Here we go.
Five games in five Saturdays — starting under the lights tomorrow for the Irish versus Navy.
After a weekend off, Notre Dame football gets back into the swing of things this weekend in a first-time venue, San Diego.
With previous Notre Dame-Navy neutral-site contests held primarily of late in New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia, this visit to SDCCU Stadium is an anomaly. Meanwhile, after a game a year from now in Note Dame Stadium, the two teams (as announced Thursday) will reconvene at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, to open the 2020 campaign.
Here’s what to consider in advance of the Irish matchup with the Midshipmen:
Know thy foe. There aren’t many secrets when it comes to facing Navy. The Mids don’t make mistakes (second nationally in fewest penalty yards at 32.57 per game). They force fumbles (sixth nationally in that category with nine recovered). They don’t throw interceptions (only two all year). When they do complete a pass, it’s for lots of yards (sixth nationally at 16.61 yards each). They run the ball (no surprise there at 309.4 yards per game, third nationally). They possess the football (fourth nationally at 35:36 of possession time per outing).
Score when the chance is there. History says there won’t be many possessions for either team, in great part because of Navy’s ball-possession running style. So Notre Dame needs to take advantage of every opportunity to put points on the board. A year ago in a seven-point victory, the Irish had the ball eight times (eliminating two plays at the end when the Irish killed the clock) — and those equated to consecutive touchdown drives of 62, 78 and 80 yards, one field goal, three punts and one lost fumble. Navy had six drives of 10 or more plays in the 24-17 Irish triumph. The previous year — in a 28-27 Notre Dame loss in Jacksonville — the Irish had only two second-half possessions. One 10-play drive produced a touchdown. The other 10-play drive produced a field goal. But Navy won the game by virtue of a 16-play, nine-minute touchdown drive and a 14-play drive that didn’t produce points but ran the final 7:28 off the clock. So any Navy opponent is at risk when it comes to the possession game.
Point parade. Notre Dame has averaged 37.75 points per game versus Navy during the Brian Kelly years (eight games). The current Midshipmen are allowing 34.3 points per game (107th nationally). That suggests that quarterback Ian Book and his teammates need to be effective, efficient and productive when the Irish have the football Saturday night.
Bend, don’t break. Navy is happy to lull a defense to sleep with its option attack — four yards here, three yards there, five yards here. Notre Dame is unlikely to completely shut down a running game that makes its life with expertise in that category. The Irish held the Mids to 196 and 149 rushing yards in big Notre Dame wins in 2011 and 2012, yet Navy during the Kelly years still have averaged 297.8 ground yards per game against Notre Dame. The key is not to let the Mids bleed the Irish defense to death in the process.
The second half. Navy, in its four consecutive losses, has managed only 8.75 points per third and fourth period combined. The Irish defense needs to find a way to continue that trend.
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is the author, co-author or editor of 12 books (one a New York Times bestseller) and editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.