Start Time: 3:30 P.M. ET, Saturday, Oct. 10
Location: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
TV: NBC (Tom Hammond, Doug Flutie, Kathryn Tappen)
Radio: Navy: Navy Football Radio Network (Pete Medhurst, Omar Nelson, Joe Miller) WBAL 1090 AM Baltimore; WNAV 1430 AM, 99.9 FM Annapolis Notre Dame: IMG College Sports (Don Criqui, Allen Pinkett); Sirius XM 129; WSBT 96.1 FM, 960 AM.
Records: Navy 4-0, Notre Dame 4-1. The Navy-Notre Dame rivalry is the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in college football as the two teams will meet on Saturday for the 89th consecutive year. The Irish hold a 75-12-1 edge in the series.
Live Stats: here
Here we are. We are at that point everyone secretly hoped we would be. The undefeated Navy Midshipmen travel to South Bend to take on mighty Notre Dame this weekend and there is little on the line and a lot on the line all at the same time.
There is little on the line because no one will really hold it against Navy if they lose on the road to a top fifteen Notre Dame squad. They can still challenge and win the ultra competitive AAC West and get to the inaugural AAC Championship game. They can still bring the Commander-in-Chief's trophy back to Annapolis with a fourteenth consecutive victory over Army. They can even still get to a New Year's Six bowl game if they win out. All of the preseason goals are still on the table.
There is also a lot on the line. I try and avoid the hype machine as much as possible. Like the motto of this year's Navy Football team, I would much prefer to look at each week as a chance to go 1-0. I have withheld the desire up to this point to call this year's team "special". Regardless of the outcome this weekend, however, I do believe that we are witnessing a "special" Navy team this season. Going 1-0 this week would only further solidify that in my mind, but it would introduce it into the mind of everyone else.
I don't believe in statement wins, because I don't think for the most part that one win makes or breaks a season, but a win on Saturday would do a couple of things for the Navy football program. A win on Saturday would likely move Navy into the AP top 25 and past both Boise State and Toledo. This is significant because it may be awhile before either team is challenged again. While Navy still has potential top 25 matchups against Memphis and Houston down the road, leaping the other Group of 5 schools ahead of them now would be ideal.
The second thing a win could potentially do is push Keenan Reynolds into the Heisman conversation as a dark-horse candidate. As I mentioned in my article on what it would take for Reynolds to win the Heisman, he needs a signature win, and the stage is set for him to not only upset a top fifteen team on the road, but he has an outside chance to tie or break the all-time rushing touchdown record while doing it. He is four from tying and five from breaking Montee Ball's record, and while five rushing touchdowns in a game may seem like a lot, Reynolds has rushed for three or more touchdowns an NCAA record 14 times in his career.
When Navy has the ball:
Navy continued its dominance in the first half this season last week against Air Force. Through four games this season, Navy has scored at least 21 points in the first half of every game and have not gone into halftime with the score closer than 11 points.
While I seem to talk every week about the efficiency of the offense and the inability for opposing defenses to simulate the speed of the offense with their scout team, I believe one of the most significant factors allowing the offense to be so effective this year is the lack of turnovers. Navy only has one turnover on the entire season and it came on the very first drive of the very first game against Colgate. They are +8 overall in the turnover margin which is fifth best in the country and is a major reason they are having such a successful season.
With all of that being said, Navy has not faced a defense that is close to the caliber of Notre Dame. Jaylon Smith is a ball hawk at the linebacker position. Reynolds said this week that you pretty much have to just avoid his side of the field. And in case that isn't enough, they also have Joe Schmidt. The duo of Schmidt and Smith will make running the football very difficult for Navy on Saturday. If you watch the Georgia Tech game from earlier this season, it is readily apparent the impact the Notre Dame linebackers will have on this game.
This will be a significant challenge for a Navy offense that has not been challenged much, especially in the first half this season.
When Notre Dame has the ball:
The Navy defense continues to impress this season. After forcing four Air Force turnovers last weekend and holding them to 11 points, they currently sit 13th in the country in scoring defense at 15 points per game.
A big focus this weekend will be the continued ability to limit explosive plays. This has always been the bread and butter of the Navy defense, and Coach Pehrson hasn't missed a beat in furthering Buddy Green's philosophy in this area this season. Navy currently sits third in the country in explosiveness on defense, but Notre Dame has speed all over the field at the skill positions.
They have one of the best wide receivers in the country in Will Fuller. He is complemented by Chris Brown, Corey Robinson (the Admiral's son), and Torii Hunter, Jr. They have one of the best running backs in the country in C.J. Prosise. They may be relying on their backup quarterback in Deshone Kiser, but he has shown glimpses of what he can do and really it comes down to just getting the ball in the hands of his talented receivers and running back.
This will be the biggest challenge yet for an improved Navy defense. Sarra, Anthony, and Mason will have their hands full trying to get pressure on the quarterback going up against Ronnie Stanley and Co. on the Notre Dame offensive line. The linebackers are going to have to make tackles in space, and the talented duo of Brendon Clements and Quincy Adams are going to have to play the games of their lives to contain Fuller and the rest of the receivers. Losing Kwazel Bertrand concerns me as Daiquan Thomasson steps into the rover position for his first career start at Notre Dame Stadium.
Advantage: Slight to Notre Dame
There is no getting around it, Navy is going to have to play an almost flawless game to win. A team that sits +8 in the turnover margin this season is going to have to continue to win that battle if they want to have a shot to upset Notre Dame on the road. Navy must protect the ball, force Kiser into a couple bad decisions, and have some eight minute drives that limit Notre Dame's offensive possessions. If they do that, they have a chance to upset a top fifteen team on the road, move into the top 25 for the first time since 2004, and catapult their star quarterback into the Heisman discussion. The stage is set. Here's to hoping Navy is singing second for its curtain call!
Notre Dame 31-Navy 24