The outset of our summer prediction series posited a perfect September for Brian Kelly’s sixth-edition Irish. When will his talent-laden squad experience its first defeat?
Unfortunately for fans of the blue and gold, not long thereafter thanks to a brutal three-game stretch to begin October.
AN UNAPPEALING SANDWICH
Notre Dame’s toughest road test, Notre Dame’s toughest home foe, and the little brother that won’t go away.
Three separate but equally challenging game day situations for Kelly’s Irish in a three-week span. October’s schedule slotting is both ill-timed (Navy between Clemson and USC!) and unfortunate considering the season’s bye week looms thereafter rather than at (any) far more beneficial point in between.
The Irish will encounter a blood-thirsty, well-lubed Clemson crowd on October 3 in Death Valley (doubtless under the lights), then return home to face their annual foe and recent foil, Navy on Oct. 10.
Victors just once during the Kelly era after winning two of three vs. Notre Dame prior to the coach’s arrival, Navy nonetheless has given the Irish defense fits in three of the teams’ five matchups vs. Kelly’s defenses, and the only times the Midshipmen fared poorly was without a capable quarterback at its trigger.
As Irish fans are well-aware, Keenan Reynolds (6 combined TD/1 turnover vs. the Irish) remains in charge of a Navy attack that produced 73 points over its last two outings between the teams.
And then comes USC.
Which collection of numbers is more sobering regarding the Trojans, the 49-14 mercy-filled pasting they put on the Irish last November or this reality: Notre Dame is (now famously, but you heard it hear first last spring) 2-6 over the last eight years in its matchup immediately following the Navy game – and the two wins were narrow escapes, against sub-.500 foes, to boot.
In other words: the Irish play poorly after facing and enduring 60 minutes against the vexing triple option attack.
To be sure, the Notre Dame team that rushes the field against USC on Oct 17 will bare no resemblance to the dispirited squad that limped into the Coliseum 11 months earlier – but it can’t avoid the reality that playing Navy’s triple-option one week prior takes a toll.
Winning each of the three contests appears unlikely, but with a 2-1 mark against the trio, Notre Dame would remain in playoff contention with five games remaining including a likely high-profile outing against Stanford on The Farm – where the Cardinal are a mere 40-5 over the last seven seasons including three straight against the Irish.
Look for Notre Dame to enter its bye week at 6-1 following an October stumble – hopeful, but reliant on the failings of others in its quest for a playoff berth.