Notre Dame’s air attack downs No. 23 Navy in 52-20 rout

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Perhaps there is something witty to quip about a player with “pool” in his name having a record-setting day against Navy, but what Chase Claypool did during No. 16 Notre Dame’s 52-20 blowout was anything but witty. Claypool was acrobatic, sure-handed and downright dominating in tying the Irish record with four touchdown receptions in a game. As a whole, Notre Dame matched Claypool’s excellence.

While the Irish struggled to consistently reach that standard early in the season, this was their second impressive performance in a row, a run that extends into the end of their 21-20 victory against Virginia Tech on Nov. 2. Head coach Brian Kelly sensed the strong play was going to continue Saturday, rather than return to only sporadic showings.

“I could tell in pregame that Navy was in trouble,” Kelly said. “They really were. And that’s just the maturation of a group of guys that needed to figure out how to go from preparation phase to playing phase.”

Maturing from preparation to playing might as well sum up both Claypool’s career and season, culminating in this record day. The first three of Ian Book’s five touchdown passes went to Claypool, making the senior receiver wait until the third quarter to tie Maurice Stovall’s 19-year-old record.

With that twisting 20-yard snag, Claypool had four scores and Book five, the third time this season he has thrown five touchdowns in one game. Ranked No. 23 in the most recent rendition of the College Football Playoff poll, the Midshipmen (7-2) were expected to be a much stiffer challenge than either New Mexico or Bowling Green.

Claypool and Book made sure they were not.

“He’s throwing the ball up and giving me a chance to make a play,” Claypool said. “I’m happy that I’m able to make some plays for him just to build that trust a little more.”

As impressive as the offensive explosion was — and few other words suffice to describe a day when Book went 14-of-20 for 284 passing yards and five touchdowns, when Claypool caught seven passes for 117 yards, when Notre Dame (8-2) gained 300 yards before halftime — the Irish defense held Navy’s triple-option attack in check just as effectively.

By holding the Midshipmen to only 151 first-half yards, on a 4.08 yards per play average, Notre Dame’s defense gave its offense a chance to build that early lead rather than sit on the sideline watching endless and mundane Navy drives. Instead of the Midshipmen draining the clock — they finally strung together a typical 18-play drive in the fourth quarter, reminding all of the impressive but numbing ability of the triple-option attack — the Irish defense set up three touchdown drives by forcing fumbles.

Notre Dame got the ball back quickly, and it never needed long to score. At one point, Book connected on four touchdowns within eight Irish plays for 156 yards. A scoreless game was suddenly 28-0.

It was that kind of day for the Irish, one of sheer dominance, which Claypool embodied, against a ranked opponent best-known for minimizing the effects of a talent differential. The Irish emphasized their talent advantage Saturday, Claypool most of all.

PLAYER OF THE GAME
Claypool’s first touchdown was only from seven yards out, but it underscored how much of a mismatch he would be for Navy as much as any of the following three would. Plenty of crossing routes become scores, but not that many become so easy a player can relish the last few yards. Claypool could.

Yet, the Midshipmen put a linebacker on him on the next drive, a result of Notre Dame motion designed to create a likely mismatch. Neither Claypool nor Book had to think much about what to do next.

“We knew it was a mismatch or a miscommunication of some sort, because we hadn’t seen that on film ever, and it hasn’t even happened this year,” Claypool said. “I think Ian knew it right away. I knew it right away. I was running down the field with a big smile on my face before the ball was even thrown.”

47 yards later and Claypool had given the Irish a commanding lead. Book kept going to him, including that tough catch along the sideline for the record-tying score.

“Chase always has the juice,” Book said. “He’s always talking and he’s such a confident person, like he should be. You can tell when he gets on a roll. You want to keep giving him the ball. Even though it might not be the clearest look, he’s going to come down with it, and that’s the best. Makes my job a lot easier.”

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
The triple-option tightens its grip only as a game remains tied or within one-possession. As long as that is the case, that offense can take as long as is needed to score, and by taking so long, it can reduce the effects of any discrepancies between the two rosters. When Navy responded to Claypool’s first score by methodically taking 11 plays and more than six minutes to move 48 yards, a tie game seemed likely, the beginnings of a long afternoon for Notre Dame.

Then, senior defensive end Khalid Kareem swatted the ball out of Midshipmen quarterback Malcolm Perry’s grasp. Fifth-year linebacker Asmar Bilal recovered the loose ball at the 27-yard line. Two plays later, Claypool had scored again.

“Any time you get Navy to turn the football over, [the turnovers are] going to be huge for you,” Kelly said. “We were active, we were fast, we were physical. They hadn’t played a team quite like that all year. It’s difficult, we talk so much about our inability to map the speed of the triple-option; well, they can’t map the speed of our defense.”

Kareem would force another fumble, that one coming when he was blocked but could see the ball just ahead of him as Perry pondered a pitch and Kareem “just kind of tapped it out.”

“Coach was saying, when we’re tackling this week for the option, wrap up but also have the outside hand up to tip the ball,” Kareem said. “Paul did that today and scored.”

PLAY OF THE GAME
Kareem was referring to Irish sophomore linebacker Paul Moala, who forced and recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown all in one motion. He may have been cheating off his assignment a bit, but the ploy worked.

“I was supposed to play the quarterback to the pitch, so I got lucky enough to be able to get him to pitch the ball a little early,” Moala said.

STAT OF THE GAME
Notre Dame’s 273-game sell-out streak reached its official conclusion with an announced crowd of 74,080 falling short of the Stadium’s 77,622 capacity. This was expected all week and was, of course, only a matter of time as attendance suffers at sporting events nationwide.

QUOTE OF THE GAME
Claypool came to South Bend from British Columbia. He got on recruiting radars by dominating games against competition that Kelly could not help but acknowledge was inferior. Back then, that served the effect of forcing Kelly to fly to the northwest to assess Claypool in person — there was no way he could be as dominant as the film suggested.

Thus, Kelly was the only person in the media room Saturday not shocked by the following exchange …

Reporter: “I know you had big games in high school, but have you ever caught four touchdown passes before in a game?”
Claypool: “I haven’t caught four touchdown passes.”
Reporter: “You ran some in or something?”
Claypool: “Yeah … [slightest of delays] … I had 10 one time.”
The entire press corps: “What?!?!”

Claypool explained it was actually a game much like the win against Navy, one in which his team — in eighth grade — knew it needed to maximize possessions against a triple-option attack.

“It was against our rival, No. 1 team in the league. They ran a triple-option, so similar to this team. We knew that every possession we got was kind of going to be important. We just had a good game plan. Went out there and ran around a little bit.”

SCORING SUMMARY
First Quarter
9:39 — Notre Dame touchdown. Chase Claypool 7-yard pass from Ian Book. Jonathan Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 7, Navy 0. (11 plays, 75 yards, 5:21)
3:11 — Notre Dame touchdown. Claypool 47-yard pass from Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 14, Navy 0. (2 plays, 73 yards, 0:23)

Second Quarter
12:32 — Notre Dame touchdown. Claypool 3-yard pass from Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 21, Navy 0. (4 plays, 39 yards, 1:35)
10:27 — Notre Dame touchdown. Braden Lenzy 70-yard pass from Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 28, Navy 0. (1 play, 70 yards, 0:09)
4:45 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 32 yards. Notre Dame 31, Navy 0. (7 plays, 29 yards, 3:23)
1:30 — Notre Dame touchdown. Tony Jones 2-yard rush. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 38, Navy 3. (9 plays, 72 yards, 1:24)
0:00 — Navy field goal. Bijan Nichols 27 yards. Notre Dame 38, Navy 3. (9 plays, 72 yards, 1:24)

Third Quarter
9:55 — Notre Dame touchdown. Claypool 27-yard pass from Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 45, Navy 3. (7 plays, 78 yards, 2:09)
1:42 — Navy touchdown. Mychal Cooper 43-yard pass from Perry Olsen. Nichols PAT good. Notre Dame 45, Navy 10. (7 plays, 74 yards, 3:36)

Fourth Quarter
14:39 — Notre Dame touchdown. Paul Moala 27-yard fumble return. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 52, Navy 10.
5:31 — Navy touchdown. Olsen 2-yard rush. Nichols PAT good. Notre Dame 52, Navy 17. (18 plays, 75 yards, 9:08)
1:18 — Navy field goal. Nichols 36-yard field goal. Notre Dame 52, Navy 20. (6 plays, 25 yards, 2:01)

No. 16 Notre Dame vs. No. 23 Navy: Who, what, when, where, why and by how much

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WHO? No. 16 Notre Dame (7-2) vs. No. 23 Navy (7-1).

WHAT? The Irish and Midshipmen have not met with both ranked since 1978. More precisely, Navy has not been ranked for this matchup since then. By no means was that expected this year, with the Midshipmen coming off a 3-10 struggle last season. In fact, this space’s preseason predictions expected only Virginia to visit Notre Dame as a ranked opponent.

WHEN? 2:30 ET. Kickoff should be the usual 12 minutes later, with a flyover in the interim.

WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind. Temperatures should be in the mid-30s for the 70,000+ in attendance. Why such a vague number, rather than the capacity of 77,622? Notre Dame does not expect a sellout, snapping a streak of 273 Irish home games dating back to 1973.

While it may have been the second-longest such streak in NCAA history, it was hardly a genuine run for quite some time. Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick acknowledged some of those borderline-forced sales from recent years.

“Group sales were a big part of keeping the streak going, too,” Swarbrick told the South Bend Tribune. “We’d go to somebody who was ‘a friend of Notre Dame’ and say, ‘Gee, can you help us with this game? Can you buy 50 tickets and distribute them to your employees?’”

NBC will have the national broadcast, with the game streaming online and via the NBC Sports app. As always, NBC Sports Gold is available to international fans.

WHY? Why did the sellout streak end? A combination of reasons, including three home games in November, all against lackluster opponents. Even if this is the highest Navy has been ranked when facing the Irish in 41 years, it is not an opponent many fans will schedule their travel around.

Add to that the factors leading to dwindling attendance across the country — higher-quality televisions, booming ticket prices, sheer inconvenience, general economic concerns — and the only surprise is that the sellout streak did not end earlier. It probably would have if the Stadium renovations a few years ago had not removed a few thousand seats and moved the Notre Dame band into the stands, taking up a couple hundred more.

BUT BACK TO FOOTBALL, WHY? To quote Irish head coach Brian Kelly on what stands out about this annual meeting:

“Just the respect part of it in terms of who we’re going against, leaders of our country, Naval Academy, coaching staff, players. That, to me, is what’s great about this game. The history and tradition behind it and why this game is being played today.”

BY HOW MUCH? The Irish opened as 11-point favorites six days ago, but that number slowly ticked down to a touchdown, where it stood as Friday turned to Saturday. That shift was more a reflection of how good the Midshipmen have looked this season than it was a criticism of the Irish. Specifically, Navy’s defense might have a chance at keeping Notre Dame in check.

That has long been the make-or-break aspect in this series. While the Irish sometimes struggle defending the triple-option, they are rarely gashed by it. Garbage time propelled the Midshipmen to 39 points in 2014; they genuinely ripped through Bob Diaco’s defense in 2010; and triple overtime inflated the totals in 2007. Otherwise, Navy has scored 30 or more points on Notre Dame only twice in the last 56 years, in a competitive game in 2013 and in an Irish blowout in 1990. (The Midshipmen won 35-14 in 1963, ranked No. 4 at the time, the last Naval victory against Notre Dame for 43 years.)

Keeping Navy below 30 points so frequently meant the Irish just needed to get some points on the board. Not so many as to constitute an offensive explosion, but enough to exert control of the game. That will be tougher Saturday than in years’ past.

Midshipmen head coach Ken Niumatalolo pulled Brian Newberry up from Kennesaw State to take over as Navy’s defensive coordinator this year, and the results have been undeniably successful. While total stats can be deflated against the Midshipmen because of the time drained by the triple-option, averages and rates put a strong defense in perspective.

Navy gives up 3.22 yards per rush, No. 18 in the country, and it is No. 19 in passing efficiency defense. Midshipmen opponents have scored on only 72.7 percent of their red-zone possessions, No. 17 in the country, and convert only 32.5 percent of their third downs, No. 23.

“From a transformational standpoint, their defense is so much better at everything that they do from coverage to getting after the quarterback,” Kelly said Monday. “… Part of it is scheme, part of it is they got some good players with some experience. I like their safeties; they can play anywhere in the country, both of them.”

Yet, a combined point total over/under of 55 suggests Notre Dame should score 31. It still has skill players far more talented than Navy’s best defenders, even those safeties, junior Evan Fochtman and sophomore Kevin Brennan.

The Irish will need those playmakers to open this up and force the Midshipmen away from the triple-option. Senior receiver Chase Claypool will need to continue to make highlight catches; junior tight end Cole Kmet will need to continue to exploit mismatches; and fifth-year receiver Chris Finke will need to continue his recent surge.

Otherwise, the Midshipmen red-zone and third-down discipline may bog down the Irish offense until the afternoon becomes a stressful endeavor. Just a few chunk plays should do the trick. The two times Navy has given up more than 30 points this season, the opposition had 11 possessions.

Notre Dame 31, Navy 21.
(8-1 in pick; 4-5 against the spread, 4-5 point total.)

INSIDE THE IRISH READING:
A rarity, Notre Dame might not be doomed by season-ending injuries
Kmet, Eichenberg declare plans to return to Notre Dame for final seasons in 2020
Pick your preferred Big 12 bowl opponent
And In That Corner … The No. 23 Navy Midshipmen
Things To Learn: Notre Dame’s long-ago lessons still apply to No. 23 Navy

OUTSIDE READING:
God, Country, Notre Dame: Gilman has evolved into a central leader for Notre Dame, drawing from his experiences in Hawaii, Naval Academy
If you want Navy off the schedule, get over yourself
Sellout streak at Notre Dame Stadium ends at 273 games
Flyover details
Recruiting analysis: Breakdown of Notre Dame’s three cornerback commits
Pat Connaughton making most of chance with Bucks

 

Things To Learn: Notre Dame’s long-ago lessons still apply to No. 23 Navy

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Since losing to Navy became a possibility in 2007, four different Notre Dame defensive coordinator reigns have come and gone, each suffering a besmirching at the hands of the Midshipmen.

Corwin Brown snapped the 43-year winning streak by allowing Navy to convert 9-of-16 third downs. Jon Tenuta’s defense gave up 6.1 yards per rush in 2009, a number matched by Bob Diaco’s botched planning in 2010. The remains of Brian VanGorder’s defenses had the most trouble getting off the field in 2016, giving up first downs on two-thirds of the Midshipmen’s third and fourth downs.

The Mike Elko-into-Clark Lea tenure has not had that humbling moment in its first two seasons. In fact, the Irish have handled the triple-option challenge with aplomb the last couple years, keeping Navy to only 12-of-24 on third and fourth downs in 2017 and 4-of-15 last season. The better of those two Midshipmen squads, the 2017 version, managed only 3.8 yards per rush against Notre Dame.

Finding that defensive success once was a good sign for Elko’s and Lea’s schemes. One could argue doing so twice was a coincidence bolstered by a subpar Navy rendition. Keeping the triple-option in check a third year in a row would be the latest pillar in Lea’s reputation.

Lea’s defenses have given way just once in his two seasons as coordinator, though that once is still fresh in memory. He has proven adept at developing players, linebackers in particular. And recruiting has ticked upward the last few cycles. But stopping the Midshipmen is a different beast entirely.

It is a headache with prep requiring the services of specific offensive players, ones sought in recruiting.

The Irish devote parts of the spring, preseason and the idle week to working against the triple-option. Last year, then-freshman receiver Lawrence Keys spent time as the scout team quarterback to give Lea’s defense a look at the triple-option ripe with speed. This season, those duties have been handled by freshman receiver Kendall Abdur-Rahman, a fall removed from his time as a high school quarterback. Walk-on Cole Capen, a high school option quarterback, chips in a good amount, as well.

“We always have a plan to get some speed at the position,” head coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. “Then somebody that’s really efficient with the football to run the triple-option effectively, so the ball is not on the ground.”

There is a dichotomy to that challenge. Anyone both fast enough and well-versed enough in the triple-option has probably gone to play at a program using it, yet No. 16 Notre Dame needs to be ready for that speedy efficiency. Keys and now Abdur-Rahman provide the speed the Irish defense needs to adjust to while Capen gives the fundamental look.

Keys and Abdur-Rahman were not recruited for this scout-team need. Keys has already proven himself a worthwhile contributor in the making on the first-team offense, and Abdur-Rahman’s multi-tool potential could force him onto the field sooner than expected. Nonetheless, Kelly and his staff recognized this other practical application of their abilities while chasing their National Letters of Intent.

“Our coaches are always looking at Navy, always have within what we recruit — we always recruit somebody that can play in the quarterback position that can run triple-option,” Kelly said. “… We stay on top of it all year-round because it’s very difficult to prepare for this team with three days of practice.”

These approaches are the results of lessons learned the hard way. Diaco’s failure to account for the veer in 2010 was particularly appalling, as was his remaining shock afterward that anyone could have possibly seen the adjustment coming. These roster wrinkles are thought of and implemented only because the Irish face the Midshipmen every year; if it was a sporadic series, that prep would get shelved for years at a time and forgotten. All this came to be long before Lea, but he is now its beneficiary.

He furthered Notre Dame’s success against Navy the last two seasons in his work with the Irish linebackers. When Drue Tranquill sprained his ankle early in last year’s matchup, it could have spelled doom. An underclassman not disciplined in details could be overwhelmed by the triple-option. Instead, then-sophomore Drew White stepped in without flinching, finishing with six tackles.

It was a moment that put White’s name alongside Greer Martini’s as a triple-option specialist.

“Everybody gets their opportunity and chance, and when you get it you need to make the best of it,” Kelly said Monday. “He made the best of his one opportunity and chance, and that was his one opportunity.

“Option football requires a discipline. It requires a knowledge and awareness. Those instincts obviously serve you well at that middle linebacker position. It was a glimpse of things that were to come.”

White has indeed followed a career path more resembling Tranquill’s than Martini’s — far from actually reaching Tranquill’s, just more on that end of the spectrum — currently second on the team with 55 tackles, trailing fifth-year linebacker Asmar Bilal by one.

Irish senior safety and captain Alohi Gilman first showed up on Notre Dame’s radar as he helped Navy engineer an upset of the Irish in 2016. (Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The task will be more difficult for both White and Lea this time around, the result of the Midshipmen moving Malcolm Perry back to quarterback and running to a 7-1 record as a result, ranked No. 23 and in position to chase a Cotton Bowl berth.

“He’s precise, very secure with the football,” Kelly said of Perry. “He’s a point guard, distributing, making really good decisions. Very difficult to defend.”

Kelly did not specifically mention Perry’s speed and quickness, presumably because it was implied. If White or Bilal or anyone else among Lea’s charges misses a fit, Perry will make the Irish pay for the mistake. And if they don’t miss a fit, Navy’s coaching staff will look to manufacture such a mistake. That staff is, after all, made up of triple-option experts, as well, a fact not always given proper due.

“They can make adjustments to what you’re trying to do in a split second,” Kelly said. “… They’ve seen it all. You’ve got the best and brightest that are playing at the academy that can make some quick adjustments in-game, at halftime, so they’re not going to be fooled by what they see.”

This was all somewhat known by Brown, by Tenuta, maybe not by Diaco at first, and who knows about VanGorder. None of it will catch Lea unaware.

Nor will Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long be caught by surprise. He knows the Midshipmen shorten the game. When Notre Dame lost 28-27 in 2016, its offense touched the ball a total of six times, including just twice in the second half. It scored on five of those drives. As much as that loss twisted the knife in VanGorder’s already-fired back, the defeat also traced to a second-quarter punt.

One wasted drive by Ian Book & Co. could doom the Irish, no matter how well Lea’s defense plays, no matter how inspired senior safety Alohi Gilman plays in what could be his last game against his former teammates, no matter how good of a Perry impersonation Abdur-Rahman put forth the last six months.

 

And In That Corner … The No. 23 Navy Midshipmen, perpetually Notre Dame’s nuisance

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Some consider this weekend an annual three-hour headache. Some see it as a yearly historical homage. And some see it as the perennial challenge to Notre Dame’s greater hopes. That last view, in particular, holds merit this year as Navy enters this weekend ranked No. 23 and with plenty of motivation, even more than usual, to upset the Irish.

Notre Dame could have been forgiven for overlooking Navy in 2018. That is very much no longer the case. Ava Wallace of The Washington Post is here to explain what changed …

DF: A year ago, we talked about how unexpected Navy’s fall was. When they met the Irish, the Midshipmen were 2-5. I think now we can talk about the exact opposite, how unexpected this rise to 7-1 was. Much of it traces to quarterback Malcolm Perry, averaging 130.3 rushing yards per game with 16 rushing touchdowns. What Navy quarterbacks of recent history does Perry compare to? What has made him so aptly fit the triple-option?

AW: I’m glad you asked about Perry; his finally embracing a leadership role at Navy and studying the triple-option like crazy over the summer has paid off hugely for the Mids, as you said. To answer your first question — thanks to his incredible speed, the senior ranks fairly well against Navy’s most recent quarterback of note, Keenan Reynolds. Take a look at Navy’s record books and you’ll see Perry ranks third all-time for most 100-yard career rushing games with 16 (Reynolds is No. 1 with 22) and fourth all-time for career all-purpose yards with 4,345 (Reynolds is No. 3 with 4,606).

Perry is the best runner Ken Niumatalolo has ever had, and that obviously makes him a great option quarterback. But this year, Navy took care to fit how they run the option with what Perry is comfortable with — offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper has said he put Perry in too many uncomfortable situations last year when they tried to be more of a power triple-option team, which isn’t great for a 5-foot-10* quarterback of slight build. Now, they let Perry dictate much more on the sidelines.  

Ava’s note: *I am 5-foot-10. Malcolm Perry is not.

This may seem reductive, but I do not know that I have that many other player-specific questions to ask. This looks to be the prototypical Ken Niumatalolo team, one that executes well and grinds its opponents into submission. I am surprised at how stingy the rush defense appears to be, giving up only 109.4 yards per game (No. 17 in the country) and 3.22 yards per carry (No. 18). Who or what has created that stalwart front? It is of note given Notre Dame’s extensive struggles running the ball this season.

Folks can thank Navy’s new defensive coordinator Brian Newberry from Kennesaw State for that defense. Niumatalolo cleaned house on the defensive side of his staff during the offseason in an effort to be more dynamic on defense; he wanted a coordinator that could both keep up with triple-option teams and put the big boys (Niumatalolo’s term) on their heels. He found it with Newberry, who not only brought a creative scheme to town but also injected some new, sorely needed energy into Navy’s defense. It is night and day from what that unit looked like last year.

Navy moved senior Malcolm Perry from slot back to quarterback this season, a move Irish head coach Brian Kelly has said he wishes the Midshipmen had not made. (Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

I suppose in my first two questions, I have touched on the biggest differences between this year’s 7-1 record and last season’s 2-5, eventual 3-10. Perry has rejuvenated the offense and a defense that gave up 191.5 rushing yards per game (No. 90 in the country) has come close to halving that allowance. On a broad scale, what did Niumatalolo do to so quickly return to his standard?

Niumatalolo poured over every aspect of his program during the offseason. Sorting out the defense was his first priority but in the bigger picture, I think the thing that might have made the second-biggest defense is that even as he questioned every detail of his program, he still really trusted the culture he had built over more than a decade in Annapolis. Last year, the team wasn’t as close as they had been in previous seasons, so he prioritized team-building activities. Niumatalolo had players choose team captains later so they could really sus out who the right leaders were. He cut a handful of guys he determined to not be fully bought in.

Editor’s note: Need tickets to Saturday’s game? Click here

Every player I have talked to this year said that has made a huge change. There was a lot of finger-pointing going on last year while Navy was losing, and the players say they are closer than ever and all operating under the same mentality, and that matters.

This game would have much more hype if not for Navy’s 35-23 loss at Memphis in late September. I’ll be honest, I have no memory of that game and my ledger indicates I paid no attention to it. What did the Tigers do to score 35 against the Midshipmen that the Irish might be able to replicate? Only one other conventional Navy opponent has broken 17, and that was a helter-skelter game against Tulane.

Memphis did a great job of getting the jump on Navy in that game. Their biggest scores came off long runs – a 75-yard touchdown run and 99-yard kickoff return (ouch) among them – that Navy essentially processed as Memphis catching the Midshipmen off-guard in their new defense. Perry also got hurt in the second quarter and wasn’t quite himself after that.

I suppose, bluntly speaking, that loss to Memphis should not prove too costly for the Midshipmen. I don’t think we would have ever genuinely had them in Playoff conversations — Notre Dame is the only Power Five team on the schedule, though the AAC is very good at the top — and they are still in the mix to be the Group of Five representative in the Cotton Bowl. Do those possibilities creep up in conversation around Annapolis?

Navy is quite proud of its turnaround after last year, of course, but the Midshipmen were trying hard not to get ahead of themselves this week. Notre Dame and SMU are obviously huge tests, their biggest of the season aside from the service academy games, and I get the sense the Mids feel they haven’t proved all that much yet.  Honestly, they just want to beat Army.

On that Cotton Bowl front, let’s say Navy beats SMU next week and Memphis loses its season finale against Cincinnati. Then, the Midshipmen beat the Bearcats in the AAC title game. Navy would be in position for that Cotton Bowl berth when such things are supposed to be announced … but the Army game would still be a week away. I ask because you presumably know better than I do, would there be a holdup in the Cotton Bowl decision? Do we have no idea what that procedure is?

I believe there would be a holdup, because of this little ditty from the College Football Playoff’s official selection protocol: “If the committee believes the result of the ArmyNavy game could affect Army’s or Navy’s ranking and therefore its place in the playoff or its selection as the group of five representative, only the pairings that affect Army or Navy would be delayed until after the ArmyNavy game. In such case, the committee would convene by teleconference as soon as practicable after conclusion of the game and would announce its revised rankings that Saturday night.”

With all that in mind, I could argue the Midshipmen might overlook the Irish, as absurd of a thought as that is. You can go ahead and tell me I’m an idiot.

Idiot looks so harsh in print. How about nincompoop?

So, given Notre Dame is favored by 7, what do you expect this weekend?

I hate this part. 31-24? Sure.  

 

Notre Dame’s Opponents: Pick your preferred Big 12 bowl opponent

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Notre Dame fell to No. 16 in the College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night, through no fault of its own. The one-slot drop was a consequence of Minnesota leaping nine spots to No. 8 after topping Penn State. What does the change matter? It doesn’t.

The Gophers’ rise does not much change the sequence of results needed for no more than a total of three Big Ten and SEC teams to finish between the Irish and the Playoffs, the first requisite to Notre Dame’s slim hopes of reaching the Cotton Bowl.

Those results include, obviously in addition to the Irish winning their remaining three games …
— No. 12 Auburn losing to both No. 4 Georgia this weekend and No. 5 Alabama on Nov. 30.
— No. 9 Penn State losing at No. 2 Ohio State on Nov. 23.
— No. 14 Wisconsin losing at Minnesota on Nov. 30.
— No. 15 Michigan losing to Ohio State on Nov. 30.
— Minnesota losing at No. 20 Iowa this weekend and against the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game.

Let’s be clear, a grand total of none of those would be an upset, but it is nonetheless a series of seven outcomes.

What would be an upset? Arizona State beating No. 6 Oregon on Nov. 23. The Sun Devils would be 8- or 8.5-point underdogs. Not only that, but Notre Dame’s Cotton Bowl chances would also need the Ducks to lose to No. 7 Utah in the Pac 12 title game, although that would not be an upset.

So to the texts from Dallas, any possibilities of the Irish making a New Year’s Six bowl now hinge on one Herm Edwards-helmed upset and eight moments of chalk.


Presuming all that does not unfold, Notre Dame will head to the Camping World Bowl, where it will face the No. 3 Big 12 finisher, presuming No. 10 Oklahoma does not make the Playoff. The Sooners will go to the Sugar Bowl, currently-No. 13 Baylor will fill in the Alamo Bowl and the Irish will meet Texas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State or Iowa State.

That quartet each has three losses, and three of them should endure at least one more, Iowa State being the exception. In that scenario, Notre Dame should meet the Cyclones in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 28.

There are, however, two games between the four teams that could alter that reality. Texas heads to Iowa State this weekend, with the Longhorns 7-point underdogs. If Texas springs that upset, that would put it on pace for an 8-4 finish (presuming a loss at Baylor next week) and a trip to Disney.

The Wildcats could yet knock the Cyclones out of Camping World poll position in the regular-season finale, when Iowa State should be approximately 3.5-point road favorites.

The most likely Irish opponent in the Camping World Bowl? Iowa State, but both Texas and Kansas State will get their chances to change that.

For the sake of filing a prediction, this space will boldly put its hypothetical money on the Longhorns, which is essentially a longshot on them to beat the Cyclones this weekend.


Louisville (5-4): The Cardinals fell 52-27 at Miami, even though they outgained the Hurricanes by 47 yards and possessed the ball for 33 minutes. The problem? Three turnovers, of course.

Louisville should now reach bowl eligibility at North Carolina State (7:30 ET; ACCN), favored by four points with a combined point total over/under of 58.5 as of late Tuesday night. Quick math sends the Cardinals bowling with a 31-27 win.

New Mexico (2-7): The Lobos postponed their game against Air Force after the death of defensive end Nahje Flowers. They will return to the field at No. 21 Boise State (10:15 ET; ESPN2) as four-touchdown underdogs. The over/under of 59 will lean heavily on the Broncos, obviously.

Georgia (8-1): The Bulldogs had no trouble in a 27-0 win against Missouri, as has been the case for Georgia since its stumble against South Carolina. That will change abruptly at Auburn (3:30 ET; CBS). Injuries have the Bulldogs’ offensive line in a precarious position as it faces an intimidating defensive front, yet Georgia remains favored by a field goal. If the Bulldogs want to stay in the Playoff conversation, the over/under of 41 does not matter, just that they win in Jordan-Hare.

Virginia (7-3): The Cavaliers considered giving one away to Georgia Tech but held on 33-28 to stay in control of the ACC Coastal, largely thanks to senior quarterback Bryce Perkins throwing for 258 yards, rushing for 106 more and scoring a touchdown in each manner. Perkins gets the weekend off to refresh both his shoulders and his legs.

Bowling Green (3-6): The Falcons will grace your televisions tonight at Miami (OH) and former Notre Dame assistant Chuck Martin (8 ET; ESPN). Miami is in position to win its half of the MAC, so it will have plenty of motivation to make good on being favored by 17.5 points. Amid some Midwestern weather, the over/under sits at 50, although it would be a mild surprise to see Bowling Green score 16.

Trojans freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis’ season stat line has reached impressive territory, with a 69.3 percent completion rate, 20 touchdowns against nine interceptions and two separate games of more than 400 passing yards, including Saturday’s 31-26 win at Arizona State. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

USC (6-4): The Trojans reached bowl eligibility with a 31-26 win at Arizona State, courtesy of freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis throwing for 432 yards and four touchdowns. If you aren’t ready for an offseason of Slovis hype, you are in for a problematic summer.

Slovis will get a chance to further those future headlines at Cal (11 ET; FS1). USC is favored by 6.5 with an over/under of 48.5, but #Pac12AfterDark requires more scoring than 27-21 would include.

Michigan (7-2): After a week off, the Wolverines head to Michigan State (12 ET; FOX) as 13.5-point favorites and an over/under of 44. Put those numbers together and Jim Harbaugh gets to kick Mark Dantonio while he’s down to the tune of 29-15.

Virginia Tech (6-3): The Hokies kept their ACC Coastal hopes alive with a 36-17 victory against Wake Forest, entirely dependent on a strong second half in which Virginia Tech outscored the Demon Deacons 30-7. Another test awaits at Georgia Tech (3:30 ET; ACCN Extra), with the Hokies favored by 5.5 points and an over/under of 51.5, making for a projected 28-23 ending.

Duke (4-5): After the Blue Devils lost to Notre Dame, they get a chance to rebound against Syracuse (4 ET; ACCN). As a 10.5-point favorite, Duke should take a step toward bowl eligibility. Needing two wins in its last three games, this will be the only one in which the Blue Devils are favored.

Navy (7-1): The Midshipmen had a week to prep for the Irish (2:30 ET; NBC). As 8-point underdogs, they will have their work cut out for them, but the triple-option can always make those things interesting. That offensive attack also throws into question an over/under of 54, suggesting a 31-23 conclusion.

Boston College (5-5): The Eagles lost to coach-less Florida State, 38-31, in a game that saw 28 points scored in its final 2:33. That stretch began with Boston College tying things at 24 before sheer chaos ensued. It will have the week off to forget about the blown opportunity.

Stanford (4-5): The Cardinal let Colorado chew up 12:31 of the final 14:05 to kick two field goals, including the game-winner, in a 16-13 Stanford loss. As bowl hopes slip away, the Cardinal may once again be without quarterback KJ Costello at Washington State (4:30 ET; Pac 12 Network), part of why it is a 10.5-point underdog in a game estimated to hit four zeros at 37-26.