The When/Where/What Time/Etc. 3:30 PM ET, @ Notre Dame Stadium…and guess who’s back:
— Nick Ironside (@nironside247) October 6, 2015
Now, before you get all up in arms, just remember – the last time Tom Hammond called play-by-play, the Irish posted its best point total since 1996. Get used to another healthy dose of Amir Car-LYLE, CJ Pro-SISE, DeShone Ki-ZER…and hopefully an armada’s worth of Irish points.
The Opposing Coach: Navy’s Commander in Chief is not much of a football man, so in his place stands Ken Niumatalolo. It’s shocking to think, but Niumatalolo is now in his eighth season as Navy head man. For comparison’s sake, Paul Johnson who many Irish fans still associate with the Navy program lasted just 6 seasons before moving onto Georgia Tech. While Johnson inherited a ship wreck of a program that had suffered 4 consecutive losing seasons prior to his arrival, it’s worth noting that Niumatalolo now has more absolute victories and a higher winning percentage as Navy head coach than Johnson. You have to go back to the mid-50’s through early 60’s to find a Navy program that managed to have 7 of 8 consecutive seasons at .500 or better prior to Niumatalolo’s tenure. At 4-0 already this season, he’s well on his way to achieving this impressive level of consistency for a modern military school.
The Naval Academy’s Last Game: In a battle harkening back to the glory dates of the triple option, Navy and Air Force clashed in a game that featured 22 total passing plays compared to 107 rushing plays. Navy won the contest 33-11 methodically salting the game away after getting out to a 21-0 first half lead. 4 turnovers doomed Air Force, but Irish fans should feel pretty comfortable with their knowledge of how 4 turnovers feels. The answer is “NOT GREAT.” Turnovers is a great way to lose any game. Their tragedy are magnified versus ball control teams like Navy.
Team Talent: As I mentioned at the time of the UMass Preview, Navy from a recruiting talent standpoint is about as weak as Notre Dame’s schedule gets. Of course, the men of the Naval Academy are not singularly focused on football and the school rarely even makes a run at many evaluated-level players. What else should be obvious is that Navy has found a way to overcome that talent gap in previous seasons. The 2015 Irish team adopted “Culture Beats Scheme” as the team motto/mantra. Navy lives and survives as an above .500 program by believing “Culture and Scheme Beats Talent.” They’ll continue to play their physical, demanding brand of football. Fans and opponents will continue to gripe about that. It rarely seems to matter to what the perceived “talent” of Navy is. No better testament to this is Navy’s record-setting quaterback, Keenan Reynolds, that will be discussed in the next section.
Keenan Reynolds: The senior quarterback has been a consistent riser throughout his career earning a Maxwell Watchlist inclusion coming into this season. So far he’s held up his part of the bargain. No quarterback at the FBS level has rushed for more yards this season than Reynolds’ 488. Reynolds was also the nation’s top rushing quarterback last year with 1,191 yards. You have to go back to 2006 with Darius Walker to find a season where any member of the Irish had at least that many yards (1,267). Reynolds is the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (at 73 and counting) and is tied with Derrick Henry with 9 so far this season (6th nationally). It seems like a near forgone conclusion that barring injury Reynolds will surpass Montee Ball’s mark of 77 career rushing touchdowns to become the all-time career leader. I can spend a lot more words to re-cite his accomplishments, but I he think this can be summed up as: He’s very talented.
So far this season Reynolds has yet to throw more than 10 passes in a game. Obviously, given Navy’s scheme and Reynolds’ mastery as the facilitator, this shouldn’t be too big of a surprise. It’s usually a good sign for Navy’s opponent if Reynolds is passing more often. In 2014, Navy was 0-4 in games in which Reynolds passed the ball more than 10 times. One of those losses was the 49-39 contest to the Irish. In that game, the Irish defense was successful at bottling up Reynolds as he rushed for just 47 yards on 18 attempts. It was one of just four games last season where Reynolds failed to rush for 100. In 3 career games versus ND, Reynolds has rushed for a combined 97 yards on 43 carries. For a guy with 17 career 100 yard rushing games and 4 career 200 yard rushing game, this has been sheer dominance.
This game at its heart is about stopping Reynolds. Navy’s offense goes as he does. The Irish have successfully contained one of the best all-time rushing quarterbacks. Hopefully they’ve got one more in them.
Turnover Margin: I’m not going to waste too much of people’s time talking about the turnover battle. It’s pretty well established that this is a remarkably important factor. Navy’s been close to flawless in terms of turnovers surrendered. The result is that they currently rank 4th nationally with a +2.3 Turnover Margin/Game. The good news is correction favors the Irish. In most seasons, the absolutely best team in the country ends up around a +1.8/game for the season. On 10/8/2014, there were 4 teams with turnover margins/game above 2.0…none of them finished in the top 10 nationally by season’s end, the best of which was Florida International at 0.8/game. Fans have been waiting for the Irish defense to create a few more turnovers. I think this very well might be that game.
Looking Ahead?: This time a week ago I think more people were concerned Navy might be a “trap” game. Navy being sandwiched between 2 prime time games with Clemson and USC was less than ideal. However, after the events of last weekend, I am not concerned about a look ahead effect. The virtual pen quills have discussed whether this team is a clone of last year’s bound for a tail spin or something different with most favoring the “something different” side of the equation. If that’s true, the Irish should come out looking to impose their will and outpace a skilled but undersized Navy team. Coming off a difficult and error-filled loss, the team should be focused at home with a desire to take out some frustrations from a week ago.
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