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Head to Head: Notre Dame vs. Navy

| Thursday, October 30, 2014

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Against Florida State, senior quarterback Everett Golson reminded everyone why he sparked Heisman buzz at the beginning of the season.

Golson was cool under pressure, delivering on fourth-and-18 to set up the would-be game-winning touchdown. He outplayed reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston by throwing for 313 yards and three touchdowns. He didn’t commit a costly turnover, the kind that turned the North Carolina game into an ugly shootout.

With those numbers, Golson put the Irish in position to win against the No. 2 team in the country and last year’s national champion. He is one of the brightest spots for a talented Irish team outperforming sports writers’ expectations, and there’s no reason to suspect he’ll struggle against Navy.

Notre Dame’s receiving corps adds to the Irish advantage in this category. The receivers have been increasingly reliable and made big plays when Notre Dame needed them most. Will Fuller and Corey Robinson provided the bulk of the production against the Seminoles, but C.J. Prosise, Amir Carlisle and Chris Brown have stepped up when called on, too, and tight end Ben Koyack is another steady option.




Following a breakout performance against North Carolina, sophomore running back Tarean Folston turned in another strong game in Tallahassee. Folston again played the role of lead back and carried the ball 21 times, rushing for 120 yards.

Sophomore running back Greg Bryant and senior running back Cam McDaniel were quiet, almost silent, receiving one carry apiece. Notre Dame’s three-pronged attack hasn’t taken off with all three contributing equally, but the Irish can still threaten defenses with their run game, as they’ve shown in the last two games. Bryant and McDaniel didn’t see much action against North Carolina, but each rushed for a touchdown, and Folston added two.

This unit has only gotten stronger as the season has progressed, and the Midshipmen will be hard-pressed to stop it.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday that Folston has vaulted his way to the top of the depth chart and he has earned more carries. Nonetheles,, Kelly said Notre Dame will still deploy all three backs.




Buddy Green is in his 13th season as defensive coordinator for the Midshipmen. His reliability and the experience in the job keep Navy consistent, but Notre Dame has been developing a more balanced offensive attack that will be difficult to stop.

With a confident Golson and an expanded running game, Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock can afford to be creative with a bigger call sheet.

The Irish earn a slight edge in this category after their strong offensive showing against Florida State.




The Irish don’t have too many holes here. More return yardage, especially on kickoffs, would be an improvement, but all special teams units have been solid and committed few penalties.

Opponents haven’t broken away for big runs on returns, and the kick coverage unit has blocked four attempts. All in all, Notre Dame’s special teams have been consistent, with the potential for a big block or stop, but it doesn’t look like the Irish return groups have an overwhelming advantage against Navy’s coverage units.

         EDGE: EVEN



Navy has serious talent in junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds. He runs the option well and has 11 rushing touchdowns on the season. He has thrown for only two touchdowns, however.

Although Reynolds has good passing abilities, he attempts few passes in the option offense and averages below 100 yards per game passing. Reynolds will challenge Notre Dame, but the Irish secondary should be well prepared for the task of responding to his passing game. Sophomore cornerback Cole Luke, sophomore safety Max Redfield, graduate student cornerback Cody Riggs and junior safety Elijah Shumate have played well as a group, including against Florida State’s formidable offense.

Navy’s leading receivers, sophomore Jamir Tillman and senior Brendan Dudeck, will have a hard time finding space.




Navy’s strength lies in its rushing attack within the option offense.

The Midshipmen rushers have been prolific and efficient this season, running for 2,818 net yards, 27 touchdowns and high average yards per carry numbers. Senior fullback Noah Copeland nets an average 8.7 yards per carry. Junior tailback Chris Swain also features prominently in Navy’s schemes.

Reynolds poses an additional rushing threat with his team-leading 639 net rushing yards on the season. Notre Dame struggled the last time it faced a rushing quarterback in North Carolina’s Marquise Williams. The option offense differs greatly from the Tar Heels’ scheme, but it is designed to feature the quarterback as a runner, and Navy has done so effectively.

The North Carolina game notwithstanding, the Irish have largely stopped the run effectively. Driven by a young but talented defensive line, Notre Dame’s front seven has impressed. Most recently, they halted Florida State’s rushing offense, limiting the Seminoles to 50 yards. Navy has yet to come up against a run defense as stingy as Notre Dame’s, so the Midshipmen’s pace likely will slow but not grind to a halt.

      EDGE: EVEN



Navy’s running of the option is nothing new, but as Brian Kelly noted at his Tuesday press conference, the Midshipmen find ways every year to mix it up just enough to give opposing defenses headaches.

Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder likes to mix things up too, so this coaching matchup will be a creative clash. The results should be entertaining, although Notre Dame has the talent and ability to run away with this game.

Last year, the Irish snuck away with a 38-34 win over Navy, but the Notre Dame has more talent this season, as well as VanGorder’s aggressive scheme. Even if the Irish outplay the Midshipmen, however, they won’t necessarily outcoach them.

      EDGE: EVEN



Field-goal kicking has been a major liability for Navy this season, as the Midshipmen have made just five of 10 attempts. Junior Austin Grebe has made both of his tries and offers more stability as the No. 1 place kicker over junior Nick Sloan, who has missed five of eight.

Notre Dame’s coverage capabilities and potential to block kicks give the Irish a big advantage over the inconsistent Midshipmen in this category.


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