The atmosphere tonight will be unlike any Navy has seen probably since the 2004 Air Force game, if then. (Notre Dame Stadium is not terribly loud.) I think it will be a hornet's nest. Rutgers knows that most people believe it will start 6-0. This is a chance for them to impress people on national TV. Their crowd will be ready, their students will be loud.
It's a recipe for disaster given Navy's relatively young team. I am very hopeful that Navy follows the lead of seniors like Antron Harper, Adam Ballard and Matt Wimsatt. I doubt that anything phases those guys.
I also hope that Kaipo plays it cool. He reminds me a bit of former Notre Dame quarterback Tony Rice. As long as Rice was smiling, Notre Dame was going to be fine. When they showed a close-up of Rice warming up before a night game Miami in 1989, he looked very tense. Notre Dame lost 27-10 (and the touchdown came on an interception return).
What to watch tonight:
How Navy options off DE Westerman. This is crucial. I think Navy is going to option to his side, a la what they did with Abiamiri of Notre Dame last year. When you option off the DE you don't have to block him. The flip side is that if the spacing isn't right or the pitch is too close to the line of scrimmage, Westerman is so quick he will disrupt it.
Whether Rutgers crashes the tackles on Harper and, if so, whether Harper keeps his ground.
Whether Ballard can use some footwork to make people miss inside (the way he did on that 5-yard touchdown run last week).
How many offensive players Navy uses. It seemed to me that Navy didn't use that many offensive players last week. Hopefully Shinego is healthy (he missed the Temple game with an injury).
I think he has a chance to be very good and, at the very least, could give Shun White, Reggie Campbell and Zerb Singleton a rest. I believe Shun would have scored on that fourth-quarter run last week if he had been fresher (though the 33-yard gain was plenty helpful).
Bottom Line: This might be Navy's toughest test. Army's defense is good but the offense looks to have regressed; AF and Wake Forest are good, but both games are in Annapolis. Pitt will be tough, but the lack of a crowd on a Wed night may help. Notre Dame looks a little down to me, plus their stadium is not desperately intimidating (though the referees aren't ever all that good).
In terms of facing a very good team on the road in a tough atmosphere, it may not get tougher than this. That's not to say Navy won't win. The offense and defense will be much improved from the Temple game. I think Kaipo will have receivers open. Don't forget, PJ opened the 2003 game with a bomb off a reverse; reserve QB Andy Michalowicz lined up at WR, came on the reverse and hit Eric Roberts for a 55-yard bomb.
Navy has never thrown the ball well against Rutgers. If that changes, it could be a really good game.