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Football

QB Keenan Reynolds leads top rushing unit

| Thursday, October 30, 2014

On Saturday, one of college football’s best rush defenses meets the FBS statistical rushing leader.

Notre Dame shut down Michigan one week after the Wolverines rushed for 350 yards against Appalachian State. The Irish limited Stanford to 47 rushing yards and Florida State to 50. They’re ranked No. 12 in FBS run defense, allowing 102.7 rush yards per game.

Navy junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds (19) directs the prolific Midshipmen triple option rushing attack against the Irish in Notre Dame’s 38-34 win over the Midshipmen in 2013 at Notre Dame Stadium. Reynolds has rushed for 639 yards and 11 touchdowns in six games this season.WEI LIN | The Observer

Navy junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds (19) directs the prolific Midshipmen triple option rushing attack against the Irish in Notre Dame’s 38-34 win over the Midshipmen in 2013 at Notre Dame Stadium. Reynolds has rushed for 639 yards and 11 touchdowns in six games this season.

“They’re a really good defense,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said of the Irish in a video interview. “They’ve played some really good people obviously too, so for them to do that against the opponents that they’ve played is pretty impressive.”

Navy, which runs an option-based offense, enters Saturday’s game averaging 352.3 rushing yards per game, good for first in the FBS.

Junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds, senior fullback Noah Copeland and junior fullback Chris Swain have recorded the bulk of this yardage.

“What makes this team explosive … is they’ve got two veteran fullbacks, Swain and Copeland, and an outstanding quarterback,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said at his Tuesday press conference.

The option offense naturally leads to a large number of carries, but the Midshipmen have also been efficient, making each run count with high averages per carry. Copeland leads Navy’s three main ball-carriers with 8.7 yards per rushing attempt. Swain averages 6.8, and Reynolds 4.3.

Reynolds has 11 rushing touchdowns, but his unselfishness makes him most dangerous, Kelly said.

“He’s not somebody that is interested in his own stats,” Kelly said of Reynolds. “…When you look at an option quarterback, if you give him the fullback, the fullback is going to get the football. I think it starts with an unselfish quarterback, whose understanding of the system is superseding any of his individual stats and accolades.”

Reynolds has just two passing touchdowns and 518 passing yards on the season, but Kelly praised his all-around talent as a quarterback.

“He’s not one-dimensional where you’d say, okay, we’re just going to lineup extra guys on the line of scrimmage because we know we can’t throw the football,” Kelly said. “He’s an accomplished thrower of the football. He can spin it on you, and he can hurt you.”

Although Reynolds does have passing ability, rushing remains Navy’s strength. The Midshipmen’s run-heavy offense allows them to control the clock with extended possessions.

Reynolds will lead Navy against a Notre Dame defense that has prevented teams from dominating possession with the run.

“That’s definitely the key, getting the fullback going,” Reynolds said in a video interview. “But those guys, they’re always well-coached, top athletes in the country every year, year in, year out, had a really good D-line last year, guys going to the NFL, and they just reloaded this year, so we gotta come with it. We’ve got a tough challenge.”

If the Midshipmen hope to activate those fullbacks, they will have to play physical against the Irish, Niumatalolo said. That effort starts with the foundation provided by the offensive line.

“It’s not like they’ve been dogging it,” Niumatalolo said. “They’ve been playing hard, but we gotta play fanatical to have a chance. … We had to get not just them but our whole team up to a frenzied pace that gives us a chance. If we come out and play hard, we’re gonna lose every game. We gotta come out like a bunch of maniacs every game.”

Last season against Navy, Notre Dame eked out a 38-34 win in South Bend. Sophomore running back Tarean Folston dove for a one-yard score with under four minutes remaining. This year’s 6-1 Irish have more at stake for their season as they prepare for Navy than last year’s unranked squad did. The Irish can’t underestimate Navy, Kelly said.

“Offensively, they hold on to the football, and then defensively, you know they do a good job not giving up big plays,” Kelly said. “So we understand the challenge in front of us again, great deal of respect for Navy. It’s going to be a tough challenge for us.”

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