1.) Will the rushing game continue its ascent? Yes, and this was fittingly (unintentionally) listed at No. 1 because consistent production on the ground will be chief among the set of determiners between a 4-0 finish -- or worse -- for head coach Brian Kelly's Irish.
The standard numbers were glowing: 5.6 yards per rush, four rushing scores, including three by quarterback Everett Golson, and 218 net yards on 39 attempts. Notre Dame has not lost a game under Kelly rushing more than 35 times, 29-0. They're now 41-5 when rushing more than 30 times.
With the offense clicking on all cylinders, the Irish faced just 10 third downs (converting 7) and but one third-and-short situation, a 3rd-and-2 in which backup RB Cam McDaniel ran for 10 yards.
Sophomore RB Tarean Folston continued his tear, posting another 149 yards (a career-best) to build upon two previous strong outings against North Carolina and Florida State. Folston has produced 476 yards from scrimmage (rushing/receiving) over the last three games.
On tap: Arizona State and a rush defense that has improved greatly over the last three games (after a hideous start), holding Stanford to 76 rushing yards, Washington to 151 on 46 carries and run-only Utah to 184 on a whopping 52 attempts.
2.) Touchdowns on roughly half? Eleven possessions, seven touchdowns -- and it took all seven for the Irish to subdue Navy. Notre Dame hit pay dirt on its first, second, third, fourth, seventh, eighth, and eleventh possession Saturday night before kneeling out a technical twelfth.
As offered in the preview, Navy was able to hang tough because it forced a red zone turnover (timely, near the end of the first half, and with enough time to drive for a touchdown of its own), and to force two field goal attempts -- both uncharacteristically missed by Kyle Brindza, though one was blocked -- in the fourth quarter.
The Irish punted once, but twice might have been too much against a unique Midshipmen program whose defense is designed to compliment its potent offense.
3.) Can a shared vision contain the option?: No. Definitively, no.
Navy is a hard team to defend, but don't let anyone kid you that the Irish defense played well Saturday night in Landover. though I agree with Kelly that the contest will prove invaluable for his youth-filled unit.
"I just think there's so much great stuff that we can pull out of there, just eye discipline on your job. Just from a competitive standpoint, competing in the fourth quarter and making big plays late, stops on 4th down, all those things you can't duplicate until you're in the game," Kelly said.
"You talk about we had a big 4th down stop, they took the ball away. There were five freshmen on the field when those things happened, and you just can't duplicate that stuff. That's all beneficial, and then all of the mistakes that were made are all teachable things that they can carry over going into Arizona State."
It was a performance only a coach of a contending team could love -- but the Irish staff, players, and their fans doubtless agree: Navy's method of offense will not be missed over the next 11 months.
4.) Four-Down Territory: Short-yardage conversions plagued the Irish as the Mid's converted 8 of 10 short-yardage (for Navy, that's defined as 3rd-and-4 or less) into first downs including a pair of fourth downs.
While short-yardage conversions are unavoidable against Navy, what hurt the Irish most was the nature of the conversions. Of note:
-- 3rd and 4: 18-yard touchdown run
-- 4th-and-2: 54-yard run to the Irish 4-yard line (a touchdown followed)
-- 3rd-and-3: 33-yard run to set up another touchdown, drawing the Mid's to within 42-39
Notre Dame defended both third- and fourth-and-long well -- Navy was a combined 2 of 11 -- but that's also to be expected.
Three big gains in short-yardage situations greatly hampered the Irish defensive effort Saturday night.
5.) Can they contain the varsity, early?
Yes, but somehow that didn't matter. Navy dented the Irish defense early, tying the score at seven midway through the first quarter, but the Irish exploded thereafter, racing out to a 28-7 lead. Navy's adjustments against Notre Dame's youth-filled group won the final 2.5 quarters and kept the game in doubt to the final minutes.
It was a unique contest in that the Irish defense fared far better early in terms of eye discipline and assignment football than they did late, but one tell-tale statistic from our Friday preview rang true: When Notre Dame and Navy tie at 7, a close contest usually ensues:
-- 2007: Navy ties ND, 7-7, with just four seconds gone in the second quarter, winning in 3OT, 46-44
-- 2008: Navy ties the score at 7 with 2:39 remaining in the second quarter, losing 27-21.
-- 2009: Navy took a 14-0 lead, won 23-21, never trailing, nor were they tied.
-- 2010: Navy scored first, was tied at 7-7, went on to score 21 straight en route to a 35-17 humbling of the Irish.
2011: Notre Dame raced to leads of 14-0 and 28-7 en route to a 56-14 blowout win.
-- 2012: The Irish built a 28-0 lead before cruising to a 50-10 season-opening win.
-- 2013: Navy tied the Irish at 7 midway through the first quarter -- and never trailed by more than four points again in a 38-34 defeat.
-- 2014: Tied the Irish at 7 midway through the first quarter, yet still fell behind 28-7 near the end of the first half. Took a late lead
With Keenan Reynolds returning as Navy's triggerman next fall, you can bet another high-scoring affair is on tap for Oct. 10, 2015 in South Bend.
-- Martin: Our Eye in the Sky film review will tell the tale, but Martin paved a path for Folston gains of 11, 26 (a season-high), 11, and 25 yards on four notable carries.
-- Carlisle: Does not appear all-the-way back (either mentally or physically) from his Sept. 12 knee injury. Carlisle finished with one rush for 5 yards and did not catch a pass for the first time this season. He was targeted just once -- Everett Golson's only interception.
-- Elmer: Pending film review, Elmer executed key blocks on runs of 11, 8, and 8 yards for Folston as well as combining with center Matt Hegarty to spring Folston for his aforementioned 25-yarder.
-- Redfield: Started well as the single-high safety, totaling seven stops over the course of the contest but like the rest of the back seven, Navy's continuous assault took its toll.
-- Bryant: Appeared to receive the dreaded, DNP-CD, but as Kelly explained Sunday, Bryant continues to nurse an ankle injury and the need for three running backs was mitigated by Tarean Folston's performance.
Next week's list of risers will include Elmer (pass protection vs. ASU) and Redfield, but others will join the fray.