Back to basics for No. 9 Irish in home finale against Navy
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — For No. 9 Notre Dame, Saturday’s game against long-time rival Navy is about basics training.
After committing four turnovers and not getting any of their own in a humbling, 41-8 loss at Miami, the Fighting Irish (8-2, No. 8 CFP) host a Navy team that does two basics better than anyone else in college football: They rush the ball for 369.8 yards per game and they keep it an average of 35:47.
Besides its proficient triple-option attack, Navy (6-3) brings a discipline that Notre Dame will need to emulate in cold, rainy conditions expected for the schools’ 91st consecutive meeting dating to 1927. Finishing off drives with points, something Notre Dame did just once against the Hurricanes, is a must against the Midshipmen.
“Last year, we scored but we didn’t score touchdowns,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “You have to score touchdowns.”
Last season, Notre Dame lost 28-27 to Navy despite scoring on five of six possessions. After kicking a field goal with 7:28 left, Notre Dame never saw the football again as Navy ran out the clock.
Against Miami, Notre Dame totaled just 261 yards, including 109 rushing, nearly 216 yards below its average. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush had 119 yards passing, two interceptions, was sacked five times and fumbled once.
“It’s been a week of getting back to the fundamentals,” Wimbush said.
Navy’s quarterback - whoever it will be - does those well. Last week, slotback Malcolm Perry moved behind center and ran for 282 yards and four TDs before spraining an ankle in a 43-40 win over SMU that broke a three-game losing skid.
If Perry can’t go, coach Ken Niumatalolo likely turns to a healthy Zach Abey, who has 1,202 yards and 13 TDs, or possibly Garret Lewis, who is more of a thrower. There’s also fullback Anthony Gargiulo, who had a career-high 145 yards in place of banged-up starter Chris High.
“You’ve got to be at the right place in the right timing against an offense like this,” Notre Dame linebacker Greer Martini said. “If you’re not, they exploit you.”
Niumatalolo is wary.
“Notre Dame is Notre Dame,” he said. “This is going to be a tough game for us. It always is.”
In addition to its ability to control the clock by running the football, Navy doesn’t hurt itself with penalties — it has committed just 40 in nine games. Plus, it has an ability to keep drives alive (the Midshipmen convert 47.6 percent of the time). Navy ran for 559 yards against SMU and did not complete a pass, a first for an American Athletic Conference team.
Despite surrendering the football four times (three interceptions, one fumble) at Miami and not gaining a turnover itself for the first time this season, Notre Dame still is plus-8 in turnovers (19 for, 11 against) for a turnover margin of 0.80, 15th best in the country. Notre Dame has outscored its foes 108-34 after takeaways.
Notre Dame’s Josh Adams, with 1,231 rushing yards but just 62 total against Wake Forest and Miami, has seven carries of at least 60 yards or more this season, which leads the nation. Included among them are TD runs of 84 yards (vs. USC), 77 (N.C. State) and 73 twice (North Carolina and Miami, Ohio). But the Irish are eager to see Adams regain his early-season form.
BOWLS AWAY - AND HOME
After finishing last season 4-8 and staying home for the holidays, Notre Dame has a chance to finish 10-2 with victories against Navy and Stanford. Though their chances are slim for a playoff semifinal bowl (Rose or Sugar), the Irish could receive a berth in the Orange or Cotton. Navy, which is bowl eligible for the sixth straight season and 14th in the last 15, is likely to be home for the holidays in the Military Bowl on Dec. 28.
THE ULTIMATE LIFE PRESERVER
Notre Dame won 43 consecutive games against Navy from 1964-2006. The schools, however, refused to end the series because during World War II, a time of declining enrollment at Notre Dame, Navy established a college training program in South Bend to keep Notre Dame operating. Navy’s 46-44 triple-overtime victory in 2007 that ended the streak came in the same Notre Dame Stadium that Navy helped dedicate on Oct. 11, 1930.
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