Five to Watch: Navy

Quarterback Keenan Reynolds is the triggerman and focal point of the Midshipmen option attack, but we asked staff writer Mike Althouse to highlight five other Navy players who will prove crucial to the outcome Saturday night.

#4 Jamir Tillman:  Tillman has emerged as a playmaker among the Navy receivers, who must master downfield stalk blocking before they see the field.  Only a sophomore, Tillman has good size at 6'4", 205, and has already caught 16 passes for 303 yards and a touchdown to go along with a 24-yard gain on a reverse.  If Navy is forced to throw to slow down the Irish safeties from crashing the line of scrimmage, expect a lot of those throws to go to Tillman. Jamir's father is Cedric, who played at Alcorn State, and also in the NFL for the Denver Broncos (1992-96) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (1997).

#43 Austin Grebe:  Yes, a kicker.  Grebe took over the placekicking duties prior to the VMI game after Nick Sloan started the season only 3 of 8 on field goals.  Grebe started the season as the kickoff specialist and now wears both hats.  He's 2 for 2 as the field goal kicker, and also has 17 touchbacks in 43 kickoffs, with an average opponent starting field position of the 23-yard line.  If Navy bogs down on an early drive and is forced to kick, keep an eye on Grebe's success on that kick.  If he makes it, that will be a good sign for Navy.  If he misses, though - that could be the straw that breaks the underdog's back.  You could see players get a "here we go again" type of look and that would not bode well for the Mids.

#37 Chris Swain:  Swain is part of a one-two punch at fullback along with #34 Noah Copeland.  Swain, a junior, has great size and speed, coming in at 6'1", 245 lbs, resulting in 67 carries for 455 yards and 2 TD's.  He also has not lost yardage on a carry all season.  Last year, Swain was the team's second-leading rusher with 420 yards on 107 carries (3.9 ypc) and four touchdowns.  His breakout game came at the end of his freshman season against Arizona State in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl where he carried the ball four times for a career-high 93 yards, including a 46-yard TD.  It will be interesting to see if the Navy staff goes to Swain early because of his size and running style or if they stay with Copeland who is more versatile.

#45 Paul Quessenberry:  If his name sounds familiar, you're probably right.  His older brother is David, the Houston Texan that is currently fighting lymphoma.  Paul has turned into a pretty good football player in his own right, playing defensive end for Navy.  In 2014, he has 24 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks.  If Navy is to get any pressure on the Irish QB, I'd expect it to come either from Quessenberry or from a blitzing linebacker like #46 Chris Johnson who benefits from ND having to divert blockers to Quessenberry's side.

#11 Pablo Beltran: When was the last time you ND fans were told to watch for both the kicker and the punter on the other team?  Beltran, who also holds on place kicks, is one of the best punters in Navy history.  He's a four year starter and currently ranks 2nd all time, averaging 41.5-yards over 144 career punts.  This year alone he's averaging 44.5 yards per punt.  The reason I put him on this list is because if Beltran punts more than twice, Navy will probably lose.  Historically this game results in 10-11 possessions per team, with one of those usually happening at the end of the half.  Navy has to score points on every drive, and the more they punt, the more they have to stop the potent Irish offense.  This year that could prove to be quite difficult, so Navy fans really only want to see Beltran on the field holding for place kicks.  No offense, Pablo. Top Stories