LANDOVER, Md. (AP) Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds can only imagine how sweet it would feel to beat No. 6 Notre Dame on Saturday.
”That would be awesome,” he said. ”Prime time, CBS, night game against Notre Dame. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
The Fighting Irish (6-1) are 74-12-1 against Navy in the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in college football. The inconsistent Midshipmen (4-4) haven’t done enough this season to suggest they have a shot at an upset. But just about anything can happen with Reynolds directing their triple-option attack.
Last year at South Bend, the Midshipmen rolled up 419 total yards, 313 on the ground. Navy had 27 first downs, no penalties, no turnovers, punted once and held the ball for 37 1/2 minutes in a 38-34 defeat.
”We played about as good as we can play and we still lost,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. ”To even have a chance, we have to play perfect and they have to help us a little bit.”
Notre Dame’s only loss this season was 31-27 against defending champion Florida State. Ranked 10th in the college playoff poll, the Irish can’t afford another defeat it they hope to stay in the running for the national championship.
That means stopping Navy’s option and playing mistake-free football.
”Every possession is so important in scoring and not turning the ball over,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. ”That really is the focus this week.”
Some things to know about the 88th matchup between Notre Dame and Navy:
MARQUEE QB MATCHUP: Notre Dame senior Everett Golson has completed 166 of 268 passes for 1,996 yards and 19 touchdowns. The 6-foot, 200-pound senior has also rushed for 239 yards and four scores. ”Super athlete and a terrific passer. Can throw on the run or off-balance and delivers the ball on time and with touch,” Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green said. ”He’s playing at a level I haven’t seen from a quarterback all season.” Reynolds, meanwhile, returned from knee and shoulder injuries last week to run for 251 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-31 victory over San Jose State.
OPTION IS AN EQUALIZER: Navy has given Notre Dame fits with its patented triple-option offense over the years. This is the only game of each season the Fighting Irish see such a unique attack and no amount of preparation can replicate the speed and precision of the Midshipmen. ”What we do gives us a chance. If we had to line up and run the ball and try to block those guys straight up, we wouldn’t be able to get back to the line of scrimmage,” Niumatalolo said. Linebackers Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith lead the Irish with 57 and 53 tackles, respectively. Schmidt has caused four turnovers (two interceptions, two forced fumbles).
DOMINATING DEFENSE: Notre Dame boasts the nation’s 12th-ranked rushing defense, giving up just 102.7 yards per game on the ground. The Fighting Irish are No. 14 in scoring defense, allowing an average of only 19.1 points. ”That’s a really, really good defense. To do that against the caliber of opponents they have played is pretty impressive,” Niumatalolo said.
NEW TO THE SERIES: Notre Dame has a first-year defensive coordinator in Brian VanGorder, who spent seven of the previous nine seasons in the NFL and hasn’t game-planned against an option offense since he was head coach at Georgia Southern in 2006. Wofford used its option attack to rush for almost 300 yards in a 28-10 victory over Georgia Southern that year.
PRO VENUE: Navy’s home game against Notre Dame has never been held in Annapolis. Because Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is not large enough to accommodate the crowd, the Midshipmen always play the Fighting Irish at a neutral site, usually an NFL stadium. The Meadowlands in New Jersey, M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland were recent venues for the game. The site on Saturday is FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. That facility was called Jack Kent Cooke Stadium the last time Navy and Notre Dame played there, in 1988.