(AP) – Navy has a way of tripping up Notre Dame for more than one game.
Navy once lost to Notre Dame an NCAA-record 43 consecutive times, but they’ve beaten the Fighting Irish three times in the past seven seasons.
Five other times since 2007, Notre Dame has lost the game it played after facing the Midshipmen – including two big upsets: a 24-23 loss to a two-win Syracuse team that had fired its coach days earlier, and a 28-27 loss to Tulsa in 2010.
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Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said he couldn’t explain why playing Navy might have a hangover affect and that he really hadn’t looked at it.
"Maybe I should," he said. "I don’t know why there would be, to be quite honest with you. There shouldn’t be. Navy is a very good opponent, but there shouldn’t be any carry over. We should be able to play consistently the next week."
Notre Dame joins several teams from the power five conferences who have struggled after facing the Midshipmen.
Ohio State beat Navy 34-17 in the season opener and then was upset 35-21 a week later by Virginia Tech. The same thing happened in 2009 when the Buckeyes barely beat the Midshipmen 31-27 then lost a week later to Southern California 18-15. Pittsburgh is 2-2 against the Midshipmen since 2007 and 1-3 in the subsequent game.
After Navy, the sixth-ranked Irish (6-1) face No. 15 Arizona State (6-1) in a game that could give Notre Dame another chance to impress the playoff selection committee. But the biggest concern for now is finding a way to stop Navy’s triple-option, which leads the nation at 352.3 yards per game rushing.
The Midshipmen (4-4) rushed for 331 yards against Notre Dame a season ago, though the Irish held on for a 38-34 win after Shawn Lynch was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-4 from the Notre Dame 31 with 68 seconds left.
In the previous two years – lopsided Irish wins by a combined 106-24 – they limited Navy to a combined 345 rushing yards.
Kelly said what makes the Midshipmen’s offense so tough is the little changes they make from game to game and even possession to possession.
"I think that that’s the secret to their success in that they evolve enough offensively that slight tweaks make it difficult to defend with certainty, and then their in-game adjustments are outstanding," Kelly said.
Navy handed Kelly his third-most lopsided loss while at Notre Dame, a 35-17 victory in 2010. Kelly said he and the coaching staff failed to have the Irish properly prepared as the Midshipmen amassed 367 yards rushing.
The Midshipmen have won back-to-back games, though one was against FCS school VMI. Navy rode a 24-point second quarter to a 41-31 win over San Jose State last Saturday as Keenan Reynolds had a career-high 251 rushing yards.
Notre Dame limited Reynolds to 53 yards on 22 carries in last season’s win, but the quarterback did find the end zone three times and threw for a fourth.
"We have to be perfect. We can’t turn the ball over," Reynolds said. "Can’t waste possessions. If we execute, we’re going to be able to move the ball."
Navy has lost 20 straight games to Notre Dame teams ranked 10th or better since a 20-6 victory in 1957, when the Midshipmen were ranked 16th and the Irish fifth.
The game Saturday in Landover, Maryland, will be the first time first-year Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has faced a triple-option since he was at Georgia in 2004, when the Bulldogs had to put their starters back on the field after Georgia Southern scored a couple of quick touchdowns late in a game the Bulldogs won 48-28.
"We thought we had the game pretty much in hand," VanGorder said.
VanGorder said defensive teamwork is key against the option.
"Everybody’s got to be detailed. It’s assignment football. If you have a breakdown, it can be devastating," he said.