The Notre Dame Fighting Irish need to put together some wins to quiet the constant media scrutiny that has surrounded the team for the past decade. To do so, they are going to need some key performances to quell the upset alert that is sounding in Dublin, Ireland.
Navy is a pesky team that has designs of controlling the clock to notch their fourth victory in the last six games against the squad from South Bend. After losing 43-straight games to such an esteemed "rival," pulling off such a feat would certainly put some wind in their sails.
Their recent success is tempered a bit when coupled with the 56-14 drubbing Navy received last year.
However, that doesn't mean the Irish are out of the woods yet. They will need the following five players to make an impact if Notre Dame is going to enjoy their European adventure.
Quarterback Everett Golson
Head coach Brian Kelly's offense begins and ends with the quarterback. The inconsistent play of former starter Tommy Rees left the door wide open for a newcomer to emerge as the starter.
Golson wasted little time in seizing the opportunity in front of him.
The redshirt freshman has bounced back from a difficult first year that found him floundering on the field and in the classroom. The maturity he developed will prove invaluable since Kelly is notoriously hard on his quarterbacks. The dual-threat signal-caller must avoid three-down possessions to give the defense rest against the tiring rushing attack of Navy.
Cornerback Bennett Jackson
We've established that Navy loves to run the ball, but that doesn't mean the Irish secondary will be a non-factor. The defensive backs will need to come forward against the rush while being smart enough to avoid allowing any backbreaking play-action passes.
Jackson understands how important his steady play will be for a unit that lost opposite starting cornerback Lo Wood. Although he has limited experience, he is still the most veteran corner the Irish have.
Injuries are a part of football. So is stepping up for fill in the voids both in terms of play and leadership.
Cornerback KeiVarae Russell
Occasionally, one point folds perfectly into the next. The leadership provided by Jackson will only go so far as the play of Russell will allow it.
Russell has reportedly been tapped to replace Wood, and the coaching staff has surely been pounding on how important outside contain will be against Navy. If the young defensive back allows the Midshipmen to get to the corner, it will be a long day for the Irish.
Running Back Theo Riddick
Suspensions are just as crushing to a team as injuries as the Irish can surely attest. Coach Kelly must find a replacement for starting running back Cierre Wood, who is suspended for the first two games.
Enter Theo Riddick.
The running-back-turned-receiver-returned-to-running-back is ecstatic to hold down the backfield as Notre Dame attempts to replace Wood's production (1,102 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011). Riddick's contributions will carry even more weight since he will be counted on to help ease the pressure on Golson.
Wide Receiver T.J. Jones
There are some large shoes to fill on the outside of the Notre Dame offense. First-round pick Michael Floyd is no longer around to bail out harried quarterbacks and stalled drives.
The Irish have a few players with experience though, and will look to Jones to improve upon his consistency. He compiled a solid 38 catches that were good for 366 yards and three scores last year.
Jones has never lacked for talent. Now he must put it all together.
The Irish are unlikely to fall to the Midshipmen (they're 16.5-point favorites), but that doesn't mean they can come out flat. Notre Dame needs to gain some momentum to take on the most difficult schedule in the country.
No pressure fellas.
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