956-57) and Wayne Hardin (1960-61) as the only Navy coaches to beat Notre Dame in consecutive years. The last two years Niumatalolo and his staff had a tremendous plan and executed it well on offense against the Irish. Niumatalolo had his players never stopped playing last year after falling behind Notre Dame 28-7 and the Mids scored the next 24 points to take a lead. Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper called another masterful game against ND with his use of misdirection, counter option and heavy formations last year.. He had the Fighting Irish on their heels running up 454 yards of offense. The 39 points that Navy scored are the most points scored against Notre Dame in a regulation game and the second most all-time (2007, won 46-44 in triple OT).
Notre Dame entered the game off a tough loss but they impressed as they rallied on the road against Clemson. Notre Dame knows Navy's defense can't stop the Irish. Notre Dame has punted more than two times just once in the last nine meetings with Navy. The Irish have to feel good about how well they shutdown Georgia Tech's spread offense earlier this year. The Irish hold a 75-12-1 (.858) edge in the series. Navy nearly pulled the upset the last two years. The Mids will not be intimidated by the Irish after nearly beating them the last two years. Navy has won three of the last eight outright. Notre Dame is always the Everest on Navy's schedule and the players will be pumped up for the challenge.
PREDICTION: Navy, 45-41. Notre Dame is obviously the better team but Navy enters the contest playing great football having won eight straight. Navy's spread option is a lot better than Georgia Tech’s. I had to laugh at ESPN's Adam Rittenberg claiming Georgia Tech version is superior. Last year Keenan Reynolds ran 18 times for just 47 yards but his ability to read the ND defense allowed the Mids to put up 39 points and 454 yards of offense. I always felt that Keenan would beat the Irish. This is the last chance.