The Navy Midshipmen come to South Bend this weekend to take on the Irish. Notre Dame is still reeling from its close loss to Clemson but must right the ship quickly as Navy is not to be trifled with.
Keenan Reynolds leads Navy's triple-option attack, which is third in the nation in rushing yards with an average of 339.8 per game. Notre Dame will be Navy's first true test of the season after opening up 4-0 against the likes of Colgate, East Carolina, Connecticut and Air Force. Navy head couch Ken Niumatalolo clearly has the team's confidence high and if the last 10 years have been any indication, the Midshipmen aren't intimidated by the Notre Dame lore in the least.
Brian Kelly needs to get his guys thinking that they are a top 10 team again despite their dismal performance against Clemson. Deshone Kizer is proving that he is a leader who can take the bad with the good. On offense, the Irish need to get the running game going early to open up the pass. If C.J. Prosise and Josh Adams can draw the focus of the Navy defense that will allow Will Fuller, Corey Robinson and the rest of the Irish receiving corps to spread the field.
Kizer showed an ability to adapt against Clemson by recognizing the second read and dropping the ball short when the deep ball was covered. The Irish are averaging 37 points a game so far this year. The only problem is that Navy is averaging 38.
Which brings us to the defense. The slow start by the Irish defense last week spotted Clemson 14 points, a margin the offense just couldn't make up. No such allowance can be made this week, especially early.
If Navy gets ahead in the first quarter, the Irish offense under Kizer will need to turn to the pass, crippling its ability to control the tempo of the game. The Irish defense already has significant practice against the triple-option and held Georgia Tech in check for (almost) the entire game. And as that game showed, a let down at the end could be almost as bad as allowing Navy to run out to an early lead.
The Irish have no room for error after last week's loss. This is a game the Irish should win but is easily one they could let slip away if they lose their focus or look ahead to USC next weekend (which, by the way, will be smarting after an upset loss to Washington).
Navy won't go down easy (the U.S. military never does), but I predict the Irish will come out with something to prove and will squeak by. Prediction: Notre Dame 35, Navy 31.