For the second time in as many weeks, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame defeated a service academy nemesis.
After a thorough 45-10 domination of Air Force in Colorado Springs, Colo., last week, the Irish returned to Notre Dame Stadium and experienced a scare from Navy, defeating the Midshipmen 38-34.
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo's offense gave the Irish defense fits, racking up 331 rushing yards in a gallant performance that left the Irish with much to learn.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly ruled Irish nose guard Louis Nix as questionable earlier in the week due to a lingering knee issue and wasn't willing to throw the 6'3", 340-pound behemoth into the fray of Navy's cut-block scheme.
As witnessed by the Irish defense's success without Nix against Air Force's triple-option offense last week, sitting the Jacksonville, Fla., native was a smart, calculated move intended to keep Nix, Notre Dame's most integral defender, fresh for the stretch run against Pittsburgh, BYU and Stanford.
After a career performance against Air Force last week—Tommy Rees completed 17 of 22 passing attempts for 284 yards and a career-high five touchdown passes—the senior signal-caller was once again masterful against another service academy.
The Lake Forest, Ill., native didn't have as sterling a performance as he did against the Falcons, but was efficient once again.
Rees completed 12 of 20 passing attempts for 242 yards and two touchdowns while also throwing two interceptions. While it wasn't the most ideal performance, Rees once again led the offense to a consistent performance that got the job done against a pesky Navy squad.
Earning a season- and career-high number of carries against Air Force last week—the freshman carried the ball 11 times for 47 yards—Tarean Folston had another convincing performance against Navy, rumbling for 140 yards on 18 carries and one touchdown.
Whether Kelly will speak candidly regarding Folston's spot on the depth chart remains to be seen, though all signs point to the Cocoa, Fla., native being No. 2 in a one-two punch at running back along with Cam McDaniel.
Last week at Falcon Stadium, Notre Dame's defense looked suspect in the first half of an eventual 45-10 victory over Air Force, allowing the now-1-7 Falcons 10 quick points.
But Notre Dame's defensive coaching staff made the proper adjustments, most notable being the increased aggressiveness of its cornerbacks.
Starters Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell were extremely active against the Midshipmen to break contain. Such a stringent responsibility is unique to defending the triple option, meaning the duo will return to its normal base defense against Pittsburgh next week for the first time since the Irish's 14-10 victory two weeks ago.
A common fear of playing any service academy is the increased chance of significant injuries against the cut-blocking scheme that calls for low blocks in the knee region.
Luckily for the Irish, they escaped Saturday's victory against Navy without any debilitating injuries. That's great news for Kelly and his staff, which will need every available body during their stretch run to a potential BCS berth.
The best form of gaining experience is piling up live reps during live-game situations.
It's a critical task in developing quality depth, though Kelly wasn't afforded such an opportunity against Navy, as the Irish allowed the Midshipmen to remain in contention for a victory from wire to wire.
Without opportunities to play the second and third units consistently, chances to gain quality depth will be far and few between.
Kelly's "next man in" mantra manifested itself prior to Notre Dame's victory against Air Force last week, when freshman offensive lineman Steve Elmer was inserted at the starting right guard spot as incumbent starter Christian Lombard was lost for the season due to a back injury.
The heralded 6'5.5", 317-pounder appeared comfortable and steady in his second start in as many weeks and will be counted upon to maintain the consistency of the Irish offensive line.
While many will scoff at pointing out this seemingly unnoticeable performance, doing so would be foolish, as the freshman will be an integral piece of the Irish offense going forward.
After a 45-10 domination of Air Force and its triple-option offense last week, the preparation didn't pay off.
The Irish defense allowed 331 rushing yards to a Navy offense that largely kept the Midshipmen in the game for all 60 minutes. Against the Falcons, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's defense appeared disciplined and focused in a thorough effort.
But against Navy, Niumatalolo's squad easily ran over the Irish defenders en route to a near upset.
It was a rather surprising performance given Notre Dame's 24 points allowed in its previous two meetings with Navy.
Sitting with two losses prior to its victory against Navy this Saturday afternoon, Notre Dame was once again clinging to BCS aspirations.
And late in the fourth quarter, it appeared those aspirations would be dashed, though the Irish rallied and moved to 7-2 on the season. While it was an ugly and rather unimpressive victory, the win will likely move the Irish up the polls.
The BCS is still an unlikely destination given Notre Dame's matchup with No. 5 Stanford to close the season, though it remains a possibility nonetheless.
A pestering source of Notre Dame's struggles against the triple-option offense of Navy was stopping the Midshipmen on third down.
The Irish allowed Navy to convert 10 of 16 third downs, allowing Niumatalolo and Co. to keep their offense on the field much longer than desired. While it remains to be seen if Notre Dame's third-down woes will persist against Pittsburgh, BYU and Stanford, they were a concern against Navy.