Current quarterback Tommy Rees, whose personal best is 10 consecutive vs. Air Force earlier this month, has also enjoyed streaks of nine straight vs. Pittsburgh (plus a two-point conversion for an unofficial 10th) and eight consecutive vs. Tulsa, South Florida, and vs. Michigan – in two separate game segments – this season.
Relevance? The Powlus/Quinn record is in jeopardy Saturday, because Navy's defense encourages opponents to complete as many passes as they'd care to enjoy on a Saturday afternoon. Rees is more than capable of obliging, but when the Irish offense hits the red zone, as it has nine times over the last two losses to the Midshipmen, Navy's defenders will attempt to make a play; its a tactic in which they're well-versed.
In five of those nine Irish visits to the Mid's scoring territory, Navy stopped Notre Dame cold. 0 points. Over those same two losses, Notre Dame committed 5 turnovers (at some point on the field) to Navy's 0.
At present, the Irish are the reigning college football kings of the red zone turnover (6…six?!) and overall inefficiency to boot (110th of 120 teams, nationally).
So when Rees completes 8, 10, 12, and maybe 15 straight passes Saturday, and game announcer Mike Collins announces to the 80,000-plus in attendance that the sophomore has broken a program record, take a gander at the scoreboard…if Navy's within 7-10 points, they likely have the Irish right where they want them.
Navy has allowed an obscene completion percentage to its opponents, 74.7% this fall. Yet somehow, their passing touchdowns allowed (9) vs. interceptions gained (6) is, at worst, industry standard. (Notre Dame has yielded 13 touchdown passes and recorded 6 interceptions.)
Midshipmen Defensive coordinator Buddy Green's plan Saturday could be reminiscent of one employed by Pete Carril, former Princeton basketball coaching sage who authored the famous 1996 first-round upset of defending NCAA Champion, UCLA.
Knowing his undersized team had little chance at any offensive rebounds, Carril's group simply retreated en masse following every shot they took. UCLA dominated the boards but never found running room for easy fast break points, losing 43-41.
Green's defenders – missing eight key players from the pair of Navy squads that kept the Irish to 21 and 17 points, respectively, over the last two seasons – cannot defend an offense as talented as Notre Dame's, horizontally. They therefore will do so vertically, hoping for a critical mistake from the Irish en route to the end zone.
In other words: don't fight a losing battle; instead, find one you can win.
Inspiring? Not at all. Effective? Not usually.
Necessary? More than likely, as Navy's offense is good for 28 points in most instances (40, 40, 21, 34, 35, 20, 35 this year) and has the unique ability to control the clock with its triple-option attack.
Navy is 111th in pass efficiency defense, but Irish fans have encountered such a Siren Song before. 366 days previous to Saturday's battle with the Midshipmen, Tulsa's 120th-ranked pass defense exited South Bend with three interceptions and a 28-27 upset win.
Navy's 103rd national ranking against the run is far more exploitable for an Irish offense that has found a way to shoot itself in the foot in five of seven games this season, generally when it falls in love with the pass.
In its 24-21 September win over Navy, South Carolina fought fire with fire: "We figured the best way to try to win the game was to just hand it to him and keep blocking," Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said of Lattimore and his 246-yard rushing day.
Jonas Gray should dominate Saturday
The Irish are unlikely to have more than nine offensive possessions Saturday. As such, seven might have to end in some form of points, and the surest way to that end is to protect the football and control the line of scrimmage -- a battle that has curiously eluded Notre Dame in this matchup over the last four seasons.
Tommy Rees will complete plenty of passes Saturday, but head coach Brian Kelly would be wise to look up the results of other such individual feats of accuracy noted previously:
- Powlus 14 straight…in a loss Michigan State
- Quinn 14 straight…in a loss to Ohio State
- Rees 10 straight…in a win vs. Air Force
- Rees 9 straight…in a win vs. Pittsburgh
- Rees 8 straight…in losses to Tulsa, South Florida, and Michigan.
Completion after completion; two wins and five losses. I don't like those odds.
Notre Dame won't lose Saturday if it runs the football consistently and successfully.
But it's proven time and again it tends to do just that when it throws too often, no matter how much statistical success it enjoys along the way.