Friday, November 02, 2007

Streak? STREAK?!?

I just hope we can win a game. Don't be talkin' about streaks. You kiddin' me? Streaks?

As you may or may not be aware, Notre Dame has beaten Navy 43 times in a row, the last victory for the Midshipmen coming during the last throes of their football dominance when Roger Staubach was quarterback in 1963 (The Mids finished the season 9-1, ranked second, and Staubach won the Heisman.) Notre Dame hired Ara Parseghian the next season, and despite some game efforts from luminaries like Gerry Faust, Bob Davie, and The Great Molder of Men, no Notre Dame coach has lost to Navy since.

Generally speaking, the game has not been close. Only three times in the past 20 years has it been decided by less than a touchdown, and Notre Dame has broken 35 points 11 times in that span (and never failed to score fewer than 22). But this is not your older brother's Notre Dame - or, for that matter, your Notre Dame. Time to shape up the Midshipmen and the Irish...

Game 9....

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. US Naval Academy Midshipmen
2:30 PM EST
Notre Dame Stadium - Notre Dame, IN

Why Navy Will Win

Navy head coach Paul Johnson is always good for a quote as it concerns Notre Dame, from the self-deprecating, "It's not like they've beaten Southern Cal 41 times in a row", to the humbling, "Notre Dame's got Parade All-Americans, we have guys who march in a parade", to the obvious, "I'm sure they can't wait to play us." Johnson's also a pretty good football coach who's quickly overhauled the Navy attack into one of the most dominant rushing games in football, year-in-and-year-out. A healthy portion of the credit for that goes to the novelty factor, as the "option offense" has gone the way of the dodo in most major college programs, allowing Navy to surprise more than a few teams with it, but generally they get worn down against teams with superior size and skill across the balance of 60 minutes. For example, against Wake Forest the Mids were 5-of-7 on third-down conversions in the first quarters, but only 4-of-10 from that point out as the Demon Deacons adjusted to seeing the option at game speed and put them in more third-and-longs.

The key to a Navy win rests with winning first downs - chewing up 5 yards a pop to give themselves opportunities to keep the ball and roll up points. The downfall of Navy's 4 losses have not been on the offensive side of the ball, as even in defeat they've piled up no worse than 24 points. Against a weak rushing defense and with a dynamic rushing attack, Navy should chew clock. Although the Irish offense represents one the Midshipmen ought to stop, the fewer chances ND gets the better from Johnson's perspective. Watch Navy's overall gain on first downs - if it's +5 for the game, they can (and probably should) win.

Why Notre Dame Will Win

It's weakness vs. weakness in sizing up the Notre Dame offense and the Navy defense. The Irish score on nobody, the Mids don't stop anybody. Clearly, something must give.

The first 8 opponents on the schedule didn't provide many opportunities for Notre Dame's young talent to get their feet set - first came blitz-happy GaTech (no. 7 in total defense), the veteran Penn State crew (no. 12), Michigan (no. 21), plus UCLA (slipped to no. 42 after weak performances vs. Cal & WSU, but were top 20) and USC (no. 4). Against the three weakest defenses they face (Boston College, Michigan State, and Purdue, in that statistical ranking order) there were some signs of life for the Irish. James Aldridge against the Spartans. Golden Tate and Duval Kamara against Purdue. Robby Parris against BC. And now, finally, the youngsters get to play a truly awful defensive team. It could be the open invitation to run wild they probably needed at the start of the season in order to gel as a unit (thanks for that front-loaded schedule, Kevin White). Or it could be a sad, sad confirmation that this team really is that far away from being a potent offense once more. The Irish can win if they execute assignment football on defense and finally take advantage of the weak links. If Notre Dame wins, look for a big day from Tate, Kamara, or perhaps Evan Sharpley or Armando Allen (above, left) as the big reason why.

The Prediction

The soft under-belly of a brutal schedule is finally here for Notre Dame. Unfortunately, so is the specter of further embarrassment by becoming the first team in 45 years to lose to Navy. Much like the USC game two weeks ago, the Irish performances this season (and the general state of college football) have me numb to almost any outcome. Navy could win by 1 point and I would be no more shocked than if Notre Dame were to win by 21. Nothing counts as a surprise anymore for this game and this season. As for November 3rd? The Irish running game finally asserts itself and a healthy Aldridge (along with lightning-quick Allen) rule the day...barely.

Notre Dame 27, Navy 24.

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