Third-ranked Notre Dame resumes its pursuit of a BCS semifinal berth Saturday night at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego.
On paper, the game looks like a mismatch against a Navy team suffering through its worst season in coach Ken Niumatalolo’s 11 seasons running the program.
But Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly, who’s grown used to close shaves and occasional losses to the Midshipmen, isn’t buying the notion that this will be a blowout.
“They play extremely well against us,” he said. “We’ll have to be at our best playing a complete football team that plays hard for four quarters. Look, it’s a one-week deal for us. We’re one day at a time, one practice at a time.”
That approach has worked for Notre Dame (7-0). Its offense has taken off since Ian Book became the starting quarterback in late September and the defense has held up its end of the bargain, stopping the run and then unleashing its pass rush when opponents become one-dimensional.
Bracing for run, run … and more run
The Irish will have to seek a different approach this week. Navy (2-5) will run and run until you stop it. Then Navy will shrug its shoulders and run some more. The Middies average 309.4 yards per game, led by quarterback Malcolm Perry, who’s rushed for 729 yards and nine touchdowns.
Navy’s rushing offense is third in FBS, and the Midshipmen rank fourth in time of possession and second in fewest penalty yards. The problem has come on defense. The Middies are ranked 101st against the pass, 97th in total defense and 107th in scoring defense.
After allowing 49 points last week in a loss to Houston that was its fourth in a row, Navy gets to deal with Book, who’s completed just over 75 percent of his passes. For good measure, Notre Dame offers a power running game and a coterie of solid receivers who will own major physical advantages over whoever covers them.
“We recognize who we are and that we have to play perfect against a team like this,” Niumatalolo said to the Annapolis (Md.) Capital Gazette. “We have to minimize our mistakes as much as possible and hope they’re off a little bit. We know exactly who they are. We have to play really, really well to even have a chance.”
This will be the 92nd straight year the Middies and Irish have met, but the first time in San Diego. Notre Dame owns a 77-13-1 lead in the all-time series, pulling out a 24-17 victory last November in South Bend, Ind.
Niumatalolo has three of Navy’s wins over the Irish.
–Field Level Media