Navy Midshipman (5-2 SU, 4-2-1 ATS) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-5 SU, 3-5 ATS)
College Football Week 10
Date/Time: Saturday, November 5th, 11:30 AM
Where: EverBank Field
by Mike Mann, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NAVY +6 / ND -6
Over/Under Total: 67
Notre Dame and Navy head south to Florida for their annual showdown on Saturday, this time to be played at EverBank Field in Jacksonville as they battle it out for Rip Miller Trophy. The two teams have met on a yearly basis since 1927 with Notre Dame holding a decided 76-12-1 edge, at one point winning 43 games in a row between 1964-2006. Navy went on to claim victory in three of the next four games from 2007-2010 while the Irish were reeling from the internal poisoning going through their football program during the unfortunate Charlie Weis era, but the Irish have since righted the ship and have won the last five between the teams, four of which by double-digits.
The location of the game adds an interesting variable to this weekend’s matchup, as the two teams and their respective coaches have had far different results when playing either in a neutral or road setting. In regular season games under Brian Kelly, Notre Dame has gone 10-1 in those played at a neutral site, including a 7-4 mark against the spread. Though Navy’s 9-5 record in neutral games with Ken Niumatalolo as their head coach looks appealing, if you take away their yearly battles against Army, their record is only 1-5 with a barely better 2-4 against the spread. It goes beyond that though, as under Niumatalolo they have gone just 24-22 in regular season road games, including 1-2 this year with losses at Air Force to begin October and just last week against South Florida in Tampa.
The 52-25 loss to the Bulls was a tough one for Navy and their first defeat in the AAC conference this season. South Florida was able to run all over the Midshipmen early, building a 28-0 first quarter lead with touchdowns on the ground scored from 63, 23 and 85 yards out to begin the game and eventually finished with 412 yards rushing as a team while averaging 9.4 yards per carry. The leader of the Bulls offense was multi-dimensional quarterback Quinton Flowers, whose talent and statline is very similar to the quarterback Navy will be facing this week from Notre Dame, DeShone Kizer; with Flowers completing 59.4% of his passes for 1,941 yards, a TD-INT ratio of 17/5 and an additional 10 rushing touchdowns, while Kizer has completed 59.3% of his passes for 2,038 yards, a TD-INT ratio of 16/7 while adding 7 touchdowns on the ground. Navy struggled to stop Flowers and his backfield mates of Marlon Mack and D’Ernest Johnson, and how they stack up against Kizer along with Josh Adams and Tarean Folston should have a major impact on the outcome of Saturday’s game.
Navy’s offense is led by senior quarterback Will Worth, who has filled in admirably for Tago Smith, the original replacement for Midshipmen legend quarterback Keenan Reynolds who graduated as the NCAA career leader in rushing touchdowns after last season. Worth has led the Navy triple option attack to the 5th ranked rushing attack in the country after taking over for the injured Smith in week one, which is made all the more impressive considering not only his backup status but with all the inexperience on the Navy roster to begin the season as they had only one returning starter on their the offense. One Worth stat correlation worth noting is the amount of his pass attempts in comparison with the success of Navy this season; in their two losses Worth had 30 and 25 pass attempts respectively, in the two games that they won but were at one point losing in the 4th quarter (UConn and Tulane) he had 8 and 12 passing attempts, while in their three other victories he passed only 3,4 and 5 teams in each. He will need his team to avoid the early stumbles suffered last week against South Florida to prevent putting themselves in another situation where they have to pass to win, especially now playing a rejuvenated Notre Dame defense whose play has drastically improved ever since the university administration finally decided to get rid of the first half of their coaching problem and fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder after suffering a humiliating loss to Duke in week four.
The Irish defense has improved in every category since VanGorder was forcefully departed, including a jump from 103rd to 54th in total defense. Last week they held Miami to just 18 rushing yards while also limiting supposed first round draft pick material Brad Kaaya from throwing anything down field, this despite Notre Dame playing multiple freshman at the cornerback position. Of the nine biggest plays by yards the defense has let up all year, seven of them were under VanGorder during the first four games, and the defense will need to continue their transformation and near mistake free play if they plan on maintain that success against a always well-disciplined Navy team. This is all the more so important considering how much the Irish special teams seemingly loves to take it upon themselves on a nearly weekly basis to make disastrous plays that constantly put their team in peril and have reared their ugly in each of the five losses the team has suffered this season, and came incredibly close to giving away their game against Miami last weekend
Despite building a 20-0 lead early against the Hurricanes, Notre Dame still found themselves on the precipice for another disastrous loss after letting Miami score 27 unanswered points and retake the lead with under seven minutes left in the fourth quarter thanks to a muffed punt in the endzone that was recovered for a touchdown to give the visitors the 27-20 lead. This was one of four inexcusably bad mistakes committed by the special teams, which also included another fumble on a punt return, a Miami onside kick that literally no one on Notre Dame was in position for or made an effort to recover and then in the third quarter allowing a punt to be blocked that set up Miami for points. It’s mistakes like these that have cost the Irish all season and one of the major reasons they have gone just 1-5 this year in games decided by one possession or less.
Last week’s win provided Notre Dame with a much needed boost in trying to turn their season around from utter failure to at least some redemption by attempting to get to a bowl game, something they can only do by winning three of their last four games to close out the year. They have found offensive success going against teams with less than stellar rushing defenses, having averaged over 38 points per game against teams ranked 50th or worse against the run, but only 6.5 ppg against teams ranked higher than 50 (including the forever baffling 10-3 loss to NC State in a near hurricane when Irish coach Brian Kelly kept avoiding the run in favor of calling for repeated passing plays despite the fact that hurricanes include rain and wind). Navy ranks just 83rd against the run this season and has struggled defensively against teams with quarterbacks that are effective both running and passing the ball, much like DeShone Kizer is of Notre Dame.
Regardless of whether it’s football or basketball, college or pro, it is always a bit difficult to take a team going into their second game of back-to-back road contests, which is exactly the situation Navy finds themselves in this week having to travel to Florida for the second straight week. While I in no way believe in Brian Kelly as the future at Notre Dame, his team has found continued success against the option in recent years and I expect the Irish to get a win and cover in Jacksonville against a travel deficient Navy team that will continue to struggle away from their home state of Maryland.
Mike M's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Notre Dame -6
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