Navy and Notre Dame meet one again on Saturday as Navy plays against its only FBS opponent that is not a Commander-In-Chief's Trophy or conference game. This year the Navy "home" matchup will take place in Jacksonville, continuing the tradition of moving the contest into huge venues whenever it is the Mids turn to host.
Here are the three keys to beating the Irish:
1) Play better defense
This one is a little scary. Navy gave up 52 points to South Florida last weekend and seemed unable to do anything to slow down, let alone stop, Bulls quarterback Quinton Flowers. It was one of those games where it felt like USF eased off or they could have kept running up the score to some extent. After that beating the last thing that the Navy defense wants to see is a Brian Kelly led attack.
In the last five meetings between Notre Dame and Navy, Kelly led offenses have scored 56, 50, 38, 49 and 41 points against the Mids. That works out to an average of 46.8 yards per contest. During that time the Irish have punted only six times in 51 full possessions. As good as the Navy offense can be, scoring almost 50 points to win a game seems unreasonable.
2) Win on special teams
The Navy special teams unit has not been particularly outstanding this season, but the Notre Dame special teams play against Miami last week was almost comically bad. Miami recovered one of their own punts after the ball hit the leg of Troy Pride Jr. setting up their first score. This was followed immediately by Miami recovering a surprise onside kick. Later in the game punter Tyler Newsome had a punt blocked. Finally, C.J. Sanders spilled a punt that was recovered by Miami in the end zone. In a game that the Irish may win offensively it would be helpful if the Mids can get an extra possession or two out of special teams
3) Keep the offense on the field early
We all know Navy is not built to score fast or run teams down. When the Mids fell behind 21-0 to USF it felt like the contest was over. When that score was extended to 28-0 it was definitely over. The leaky defense was obviously an issue, but just as problematic was that the first three Navy drives didn't achieve much of anything. The first drive ended in a turnover on downs, while drives two and three were quick series, gaining little yardage before punting.
Navy cannot fall behind like this against Notre Dame. The best way for the Mids to stop that happening is to dominate when they have the ball. A steady running game will chew up the clock and give Navy scoring opportunities that must then be taken. If this game is close at the half then the Mids had every chance to win it.