2013 Notre Dame Football
Since 1927 Notre Dame has played 84 uninterrupted games against the United States Naval Academy. Although Notre Dame dominates the series with 71 wins, the Midshipmen defeated the Irish in 2007 ending Notre Dame’s 43 year winning streak and went on to upset the Irish in 2009 and 2010. In the last two seasons the Irish have turned the tables, winning each game by 40 plus points including last season’s opener in Ireland.
The Midshipmen currently sit at 4-3, but they are playing some of their best football of the season and riding high after a tough, gritty win against Pittsburgh. In order to compete with the Irish Ken Niumatolo, Navy’s head coach, will lean on his returning starters, specifically quarterback Keenan Reynolds who orchestrated two late scoring drives against Pittsburgh while hobbled on a sprained knee. If Reynolds intends to compete with the Irish he will need to execute the triple option offense to perfection and wear down the injury laden Irish front seven.
Fans should expect an inspired Navy football team on Saturday as they face their rival and Niumatalolo goes for his 45th win at Navy which would tie his predecessor, Paul Johnson. So let’s take at Navy’s offensive players who intend to spoil the Irish’s BCS run.
Passing (103.pg – 120th in nation)
Like last week let’s face facts, service academies simply are not a passing teams and Navy is no different. The Midshipmen are currently ranked 120th in the nation in passing offense and Niumatalolo has made it clear that he would run the ball the entire 60 minutes if he felt he could find the seams in the defense. Yet Navy’s lack of a passing game seems ironic when you consider that the team has their most gifted passing quarterback in over a decade.
Keenan Reynolds has completed 52.7% of his passes for 667 yards and 4 touchdowns this season but he has eclipsed 100 yards passing only twice (with one of those games coming against FCS Delaware). The numbers are minuscule in today’s college football and they fail to reflect the sophomore quarterback’s true talent. Reynolds possesses all the attributes of a successful collegiate quarterback: powerful arm, great footwork and smart decision making; he simply needs more game passing situations and better protection, two things you rarely see at a service academy.
A quick review of statistics on Navy’s top four receivers shows, that when given the opportunity, Reynolds can make plays in the passing game. DeBrandon Sanders, the teams leading receiver, has caught a 63 yard touchdown pass (one of his only nice receptions) and averages 19.1ypc. Casey Bolena, Geoffrey Whiteside and Marcus Thomas, the next three leading receivers, each have a reception of 47 yards or greater. Clearly, Navy takes advantage of defenses that load the box and Reynolds has the arm to make those big throws over the defense.
**Navy is still awaiting word on whether DeBrandon Sanders who missed the Pitt game with a head injury will be available for the Saturday.
Rushing (289.1 – 10th in nation)
“The whole thing is trying to win ballgames. What gives us the best chance to win? This offense allows us to run the football and keep the clock moving.” That quote from Ken Niumatalolo exemplifies Navy’s game plan with the triple option offense. In an era when high-tech passing offenses and individual talent are demanded, Navy plays an offense that requires a team-first attitude and precise execution. The offense begins and ends with the quarterback who reacts according to how the opposing defensive end attacks the play. In Keenan Reynolds, the Navy has found an athletic, reliable quarterback who could take their attack to new levels.
Reynolds who saw limited time in Navy’s 2012 game against the Irish (1 pass attempt and 3 rush -3yards)assumed the starting job midway through last season. Since his first start, Reynolds has made tremendous progress in his understanding and execution of the triple option attack. In 2013 Reynolds has rushed for 546 yards on 147 carries and scored 11 touchdowns. When Reynolds finds his groove and makes the right decisions, Navy’s offense is incredibly difficult stop.
The drawback of the triple option is the high probability of injuries to starting quarterbacks (see Air Force on their 4th string QB). Reynolds suffered a concussion in the Western Kentucky game (which Navy lost) and seemed hobbled by a sprained knee last week (a game they barely won). Although Navy boasts four other rushers with 200 plus yards this season in Chris Swain, Noah Copeland (FB), Marcus Thomas and DeBrandon Sanders, they need Reynolds if they intend to compete with the Irish.
*Quick Stat: In Navy’s three losses Reynolds has rushed for an average of 30 yards.
**Noah Copeland, who was injured during the Toledo matchup, did workout a little on Tuesday but his status for Saturday is still uncertain.
As a part of Notre Dame’s contract with the ACC in the offseason, the Irish agreed to add five ACC teams to their annual schedule. This agreement forced Notre Dame to evaluate future schedules and possibly remove more traditional opponents (see Michigan). As sports writers speculated on who would come and who would go, AD Jack Swarbrick announced Notre Dame’s intention to continue, indefinitely, their annual rivalry with Navy. Swarbrick’s emphatic statement (and use of the word rivalry) made it clear that players, coaches and fans of both institutions hold this annual matchup (although somewhat lopsided) in high regard and deem it an important legacy to continue into the future. Unfortunately for Navy the tides have again turned heavily in favor of the Irish.
Bob Diaco seems to have discovered the magic potion for stopping the service academies, and, thanks to lucky scheduling, the Irish defense will have two straight weeks of preparation for the triple option attack. With two weeks of practice and the experience of the Air Force game I expect Jaylon Smith, Cole Luke, Isaac Rochelle, Max Redfield and other underclassmen to step up and compensate for the loss of Louis Nix and Ishaq Williams who are both still injured.
However, if Notre Dame allows Navy to control the time of possession and keep the game close, Reynolds will eventually find seams in the defense and the game could become very close, very quick. The defense needs to be aggressive and halt the Navy attack early which should allow the offense to create a big lead and essentially take Navy out of the game. Navy will continue to fight, but Notre Dame is simply too much in the end. The Irish move to 7-2 and get ready for Pitt.
** Quick Stat: In Navy’s three losses Reynolds has rushed for an average of 30 yards.
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