Friday, October 27, 2006

Anchors Aweigh!

Notre Dame-Navy, not so much a rivalry as a contest defined by tradition and respect between two historic American institutions, resumes tomorrow in Baltimore with the Irish heavily in the BCS mix and the Midshipmen continuing their encouraging trend under Paul Johnson. Many college football pundits openly wonder why Notre Dame continues to schedule year in and year out a team they haven't lost to since the Roger Staubach era in 1963. The Irish have 43 consecutive wins against the academy, an NCAA record for one school versus another, and every game represents a pyhsical and statistical mismatch of epic proportions. But one thing Navy always does - play with pride and play with intensity. It's why, against Irish squads that were less focused, they came dangerously close to ending the streak on multiple occasions. But for a DJ Fitzpatrick field goal to close the game, the 2003 contest would have gone to overtime, and Bob Davie's 1999 squad needed a highly questionable spot of the ball on 4th-down to keep alive the game-winning touchdown drive. Here's hoping no similar heroics are necessary on Saturday...

#11 Notre Dame vs. US Naval Academy
12:00 PM EDT

M&T Bank Stadium -- Baltimore, MD

Why Navy Will Win

How to put this delicately - they can't. Not unless they generate an awesome ground attack or feel comfortable enough to put the ball in the air 35 times without an interception or an incompletion. It isn't that Navy doesn't have hard-working players - on the contrary, every coach in America would love the dedication these guys bring to the field. That's the best chance for Paul Johnson's crew, to just go out there with the old college try and pray for Notre Dame to make enough mistakes to let them stay in the game.

To Johnson's credit, he knows exactly what he's up against. "Notre Dame has Parade All-Americans, and we have guys who've marched in a parade", he is fond of saying. But he has still brough the Naval Academy one of the country's most potent rushing attacks (316 yards per game) and has to expect that his guys can control the line of scrimmage. If they do it long enough, limiting Brady Quinn's opportunities to light up a defense allowing 348 yards per game, his squad has a shot. It's all he can ask for.

Why Notre Dame Will Win

Notre Dame should DOMINATE the line of scrimmage against the Midshipmen. All those rushing yards are impressive, but quarterback Brandon Hampton was instrumental in that attack and he's out with a knee injury. Furthermore, the Irish are simply a much bigger, much stronger unit on both sides of the trench. Hey offensive line, want to shut people up for one week? Utilizing that 40-pounds-per-man advantage (294 vs. 251) you'll have against Navy would be good.

No matter what Navy's offense might be able to do against the front four of the Irish, where the physical matchup is basically even, Notre Dame's offense ought to be too much for the academy to hang with for very long. Look for the academy to mix in more passes early on than their used to, but a faster linebacking corps with Travis Thomas and a slimmed-down Chinedum Ndukwe should be able to contain the option better than Notre Dame has in year's past.

One of the interesting things to watch will be how Notre Dame does on the first three offensive series. Will the miracle play against the Bruins last week serve as another spark plug to early success, like three weeks ago when the offense ran rough-shod over Purdue, or will they come out lacksadaisical and let an opponent hang around. Last year's game was 28-7 at halftime. Let's see if the Irish can match that production again in Baltimore.

The Prediction

Charlie Weis has an immense amount of respect for Navy, but given the mini-controversy surrounding his assessment of pollster opinion and the suspect nature of Notre Dame's defense, perhaps he will not resist the urge to pour it on tomorrow.

Notre Dame 38, Navy 17.



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