Who, and What, to Watch?

Notre Dame’s annual matchup with Navy includes a handful of unique challenges for Brian Kelly’s Irish.

1 – He’s a Baaaaaad Man: Seventy-three rushing touchdowns. (73!) plus another 25 via the pass (vs. just seven interceptions). Navy senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds has had his fair share of success vs. Notre Dame (six combined touchdowns passing/rushing vs. one interception in two starts), but he’s laid waste to the majority of defenses faced in the remaining 38 games played.

Reynolds is the straw that stirs the drink for the Midshipmen, but Notre Dame can withstand a garden-variety “good game” from Navy’s triggerman. Containing the rest of the Mid’s and limiting Reynolds’ damage to the ground game only is essential.

If Navy’s passing attack dents the Irish D for a deep shot downfield as it did in 2014, 2013, 2012, 2010, 2009, and 2008, the competitive portion of Saturday’s contest is likely to bleed into the fourth quarter – as was the case in five of the seasons listed above (save for the Irish blowout of 2012).

2 – Get Ready for Plan B: Navy’s, that is, because they always have a good one. But for Saturday, Brian Kelly’s message should be simple:

Win the third quarter, win the game. Because at some point, likely before halftime, Notre Dame will take a two-score lead on their capable but undermanned guests.

Considering Navy’s 14-0 third quarter domination last season (that after owning a 10-0 edge in the final three minutes of the second as well), it shouldn’t be difficult to get across to the troops.

The team that hits pay dirt first after Notre Dame first exerts its muscle on the scoreboard will be poised to control the tenor of the contest thereafter.  

It’s hard to see the Midshipmen pressuring their hosts into the fourth quarter if the heavily favored Irish come out of the gates strong to open the second stanza.

Win the third, win the game.

3 – This is 40: As in points. Notre Dame has scored 56, 50, 38, and 49 points, respectively in its last four against the Midshipmen. Those Navy defenses were legitimately awful; this year’s edition is not, but it won’t keep Kelly’s big play crew below that point total without ample red zone heroics and/or self-destruction by the Irish offense.

Both are highly unlikely and easily avoidable considering Notre Dame’s advantage along its offensive line. Attack from all over the field, but when the pigskin approach the Navy goal – line up and move them out.

4 – I’ll Take Mine on Rye: The season’s toughest road test occurred seven days ago. The program’s biggest rival hits town seven days from now.

What does that mean? That, Navy, of all teams, (NAVY!) occupies this season’s sandwich slot. Human nature dictates a letdown after Clemson and a look-ahead toward the team that humiliated the Irish last season in Los Angeles.

Notre Dame’s maturity and ability to focus on the task at hand will be on display Saturday, just know that it was already put to the test this week, because sandwich games and letdown games are lost because of a team’s preparation prior, not due to game day desire.

5 – Alligator Blood: In 2014, a 28-7 Notre Dame lead turned into a three-point fourth quarter deficit.

In 2013, the Irish took the lead over the guest Mid’s on six separate occasions. Navy took it back five times, and was on Jaylon Smith tackle away from making it a fatal and final sixth.

In 2008, the Irish lead Navy by 20 points with five minutes remaining and possessed the football at the Midshipmen goal line.

They won by just six – with Navy in position to steal it down to the final gun.

There is but one truth that applies to every Navy team in the program’s current triple-option era, regardless of its talent level.

They Just. Keep. Coming.

This Navy team appears to be among the three to four best of the Midshipmen’s last decade-plus of football: prepare for an admirable 60 minutes of all-out effort from the visitors Saturday afternoon.

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