If there has ever been a must-win game for Charlie Weis during his tenure at Notre Dame than this is the week as the Irish get set to travel to Baltimore to take on the Naval Academy, trying to avoid losing two in a row to the Midshipmen. It was a magical day for all of those with any ties to Annapolis but to Notre Dame fans, November 3, 2007 was a day that will never be forgotten. After 43 consecutive victories, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame lost at home to the Middies.
So what has to be done in order to make sure this does not happen two years in a row? Let's start with something that has been a positive for Notre Dame in the past few weeks with the defense. A week ago the Irish allowed only 17 (7 of them on a pick 6) points on the defensive side of the ball, despite the offense having four turnovers. This week it is pretty easy to guess what is going to be shown by Navy: Pitch left, pitch right, up the gut, up the gut, pitch left...you get the point. Navy will enter Baltimore looking to run the ball down Notre Dame's throat's and its up to the Irish to stop it.
Navy enters with the number two ranked rushing team in the nation, following only Nevada. With 308 yards a game on average and 5.44 yards a carry coming in, Notre Dame has their work cut out to stop this running attack. Shun White enters leading the Midshipmen with 834 rush yards, having 348 of those come against Towson in week one. Eric Kettani adds in 673 more rushing yards and two scores while quarterback Jarod Bryant has accumulated 440 yards and five scores on the ground this season. Ricky Dobbs will also see carries for the Midshipmen as he has totaled 342 yards and six scores on the ground. Let's hope we force Navy into several 3rd and longs and make them put the ball in the air.
Navy ranks second to last, only ahead of Army when it comes to passing yards per game. However, when your rush offense ranks second its not as major of problem as one would think. Jarod Bryant has thrown only 32 passes all year, completing 18 of them for 265 yards. If forced to a backup, Navy will go with (get ready for it) Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada who is 13 of 18 on the year.
The Naval Academy ranks thirtieth in rush defense as they have allowed only 1047 yards on the ground this season, giving up 3.5 yards per carry. By comparision, Notre Dame has allowed 1187 yards but 4.0 yards per attempt. The Irish must improve overall, much like we saw a week ago at BC in order escape another upset from Navy.
Where you can expect the Irish to find the most success is, as usual, through the air. Navy has had a very tough time stopping the air game this season (which is weird seeing the technology they have these days). So far teams have averaged 256 yards a contest against them and there is no reason Jimmy Clausen should not be able to match or better that this Satruday. Expect to see the Irish really spread Navy out, many four or five receiver sets. Notre Dame really shouldn't have a problem throwing the ball around this weekend, if they do then a Navy streak against Notre Dame is a serious possibility.
How many points will Notre Dame need to score in order to win this weekend? That is the question many are asking but I feel differently as I am gaining more and more confidence in the defense as each week comes and goes. The Irish should be able to put up at least 35 on Navy (heck, Pitt did them in for 42) and that should be plenty.
What I expect to see is Notre Dame try and get up a couple of scores early and see if they can get Navy to go away from the strictly running game. If so it could be blowout city, if not, it may be a last second nail biter.
Nick (6-3): Notre Dame 38 Navy 24
Mark (7-2): Notre Dame 38 Navy 28