Navy vs. Notre Dame: What Fighting Irish Must Do to Avoid Upset vs. Midshipmen

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistNovember 1, 2013

Oct 26, 2013; Colorado Springs, CO, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly reacts to a play in the second quarter against the Air Force Falcons at Falcon Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Spor

Notre Dame should be on alert when it takes on Navy this Saturday. If the Fighting Irish aren't careful, their BCS hopes will end up going down the drain.

The Midshipmen are tricky opponents. Although they're just 3-4, they're capable of putting together a good 60-minute performance. This is a team that lost to Western Kentucky but defeated Pittsburgh.

Brian Kelly's team will enter as the big favorite. It has more talent than Navy and also has the advantage of playing at home.

However, Notre Dame can't afford to look past Navy. The Fighting Irish just need to think of the four-year period between 2007 and 2010, when they dropped three games to the Midshipmen.


Avoid Dumb Penalties

Sep 21, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish nose tackle Louis Nix (1) pulls the helmet off Michigan State Spartans running back Nick Hill (20) in the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Nix was called for a face mask penalty. Mandatory
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

On average, Notre Dame is giving up 48.63 yards a game in penalties, ranking 62nd in the country. While that's not an awful number, it's bad enough that it could become an issue.

The Fighting Irish get the edge in just about every category there is against Navy. For the Midshipmen to win, they'll have to play the perfect game, and even then, they'll have to rely on Notre Dame making mistakes.

Some of those mistakes would be stupid flags that either prolong Navy's drives or put the Notre Dame offense in a tough situation. Few things are as frustrating as watching your defense hold strong on third down only to let a penalty give the offense an automatic first down or a big gain offensively brought back because of a holding call.

Notre Dame won't have to play mistake-free football, but it must at least ensure Navy isn't getting too much of a helping hand.


Don't Throw Interceptions, Tommy Rees

Oct 26, 2013; Colorado Springs, CO, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees (11) smiles on the bench in the fourth quarter against the Air Force Falcons at Falcon Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

In Notre Dame's two losses, Tommy Rees has thrown a combined five interceptions. In the Fighting Irish's six wins, he's thrown just one.

That's quite the contrast, and it illustrates how Rees' performance can drag the entire team down.

For the most part, the senior signal-caller has been very good in 2013. He's got 1,944 yards passing and a 20-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The fears before the season following Everett Golson's departure proved to be unfounded, for the most part.

Although Navy can't match the talent of Michigan and Oklahoma, Rees can't afford to give the ball right back to the Midshipmen. Almost all upsets can be traced back to the favorite turning the ball over and keeping the underdog in the game.

Rees needs to attack the Navy secondary early and establish his dominance.


Answer the Call Defensively

Oct 26, 2013; Annapolis, MD, USA; Navy Midshipmen running back Marcus Thomas (26) runs the ball for a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the first half at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Frederiksen-USA TODAY Sport
Paul Frederiksen-USA TODAY Sport

Running the ball has long been the calling card of the Midshipmen, and this year is no different. Navy is getting 292.1 yards a game on the ground, 10th in the country.

It's no secret that Ken Niumatalolo will look to establish the running game early against Notre Dame. Navy won't be able to prevail having to rely on an aerial attack.

The key for Notre Dame will be shutting down that vaunted triple-option offense. Should the Midshipmen be able to consistently get positive yardage on the ball, they'll control the clock and put more pressure on Rees and the Fighting Irish offense.

On average, Notre Dame is giving up 144.1 yards on the ground. But in the Irish's two losses, the opposing teams were able to establish a steady running game. The Sooners had 212 yards as a team, and the Wolverines had 166, 82 of which came from Devin Gardner.