The advantages Notre Dame has entering today's game against Navy at Ravens Stadium are numerous. The No. 9 Irish are faster, stronger, bigger and more talented. They have played in big games, in front of enormous crowds, and won. Notre Dame simply has a better football team, and it would be nearly impossible to argue otherwise.
Of course, no Notre Dame recruit ever lay awake at night, staring at the ceiling, dreaming of scoring the winning touchdown against Navy. For every Midshipmen, this isn't just the season's biggest test, it's the chance of a lifetime. And desire has to count for something, doesn't it?
"Hopefully, this is why they came to the Naval Academy, to play in this game," Navy coach Paul Johnson said of his players. "The thing that I've tried to sell them on is that it can happen. Look at last week, it happened."
Boston College beating Notre Dame, 14-7, was certainly an upset, but it wasn't as though the Eagles shocked the world. This, after all, was the same Boston College team that hung tough with Virginia Tech and Miami before losing, not to mention the same team that whipped Navy, 46-21, on Oct. 19. But when you're 1-7 like Navy, any sign of hope is worth embracing.
"They don't have a whole lot of weaknesses," Johnson said. "We have to run our offense. If we go out and execute then we will have a chance to move the ball. If we don't, we won't. It's the same every week; we have to go out and not miss reads, execute, and get some blocks on the perimeter and then who knows?"
Teams that have given Navy the most trouble this season have been the ones adept at throwing the ball downfield, and Notre Dame (8-1) not been one of those teams through the first nine games of the season. Irish quarterback Carlyle Holiday is averaging only 144 yards a game through the air, and is completing just 51.1 percent of his passes.
Notre Dame's real offensive leader has been running back Ryan Grant, who leads the team with 920 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Considering Navy's pass defense is one of the worst in the country, that might be a good thing for the Mids if Notre Dame focuses on running the ball.
On offense, the Mids have shown they can do some things, even against a fast, athletic defense. Even though Navy got blown out, 65-19, by N.C. State, the Mids still rushed for 243 yards. Fullback Kyle Eckel will be a big key against the Irish. If Navy can open some holes for Eckel inside, it will help quarterback Craig Candeto get to the outside where he can pitch the ball in the Mids' spread option offense.
Either way, Navy can only stay in the game if it takes care of the ball. Notre Dame has forced 25 turnovers this season, and cornerback Shane Walton and linebacker Courtney Watson are among the best players at their positions in the country, and will be hounding the Mids on every catch and every pitch, trying to pop the ball loose.
"We have to play better than we've played all season to have a chance," Johnson said.
NOTES: Notre Dame's defense spent the week preparing for Navy's option offense by practicing some of the same techniques it used in a 21-14 win over Air Force. The Irish held the Falcons to a season-low 104 yards rushing. ... Eric Roberts, Navy's big-play threat this season, has earned his way back into the starting lineup after seeing limited action the past three games. Johnson sat Roberts down after Navy's 48-7 loss to Air Force because of continuing fumbling problems. Roberts had 136 yards receiving against Northwestern, including 79-yard catch. ... Notre Dame is 29-1 against the three service academies since 1986, with its only loss coming to Air Force in 1996.