This ongoing series examines Notre Dame’s 2014 opponents as they stand in before the season. We’re going down Notre Dame’s schedule, so next up: The Navy Midshipmen.
Date: 8 p.m. Nov. 1 at FedEx Field (Landover, Md.).
Series history: Notre Dame leads, 72-12-1.
Last meeting: 2013 — Notre Dame won, 38-34.
2013 common opponents: Air Force (Notre Dame won, 45-10; Navy won, 28-10); Pittsburgh (Notre Dame lost, 28-21; Navy won, 24-21).
2013 in a nutshell
Navy fluctuated throughout 2013, struggling against Western Kentucky, Duke and Toledo but battle against Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and San Jose State. The Mids flat-out rolled over South Alabama, Army, Hawaii and Eastern Tennessee in its bowl game to finish a solid 9-4. In fact, Navy has been to 11 bowls in the last 12 years, an impressive feat considering the size, recruitment and budgetary restrictions service academies face.
Previous pre-season previews:
Players/positions to watch
- Keenan Reynolds, quarterback: Reynolds is already generating pre-season buzz as a potential Heisman contender this year. His 31 rushing touchdowns in 2013 set a college football record for most rushing TDs by a quarterback. He rushed for more than 100 yards in six games and more than 200 yards in two. Reynolds has talent as a passer, too, though he needs to do it more. He only completed 61-of-108 passes in 2013 (compare that to Golson’s 189-of-318 in 2012), but also only threw two interceptions the entire year.
- Linebacker: Navy is searching for new middle linebackers after graduating D.J. Sargenti and Cody Peterson. They combined for 252 tackles and 12½ tackles for loss last year. Bob Diaco operated the “bend-don’t-break” defense at Notre Dame, but Navy has thrived off of it. Middle linebackers are imperative to that type of defense, so Navy will need replacements to emerge.
Reynolds very nearly pulled off the upset at Notre Dame Stadium a year ago, and that was against a much more experienced front seven. How he’ll fare against Brian VanGorder’s aggressive defense remains to be seen, but I doubt Notre Dame outright stops this third-year starter and a stable of fullbacks.
Navy is a team on the rise, and Notre Dame is a young team that only gets younger if the four players currently suspended during the academic investigation aren’t reinstated. The way the Irish win this one is building a comfortable lead early and hanging on to it. The Irish come off a bye week and win this one (though not by much) in a shootout.