After an efficient 45-10 win at Air Force last weekend, Notre Dame returns home on Saturday to play another service academy in its annual clash with Navy (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC).
The Fighting Irish hope to capitalize on a scheduling quirk that should have them prepared for the Midshipmen's triple-option offense after seeing Air Force run it last Saturday at Falcon Stadium.
While the names on the opposing jerseys may look different than a week ago, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly wants a repeat of last week's clean performance from his team. He addressed this and more in his weekly news conference on Tuesday. The full media session is available here.
"Certainly from our standpoint, the most important thing for us is to be disciplined again defensively," Kelly said. "Navy runs the triple option better than anybody in the country. And they have so many variations off of it, just little variations that make a huge difference."
While Air Force was left with a fourth-string quarterback last week, Navy has no such issues under center. Sophomore Keenan Reynolds, who did not play in the Irish's 50-10 win last season in Ireland, has shown a knack not only as a runner and decision-maker but also as a thrower.
"They're led offensively by Reynolds, outstanding quarterback who has really been the catalyst for their offense," Kelly said. "And you know he can throw the ball extremely well. And so he gives you that option. No pun intended, that he can, if you're sitting on just playing the triple-option, he can throw the ball effectively."
The Irish may have to face Reynolds without perhaps their most important defender.
Senior nose guard Louis Nix, who missed the Air Force game, is questionable for Saturday as he deals with knee tendinitis. Kelly hinted that the nature of the Mids offense may make him more likely to hold Nix out another week than if they were facing a more traditional offense.
"I would say he's questionable at this point," Kelly said. "Depending on how he moves and what he can do. I think you can't go into playing the option team with hesitation or doubt. But when you're playing Stanford and you're firing off the ball and it's just a matter of beating the guy over you, there's less hesitation."
|Notable Injuries For Notre Dame|
|Player||Injury||Status vs. Navy|
|LB Ishaq Williams||Knee||Out|
|NG Louis Nix||Knee||Questionable|
|OG Chris Watt||Knee||Probable|
|DE Sheldon Day||Ankle||Probable|
|OT Ronnie Stanley||Undisclosed||Probable|
|WR Davaris Daniels||Hip||Probable|
Junior linebacker Ishaq Williams was ruled out with a knee injury, while defensive end Sheldon Day (ankle) is expected to play.
One defender not on the injury report is freshman linebacker Jaylon Smith. Following an interception against USC, Smith built on his performance against the Trojans with arguably his best game of the season against Air Force.
"[Smith] hasn't stopped surprising me because of the different things that have tested him," Kelly said. "Another weekend where you go, the kid just has those things that are hard to teach."
Smith hasn't been the only true freshman to shine this year for the Irish.
Wide receiver Will Fuller gave the Irish the lead for good last week with a 46-yard touchdown reception. That was preceded by classmate Corey Robinson winning a jump ball for a 35-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
Despite not being rated as one of the top recruits in the Irish's 2013 class, Robinson's size and football IQ have allowed the son of basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson to make an immediate impact.
"That's where this in the recruiting process sometimes, you know, you have those longer discussions in the staff room where everybody wants a sure thing or what is perceived to be a sure thing," Kelly explained. "We were just struck with his intangibles and it's that he was going to continue to grow and get stronger, and he was going to want to achieve like he's achieved in everything else."
After seeing Robinson and many other off-the-radar prospects develop over his 23-year head coaching career, Kelly is well aware that stars aren't a requirement for success. No program exemplifies that mantra better than his opponent Saturday afternoon, as Navy has already defeated two BCS-conference teams—Indiana and Pittsburgh.
Notre Dame seems to have regained the momentum in the rivalry that it lost during a 1-3 stretch from 2007-10 with 42- and 40-point wins in 2011 and 2012, respectively. However, the Midshipmen always pose a unique challenge, even after the Irish just played a schematically comparable Air Force team.
"They've seen us and how we defend the option as well," Kelly said. "So that gives them a week to do some things as well. And they certainly have been running the option longer than we've been defending it."