"Oh, it's going to be tough," Johnson said. "It would be tough for us to play Notre Dame if we played them in the parking lot of K-Mart. They have a good team. It will take a really big game for us to have any kind of chance, but that's why you play the game. You never know. I remember my first year when nobody would have given us a chance and we were up eight with six minutes to go. We had a chance. Who knows what might happen. You can't ever tell."
Johnson has made the upset talk a reality because of what he has accomplished at Navy. He is in his fourth season with the Midshipmen and has accumulated a 25-20 record. Before coming to Navy, Johnson was the head coach at Georgia Southern where he piled up five Southern Conference Championships and two Division II national titles. Last season, he helped the Midshipmen to a 10-2 record and won National Coach of the Year honors. The win total included an Emerald Bowl win over New Mexico. Notre Dame hasn't won a bowl game in 12 years.
A combined 23 wins over the past three seasons is 20th best in the nation during this time period. This mark was set after the team had gone 3-30 (.091) the three previous years. Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis was complimentative of where Johnson has taken the Navy program.
"I know their rushing offense is second in the country at 282 yards a game," Weis said. "Last week they rushed for over 400, 418, I believe. With Coach Johnson calling the plays and serving as offensive coordinator, you know where the success is coming from and it's one of the reasons why he's Coach of the Year."
Last season's contest was one of the few bright spots for Notre Dame. The Irish went on the road into Giants Stadium and rolled to a 27-9 win over Navy, extending the consecutive win streak over them to 41 games. Notre Dame piled up 204 rushing yards en route to the comfortable win and held a potent Midshipmen ground attack to 216 yards. This season is a lot different. The Irish are 6-2 in Weis's first year at the helm and poised for a BCS bowl berth if they can win the remaining three games on the schedule. Johnson, as have a lot of opposing coaches in 2005, sees a difference in the two Irish teams starting with Notre Dame signal caller Brady Quinn.
"I think the quarterback is playing better," Johnson said. "They are older. They are going to look better. People tend to forget that that offensive line, two years ago when they were struggling, was very young. They have played some; their receivers have more experience. The quarterback is playing much, much better. That's the biggest difference in their football team."
The Navy defense will be at a significant disadvantage this weekend against a Notre Dame offense averaging almost 40 points per game. Weis's play calling combined with Quinn's stellar play and two 6-5 wide receiver targets to fling the ball towards has made all the difference in 2005. Johnson's team is giving up 182 passing yards a contest but have not faced a potent attack like the Irish possess.
"They have so many big play guys," Johnson said. "Those receivers have been some great catches. Even when they get in a hole it doesn't matter. Against Tennessee they had third and 24 and threw the streak route to their big receiver and it's a touchdown. It's a good way to get out of third and 24. Tennessee comes back and ties it at 21 and then they hit an underneath route to the other receiver and he takes it to the house. It looks like it might be a six or seven yard play and he turns it into a 70 yard touchdown. They have a good running back and the offensive line protects well. I don't know if they have a weakness."