SOUTH BEND – It’s a bit of a shame that the game won’t be a sellout – or at least it seems that way based reports from the school this week.
For the first time in 31 years – nearly as long as the school sold every ticket for their home games – Notre Dame will be ranked when they face one of their traditional rivals who also find themselves in the Top 25 poll.
Navy comes to South Bend to face the Irish as the 23rd-ranked team in the country, and it’s the first time they along with the Irish were ranked together in the contest.
That’s when the Joe Montana-led, 15th-ranked Notre Dame team beat a then-undefeated and 11th-ranked Midshipmen 27-7 at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. Since then, only one team has been ranked in the match-up, with the majority of those games featuring the Irish in the polls.
For Brian Kelly, the biggest challenge in facing Navy for the 93rd time in program history is dealing with their unique triple-option offense. A rarity in today’s game that featured more spread offensive schemes, the Midshipmen continue to thrive in the system as they currently lead the nation in rushing with 357.9 yards per game.
It’s also been effective on the scoreboard as Navy is averaging 40.1 points per game (12th in FBS) as they’ve won seven of their first eight games. The Irish have won the last two match-ups, holding the Midshipmen to 17 and 22 points respectively, as Kelly uses a more long-term approach to dealing with the triple-option than just preparing for it the few days before the game.
“Well, we’ve done a lot of work that’s residual work towards that end. Certainly that work began in earnest a couple years ago in terms of how we recruited some walk-ons and what we did in spring and summer to keep us in at least a prepared state as we went into these weeks of preparation for Navy,” said Kelly.
“So made those decisions a few years ago. Doesn’t necessarily mean you have an advantage in any way. But it does — when you come into Navy week, it doesn’t feel like, Oh, my God. Here we go. We’ve got a pretty solid plan. It just needs to be refined and developed during the week.”
NORTHWESTERN: In a Tough Year, A Shot For A Victory
EVANSTON – Something things change for the good very quickly, and other times that script is flipped.
On this weekend in 2018, Northwestern had already clinched the Big Ten West division championship and were playing two more games, in essence, to prepare for Ohio State.
This year, they’re just hoping to get a win somewhere as they sit at 1-8 on the season.
From their inability to find a quarterback to offensive stagnation to some bad late-game luck, all of the positive vibes from last year are gone in 2019. With one more loss, the season will officially be the worst since Pat Fitzgerald took over the program in 2006.
On Saturday, Northwestern gets a legitimate chance to get in the win column for the first time since their second week victory over UNLV as UMass pays a visit to Ryan Field. The Wildcats enter as a 40-point favorite against the 1-9 Minutemen who’ve struggled even more than Northwestern has in 2019.
So what does Fitzgerald thing about the oddsmaker’s faith in his team?
“We just want to win by one, and that’s the bottom line,” said Fitzgerald. “We’ve got to get a win. We’ve got to get some positive momentum. Mistakes late in that game ( a 24-22 loss to Purdue last Saturday) were costly and around here we typically won really close games. There’s a lot of things going on, obviously, if you watch us that are not indicative of the way that we’ve had our recipe for success and that’s why we’re at where we’re at.
“Hopefully we’ll put together a great week and go play our best game of the year. This team will be hungry coming in here. I’m sure our tape will not intimidate them.”
NORTHERN ILLINOIS: Staying Alive For The Postseason
DEKALB – It’s a little bit like Northwestern, but not quite as severe.
Northern Illinois still has a shot to claim a piece of the MAC West championship, but with three teams ahead of them and having already lost to two of them, the odds are quite against them.
But one thing is still within reach of Thomas Hammock’s first Huskies team in 2019: Bowl eligibility.
That’s because NIU was able to go on the road on Wednesday night and knock off then 6-3 Toledo 31-28 on a snowy, cold evening at the Glass Bowl. It should have been a little more comfortable for the Huskies, who got two rushing touchdowns from quarterback Marcus Childers and 158 yards and a score on the ground by Tre Harbison to go up 28-7 at the half.
But three-straight Rockets’ touchdowns tied the game before Northern Illinois’ put together a 68-yard drive in the final minute to set up a John Richardson 25-yard field goal with 41 seconds to play.
Now at 4-6 on the season, Northern Illinois finishes things up at home in DeKalb as they host a pair of Tuesday games against Eastern Michigan (Oct. 19th) and Western Michigan (Oct. 26).
ILLINOIS HAS THE BYE WEEK