(6) Notre Dame (6-1) vs. Navy (4-4) (ET)
GAME NOTES: Following a bye week, the sixth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish get back to work when they take on a familiar foe in their annual matchup with the Navy Midshipmen.
Heading into November, Brian Kelly's Irish have played just one true road game, that being a heart-breaking 31-27 loss at second-ranked Florida State on Oct. 18. The loss was the first of the season, leaving Notre Dame at 6-1 overall. The team opened up in the 10th spot in the first college football playoff rankings released this week. This game, which takes place at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, serves as the third neutral site affair for Notre Dame this season.
Ken Niumatalolo's Midshipmen have had an up and down season thus far, reflective in their 4-4 overall record. The team has posted two straight wins to get back to .500 though, topping VMI (51-14) and most recently, San Jose State (41-31).
This is the 88th all-time meeting in the nation's longest continuous intersectional rivalry. These two teams have met every year since 1927. The Irish have dominated, with a 74-12-1 series advantage. However, Navy has posted three wins in the last seven matchups. Notre Dame recorded a narrow victory last year in South Bend, 38-34.
The Irish are an offensive pass interference penalty away from being 7-0 on the season and have really played well on both sides of the football this season. The offense in particular has been explosive at times, resulting in 447.6 yards of total offense. The passing game has really been a strength at 285.1 yards per game and quarterback Everett Golson is the reason why.
Despite missing last season, Golson has returned better than ever, completing 61.9 percent of his passes, for 1,996 yards and 19 TDs. It has certainly helped that both Will Fuller (43 rec, 583 yds, 8 TDs) and Corey Robinson (27 rec, 359 yds, 4 TDs) have emerged as reliable targets down the field.
Golson is also dangerous when he breaks containment, scoring four times on the ground. He is just part of a ground attack that generates 162.4 yards per game. There is no featured back to speak of, although tailbacks Tarean Folston (383 yds, 2 TDs), Greg Bryant (203 yds, 2 TDs) and Cam McDaniel (184 yds, 2 TDs) can be counted on.
The Irish defense, while not quite on the same level as the 2012 version that led the team to the national championship game, has played extremely well nonetheless. Notre Dame is allowing just 19.1 ppg (14th nationally), while limiting foes to just 345.6 yards per game.
Former walk-on Joe Schmidt leads the charge with his gritty play from his linebacker position. He paces the team with 57 total tackles, along with two INTs and two forced fumbles. Fellow linebacker Jaylon Smith (53 stops, 6.5 TFL and 2.0 sacks) is extremely athletic and plays sideline-to-sideline.
Like every season, the Irish will be put to the test by Navy's option attack. The Midshipmen are always among the nation's best rushing teams and this year is no different as they sit atop the national rankings at an eye-popping 352.3 yards per game.
Coach Kelly respects Navy's offensive approach.
"That option is very difficult to defend, and seeing that all year in terms of what they do offensively, coupled with the fact that they know their system and they executed it extremely, extremely well."
Junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds is the straw that stirs the drink for Navy. After rushing for a career-high 251 yards and three TDs against San Jose State last time out, Reynolds now has a team-high 639 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Noah Copeland isn't far behind in terms or yardage with 602, with three touchdowns. In all, Navy has scored 27 touchdowns on the ground.
Reynolds' 52 career touchdowns breaks Navy's previous mark held by Ricky Dobbs (49 from 2008-10).
Injured earlier in the season, Niumatalolo knew it was only a matter of time before Reynolds returned to form and exploded.
"I saw this coming because I saw the way he was running and cutting (in practice), carefree, back to his old self," Niumatalolo said after the San Jose State game. "I said, 'He's going to have a big game."'
The passing attack is a distant thought for Navy, with just 41 completions on the entire season. Jamir Tillman leads the team with just 16 catches, for 303 yards and one TD.
Navy's defense has struggled at times, with foes averaging 27.6 ppg and 411.5 yards of total offense. A non-existent pass rush has been a real problem, with just three sacks by the team in the first eight games. In addition, the Midshipmen have recorded just eight takeaways.
Sophomore linebacker Daniel Gonzales leads Navy in tackles with 57. Senior free safety Parrish Gaines (24 tackles), is responsible for half of the team's six interceptions this season.
Navy will get its yards on the ground, but Notre Dame should be able to distance itself from the Midshipmen in the second half and get back to its winning ways.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Notre Dame 37, Navy 21