The problem when playing the likes of Notre Dame though is that a couple of empty possession put you into a bind and Navy did not come out well at the beginning of the second half.
Here is a look back at the three keys:
1) Keenan Reynolds has to take over – Fail
Reynolds had a perfectly acceptable game on Saturday; he just wasn’t the absolute difference maker the Mids needed him to be. Reynolds rushed for 110 yards on 15 carries, but he was held without a rushing touchdown by Notre Dame for the second straight season. Reynolds also missed part of the second quarter, and the end of the game, with a left leg injury. While initial reports are that it is nothing even close to serious, the Navy coaches will still be sweating a little bit after remembering how the season fell apart in 2014 when Reynolds was nursing injuries.
2) Bend but don’t break – Pass
The Navy defense did enough to win the Mids this game. That may sound a little confusing when you consider the Mids game up 41 points, but 14 of those came on touchdown drives of seven yards and 26 yards. The killer blow in this game was the series of events to begin the second half. A fumble by Dishan Romine on the kickoff return set Notre Dame up with a short field which was taken advantage of with a quick touchdown. Navy then marched down the field to reply, but the usually reliable Austin Grebe missed a 44-yard field goal which would have made it a one score game. This was followed by the only drive of the game where the Navy defense was a disappointment as Notre Dame put together a 10 play, 73-yard drive to take a 17 point lead which Navy never threatened to pull back.
3) A big day for Jamir Tillman – Fail
Navy was never able to find the time in the pocket, or the right scheme downfield, to get Jamir Tillman open for a big play. The Mids best wide receiver was held to two catches for 16 yards and suffered from Reynolds having to leave the game on two occasions. Reynolds and Tillman had great chemistry and you would have to imagine that part of the game plan coming out after half time would have been to get Tillman more involved in the passing attack. As soon as Notre Dame went up by 17 however this strategy had to be abandoned as the Mids had to get out of their usual offense to try to run down the Irish. With Notre Dame knowing that Navy had to throw the ball, Tillman was double covered on every passing play in the second half.
Against a lot of the teams on the schedule Navy can just run the ball all day. While Notre Dame has not been great against the option defensively in the past, there are many who consider this to be the finest Irish defense of the past few decades, especially in the front seven. That means that on more than one occasion during this game the Mids are going to have to go to the air and find Jamir Tillman for a big gain. Tillman had the size and route running skills to win his matchups with the Irish defensive backs. If the quarterback can be kept clean then there is no reason Tillman cannot make a couple of big plays.