Notre Dame Football: Why the Irish Can't Take Navy Lightly

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst IOctober 31, 2013

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 05:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on the sidelines during play against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Cowboys Stadium on October 5, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The days of Notre Dame enjoying the perpetual victories against Navy were but a distant blur in the rear-view mirror when the dust settled on one of the most embarrassing days in the Irish's illustrious football history.

At what was then called the New Meadowlands Stadium in 2010—now MetLife Stadium—Navy claimed its third victory against Notre Dame in four years, a startling fact given the series of the history.

After setting the NCAA record for most consecutive victories against one opponent—Notre Dame defeated the Naval Academy 43 consecutive times from 1964-2006—the Irish were strangely and overwhelmingly over-matched schematically.

The grotesque memories and lessons from that 35-17 loss haven't been forgotten by Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, either:

Kelly points to Navy 2010 as one of a couple times that the coaches let the players down. “We weren’t prepared properly.” #NotreDame

— Andrew Owens (@BGI_AndrewOwens) October 31, 2013

Against a unique offense such as the triple option, preparation is the key, as witnessed by the lack in execution from the Irish defense during its loss to the Midshipmen three years ago.

Oct 5, 2013; Annapolis, MD, USA; Navy Midshipmen linebacker Chris Johnson (46) runs after intercepting a pass by Air Force Falcons quarterback Karson Roberts (not pictured) during the second half at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Pa
Paul Frederiksen-USA TODAY Sport

Former linebacker Manti Te'o and Co. allowed former Navy fullback Alexander Teich to run wild, amassing 210 rushing yards on 26 carries, good for 8.1 yards per rush. Teich also burned the Irish in the passing game, taking a 31-yard screen pass to pay dirt, a play that was a summation of struggles encountered by Notre Dame's defense that afternoon.

In all, Navy compiled 367 rushing yards, which was the most yielded by Kelly's defense during his tumultuous first season at the helm of the program.

Despite having dominated service academies since that fateful day three years ago—the Irish have defeated Navy, Army and Air Force a combined five times by a combined score of 238-70—this season's Navy squad simply can't be taken lightly.

An experienced quarterback and a consistent bunch at the fullback position are key elements of efficiently and successfully operating a triple-option offense, and the Midshipmen possess both. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo has the services of second-year quarterback Keenan Reynolds as well as fullbacks Chris Swain and Noah Copeland, a duo that has combined for 510 rushing yards on the season.

The fruits of their consistent execution has resulted in a respectable 4-3 record that includes two victories against BCS teams: a 41-35 triumph at Indiana and a 24-21 home decision against Pittsburgh last week.

How does Navy do it?

Preparation and more preparation, as Kelly preached during his weekly press conference, per Notre Dame's official athletics website.

"Coach Niumatalolo does an incredible job to get his team to play week in and week out regardless of the competition," Kelly said. "He plays a very difficult schedule, whether it's Big Ten or the ACC."

While Niumatalolo's squad sees any game against a BCS opponent as an opportunity to make a statement, its annual "Super Bowl" is Notre Dame. Thus, you can rest assured the Midshipmen will execute their pesky triple-option offense to near perfection at Notre Dame Stadium Saturday afternoon.

Why should that be a warning to the Irish?

During their 45-10 victory against Air Force last week, things appeared easy for the Irish. But considering the Falcons were down to their fourth quarterback of the season—freshman Nate Romine—they were extremely inconsistent and inefficient offensively.

Oct 26, 2013; Colorado Springs, CO, USA; Air Force Falcons quarterback Nate Romine (6) runs the ball as Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Prince Shembo (55) prepares to tackle in the third quarter at Falcon Stadium. Notre Dame won 45-10. Mandatory Cred
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Such won't be the case with Navy and its quarterback, the 5'11", 185-pound Reynolds.

But it's not as if a repeat of the teams' 2010 matchup is on tap. Kelly also spoke to what it will take for his team to earn its third consecutive victory against the Midshipmen, and it was no surprise to hear the fourth-year head coach preach defensive execution:

Certainly, from our standpoint, the most important thing for us is to be disciplined again defensively. In one respect, having gone against Air Force and having the principles of option already repped out is an advantage. But certainly they've seen us and how we defend the option as well. So that gives them a week to do some things as well."

Thus, if the Irish play assignment-sound defense against the Midshipmen, good things are to come.

Though if a lack of discipline and execution is present, shades of 2010 will begin reappear. And Kelly fully understands that. "They've got some great wins...certainly coming here they understand how to play against Notre Dame and how to win a few years ago against us," Kelly said. "So we'll have to play well against them."