When you look at the stats, you'll see two struggling units colliding. Navy allows over 182 yards rushing per game. Notre Dame only averages 34 rushing per game. The Midshipmen have allowed 18 touchdowns on the ground. Notre Dame only has three all year.
Navy is equally as bad defending the pass, ranked 109th, allowing over 280 yards through the air and 19 touchdowns. The Irish only pass for about 153 yards per game and have just four touchdowns through the air all season.
If there is one defense in the entire country Notre Dame should be able to move the ball on, it has to be this defense. As bad as Notre Dame is on offense, Navy is probably worse on defense. Look for the Irish to have a big day on offense.
But will it be running or throwing? Navy doesn't have the speed or size at cornerback to play press coverage against Notre Dame's receivers. They also don't have the pass rush. They'll have to back off and play a soft zone to keep everyone in front of them and try to slow down the Irish. The Irish also should be able to run fairly easily on this defense. Will Charlie Weis throw to set up the run or the other way around?
The key for Notre Dame? Third down and scoring seven points versus three. The Irish can't be kicking field goals on Saturday, and I doubt you see Weis even try.
Here's the problem. Navy runs the ball, and they run it well, to the tune of 343 yards per game. They have also scored 30 touchdowns on the ground this season.
The Irish allow over 191 yards rushing per game. That's not a good stat.
But if you want a stat to hang your hat on, here it is. 11.
11 is the number of rushing touchdowns the Irish have surrendered all year. USC has given up 10. As bad as the Irish have been against the run, they usually stiffen up in the red zone. Notre Dame has played a number of great teams who run the ball well. Six of Notre Dame's opponents rank in the top 50 in rushing, three in the top 22. Still, the Irish have only allowed 11 rushing touchdowns all season.
Navy is dead last in passing, so I doubt you'll see them throwing the ball much in this game.
Navy has been surprisingly good in kickoff returns averaging almost 24 yards per kick. Now how can Navy average more yards per kick than the Irish (18) when Notre Dame has the better athletes? Ugh……..
They also do a nice job on punt returns, averaging almost 12.5 yards per punt, again out-distancing the Irish's 8.4 yards per return….ugh!
The rest of the stats are about even. But the one stat that I find intriguing? Navy is -.63 in turnovers, which is uncharacteristic of Navy. The Irish are +.13. Navy turns the ball over more than they get turnovers. If the Irish can get a few in this game, it could be a long day for Navy.
The "X" factor does concern me. Navy has to know this is their best chance to beat the Irish, but Navy has lost two straight, and four overall. There has been some question, even among their coaches, to the heart of this Navy team. They should be motivated for the game, but if the Irish can get up on them early, will they still have the fight in them until the end, especially on defense?
Mike Frank Prediction: A few things have to happen for the Irish to win on Saturday. Notre Dame must play inspired defense on Saturday. It starts with stopping the Navy fullback, Eric Kettani. If he gets rolling early, the Irish will be in for a long day. He will be somewhat banged up for the game. Then it comes down to assignment football. If Notre Dame plays smart, beats their man, and tackles well, they'll win this game. Notre Dame needs four stops in this game. If they can stop Navy four times, they've done their job on defense.
On offense, the difference between winning and losing will likely be on the offensive line. The play of those five guys will likely be the difference in this game. If they show up and push the Navy defense around like the previous 43 offensive lines that have played in this game, Notre Dame wins. It hasn't always been pretty, but they did the job when they had to.
I believe the Irish defense will hold up their end of the bargain. I think the Irish offense will as well.
Not me, man. I aint going out like that. I'm not throwing in the towel!
Notre Dame 35 Navy 27