Navy-Notre Dame Preview
(AP) – Coach Brian Kelly hopes No. 15 Notre Dame still has a shot at the College Football Playoff if the Fighting Irish win the rest of their games.
He’s not sure.
”I don’t know, but we do know what we can control and that is winning each week,” Kelly said Tuesday. ”So what we really talked about is we have no margin for error. We have to pay attention to every detail. It was really about the focus of this group is one week at a time.”
Following last week’s disappointing visit to then-No. 12 Clemson, when Notre Dame (4-1) lost 24-22 after a failed 2-point conversion attempt with seven seconds left, the Irish will try to resuscitate their season against Navy (4-0) on Saturday. Kelly knows how he wants the Irish to respond.
”The response is to win,” he said. ”To win football games, you have to start fast, which we did not. There has to be an attention to detail, which certainly we were missing that at times. We got great effort, and we finished strong. So we were missing two of the four real key components that I’ll be looking for this weekend.”
A year ago, eventual national champion Ohio State was 4-1 and ranked No. 15, and it steadily climbed in the polls and was seeded fourth at the end of the season. So there is hope.
The bad news for the Irish is the Buckeyes are the only team to win a national championship in the past 15 years to be ranked that low after five games. The next closest was Florida in 2008, which was 4-1 and ranked No. 11.
Kelly knows what it’s like for the Irish to not have control of their own destiny. Heck, three years ago the Irish were 11-0 and looked like they might not play in the BCS title game because they were behind top-ranked Oregon and No. 2 Kansas State – then both of those teams lost on the same night and Notre Dame vaulted to No. 1.
The Irish won’t truly know where they stand this season until the first CFP selection committee rankings are released Nov. 3. They know they have to finish in the top four in the final standings to advance to the playoff.
Four previous Notre Dame teams have lost one game and finished outside the top four in the final regular-season rankings. That includes 1977, when the Irish were 10-1 and ranked No. 5 but still won the national championship when they upset Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl.
Keeping playoff possibilities alive isn’t the only concern. A year ago, the Irish started the season 6-0 before losing a tough game at Florida State when an apparent go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds left was called back because of a pass interference penalty. The Irish won the next week against Navy, then their season unraveled as they lost their last four.
Kelly said he’s confident the Irish are better prepared this year.
”The leadership is different. The players are different,” he said.
Kelly’s players almost came back last week, but he said ”we’re too far along for moral victories” after the Irish trailed 21-3 after three quarters.
DeShone Kizer started the rally with a 56-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Prosise early in the fourth – Notre Dame failed on that 2-point conversion attempt as well – before Clemson kicked a field goal to go up 15.
Kizer then had a 3-yard TD run at the 9:03 mark to pull the Irish within eight, and he connected on a 1-yard scoring pass to Torii Hunter Jr. with seven seconds left. On the ensuing 2-point attempt, Kizer was stopped as he tried to run it in.
Kizer, who said he should’ve lowered his shoulder on that final play, said the Irish can take some lessons away from the loss.
”That way we played in the fourth quarter, that’s the way we have to play all the time,” he said.
Navy is off to its best start since 2004 and has won eight in a row and 10 of 11 dating to last season, with the only loss coming to Notre Dame. The Midshipmen have not won nine straight since a 10-game run spanning 1959-60, and they’ve lost four in a row in this series.
They’ve used their triple-option offense to rank third in the FBS with 339.8 rushing yards per game, led by senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds’ 488 yards and nine TDs on the ground.
Reynolds, who has attempted just 27 passes, ran for 117 of his 183 yards in the first half of last week’s 33-11 victory over Air Force.
Reynolds has 73 rushing touchdowns, the most in NCAA history by a quarterback and tied for the second-most among all players. He’s four behind record-holder Montee Ball of Wisconsin.
"We all know about individually Keenan Reynolds, what he has accomplished in NCAA football," Kelly said. "We certainly don’t want him to get the record although it’s a great achievement. If he’s to get that record, they’re going to have a great day here, and we can’t afford for him to do that.
"We know we’ve got our hands full to stop a very potent offensive attack."
Navy started 5-0 in 2004 before losing 27-9 to Notre Dame at the Meadowlands.