Points a Must vs. Navy

Fall break is over for Notre Dame. The football team also got a little time away from campus. The Irish had a bye last weekend and Charlie Weis gave the players from Thursday until Sunday off, with practice starting again on Monday. It was a concern of Weis' of how the team would react back at practice for the first time in a few days. Apparently, the opening session of the week went well.

"Usually, Monday we don't practice," Weis said on Tuesday at his weekly press conference. "But I had just given them four days off. I was really using Monday to knock the rust off because usually when you don't practice for awhile, the first day doesn't go so well. This may not sound significant but the one thing that helped us was a little nip in the air. They were a little spunky because it was a little cooler than it's been."

That spunk hopefully carries over to this weekend. Notre Dame will host the Naval Academy on Saturday afternoon. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:43 PM ET and NBC will have the national television broadcast. The Midshipmen are coming off a wild 59-52 loss to Delaware in which the teams combined for over 1,000 yards of total offense.

One thing is for sure with this Navy team: they know how to put points up on the scoreboard. The Midshipmen are 19th in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 35 points a contest. The problem and the reason for the 4-4 record: Navy is allowing 38 points a game. Notre Dame's season high in points was 20 in the win over UCLA. One of those scores was a defensive touchdown by Maurice Crum, Jr.

The Irish, who Weis said will start Evan Sharpley at quarterback and have leading rusher James Aldridge back in the lineup from a high ankle sprain, did total three offensive scores in the loss 33-19 loss to Purdue and Notre Dame probably will have to be better than that on Saturday to keep up with the Navy attack.

"Navy scores points against everyone," Weis said. "It doesn't make a difference who they're playing. And we haven't been scoring very many. If you just look at it factually, this is not the greatest match-up challenge-wise because f the points scored. But I expect us to play well this week. If (Monday) is any indication of how we're going to play, I think we'll play well."

These two teams will be playing for the 81st consecutive year. It's the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in the nation. Notre Dame holds a whopping 70-9-1 advantage in the series. The big stat is the Irish's current 43-game winning streak over Navy in the rivalry, which is the longest against one opponent in NCAA history.

This year, the Midshipmen must be seeing an opportunity to end the long, infamous losing streak. With the Irish at 1-7 and struggling on the offensive side of the ball, Navy is thinking upset. Notre Dame is thinking about getting on track over the final four games of the season and end the year on a high note. The Irish can take advantage of a porous Midshipmen defense, which has allowed opponents to score 30 or more points in six of eight contests. Weis said the team isn't thinking about the streak. Notre Dame just wants to win.

"I think when you're 1-7, you're trying to beat whoever you're playing," Weis said. "I don't the streak is nearly as important as winning at home is. It's been since the last regular season game of the year last year since we've won a game at home. That's the streak they're most concerned with is winning a game at home."

Another factor that should concern Notre Dame is the rushing attack of Navy. The Midshipmen are trying to become the first team in Division I history to lead the nation in rushing three straight years. Currently, Navy is tops in the land, averaging 342 yards a game and the gap to second, West Virginia, is a difference of 45 yards a contest. The Irish aren't stout against the run, ranking 93rd in the nation. Long drives on the ground for the Midshipmen translates into fewer opportunities for Notre Dame to score.

"Like I said to the team yesterday, you're going to get fewer possessions and you'll have to make the most of them," Weis said. "For example, last year we scored 38. This year, games in the 30's and 40's is a regularity with them. Because the most touchdowns we've scored in a game is three, if this is a team that's scoring five or six a game, it's a concern. We need production per possession because we're going to need it."

The home stretch is here for Notre Dame. There weren't a lot of people in the Irish fan nation who thought the team would be 1-7 heading into the final four games. Notre Dame has four winnable contests left and could build momentum heading into spring ball next March. The Irish have to fix the woes that have plagued them in the first eight games, which Weis and the coaching staff identified during the bye week.

"The most important thing is that we understand that most of our problems, a lot of our problems, are related to internal things and not external things," Weis said, who refused to elaborate on what these problems exactly are. "The first thing we have to do, and it wouldn't make any difference who the opponent is, is to take care of our internal problems growing and becoming a better team. Now, if you apply it to Navy, anyone who takes Navy lightly, especially with the firepower they show on offense, can find themselves on the short end of the stick very easily."

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