It’s Midshipmen Week!
After a grueling first half of the 2016 season, Notre Dame’s bye week was a welcome respite from the mounting frustrations for Fighting Irish fans, as the season seemed to be slipping further and further away from any possible positive outcome for the Irish. The bye week seemed to have been a positive for the Irish, as well, as they came out firing against Miami, scoring the first 20 points in the game, including a touchdown on the opening drive. Unfortunately, they then gave up 27 unanswered points, before finally mounting a comeback and scoring on their final two possessions for the win. Obviously, Notre Dame’s propensity to give up large amounts of unanswered points is concerning, but the team showed there was still some fight left in them, and the manner in which they came back, while shutting Miami’s offense down in the latter part of the fourth quarter, should give Irish fans, not to mention the team, some optimism that the pieces are slowly starting to fall into place heading into an important match-up against the always determined Navy Midshipmen.
With Notre Dame’s 30-27 win over Miami last week, they kept their slim hopes for bowl game eligibility alive. With just four games left to play this season, the Irish need to win three of those to hit the minimum six win mark to be considered for a bowl game. It’s a task that shouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility for a team with so much talent, but with the way the Irish have been playing this season, it’s not a bet I’d be comfortable making. The Midshipmen enter the game with a 5-2 record, and a very impressive 46-40 win over then No. 6 ranked Houston; their other four wins have all come against unranked opponents, Fordham, Connecticut, Tulane, which required a late fourth quarter touchdown to pull out the win, and Memphis. Their two losses were to Air Force in Week 4, and last week’s 52-45 loss to USF.
In a series dating back to 1927, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Navy Midshipmen, will meet for the 90th consecutive time this Saturday. Notre Dame leads the series with a record of 76-12-1, and following two consecutive losses to Navy in 2009 and 2010, have won the last five meetings between the two schools. Many of these games have been played at neutral sites, as it will be this Saturday, and in those neutral site games, Notre Dame has a 47-7-1 record.
Players To Watch
After falling off over the last two games prior to the bye, against NC State and Stanford, where he threw for just 208 yards, zero touchdowns, and three interceptions, combined, Kizer rebounded with a solid game against Miami, finishing 25-38 with 263 passing yards, 2 TDs, and, most importantly, 0 INTs. Kizer’s faced the Midshipmen just once before, in 2015, where he led Notre Dame to a 41-24 over Navy, with three drives of 70 yards or more that reached the end zone, and the three CJ Prosise touchdowns that helped propel the Irish to victory; Kizer himself finished that game throwing for 281 yards 1 TD and 1 INT, and had 1 rushing TD, as well. Against Navy this Saturday, Kizer has a chance to lead the Irish to back-to-back wins for the first time this season, but, he’ll need to play a controlled, mistake free, game to lead the Irish to victory.
Equanimeous St. Brown
With the Irish offense getting back in synch against Miami, St. Brown had his best game since his 182 yard 2 TD game against Syracuse, three weeks ago, with 72 receiving yards and 1 TD on 6 receptions. The Irish offense will be facing the 89th ranked passing defense in the nation, that’s giving up an average of just over 250 yards a game, and has given up 11 receiving TDs through seven games played this season. The Irish will have plenty of opportunity to attack the Midshipmen through the air, and St. Brown should be able to break free for a few big plays, adding to his 683 yards and 7 TDs so far this season.
Tranquil is quietly having a very productive season, or at least he has been since the shift in defensive philosophies following the firing of Defensive Coordinator Brian VanGorder. He’s considered by the Irish coaches to be something of specialist against the triple-option at the safety position, and he’ll get a chance to show just how well he can play against the triple-option over the next two weeks as the Irish face Navy and then Army, the following week, in the Shamrock Series match-up. Tranquil’s been the leading tackler for the Irish the last few weeks, surpassing even Nyles Morgan, and is now the second leading tackler for the Irish with 56 total tackles (36 solo, and 20 assisted).
Players To Watch
Will Worth (QB)
The Senior QB took over for the much respected Keenan Reynolds, and with big shoes to fill, he’s led the Midshipmen to a solid season, even orchestrating a 46-40 win over then 6th ranked Houston. Within the Navy offense, as is usually the case, Worth isn’t called on to pass all that much, and the two games where he put up more than 200 yards passing were both losses, 260 yards passing against Air Force, and 299 yards passing against USF just last week; Worth has just 6 passing TDs against 3 INTs this season. He can run the ball well, though, and he’s actually the team leader in rushing with 618 yards on the ground. He leads the team in rushing TDs, by a large margin, as well, with 13 on the season, with the leading running back for the team having just 5 rushing TDs.
Josiah Powell (LB)
The senior linebacker is having a very productive final season, and is tied for the third leading tackler for the Midshipmen. Powell recorded his first interception of his career against Houston, and followed it up with a second which he returned for a touchdown, in Navy’s upset of Houston. He was named the Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week for his play against Houston, and is now on the Bronko Nagurski Watch List. Powell will be key to Navy shutting down the Irish run game, but he’s also impressed in pass coverage, as well. Through seven games, Powell has 35 tackles (21 solo, 14 assisted) on the season, 3 TFL, 1 sack, and 2 INTs.
Fighting Irish Keys To Victory
Special Teams Play
There’s really no nice way to describe the special teams play against Miami. It was horrible, embarrassing, abysmal, and it directly led to 10 of Miami’s 27 unanswered points in the game. From the two fumbles on punt returns, the blocked punt, and the onside kick that froze the Irish special teams, these weren’t fluke plays, or outstanding hustle by Miami’s own special teams, they were fundamental mistakes on the part of the Irish. That the Irish were able to survive them, and still win, is pretty remarkable, but the Irish need to avoid repeating these mistakes this week; the Irish simply can’t count on being that lucky against a Navy team where every (potential) Irish possession needs to be taken advantage of.
There has definitely been a shift in the defensive energy over the last few games, and the Irish defense seems to be playing better at each defensive level, with the defensive line getting pressure, and, most importantly, Irish defenders getting stops with their initial tackle attempts. Against a triple-option running team like Navy, sure tackling, or the lack thereof, is all too often the deciding factor in coming away with a win, or a loss. Jarron Jones had a career day playing against Miami, with 6 TFL, and it would be nice to see more than a few of those here, against Navy, but an Irish victory is most certainly going to come down to wrapping up the ball carrier on the initial contact to avoid giving up big chunk plays to an offense that has the ability to pound the ball, and wear defenses out.
Winning is good. I like it when the Irish win, it brings a certain sense of optimism to my life. And, after two dismal weeks with losses to NC State and Stanford, I have to say that the win over Miami has restored my optimism in the Fighting Irish, to a point. They’re not world beaters by any stretch of the imagination, but, as is usually the case, they’re more talented, across the board, than their Navy opponents this week, and they are good enough to beat Navy, if they’re able to clean up their mistakes, and carry the progress they did make against Miami forward. The Irish only need three more wins to be bowl eligible, and one of those wins will come this week, against Navy.
Final Score: Notre Dame 37 – Navy 30