The rivalry between No. 3 Notre Dame and Navy goes back for almost a century.
The programs will meet for the 92nd consecutive season Saturday evening when they kick off at San Diego County Credit Union Stadium in San Diego. The series started in 1927 and has continued uninterrupted ever since, with the Fighting Irish holding a commanding 77-13-1 advantage.
However, Notre Dame (7-0) knows better than to expect easy success against Navy (2-5). The Midshipmen beat the Fighting Irish two years ago, and four of their past five meetings have been decided by 10 points or less.
A run-heavy offense by Navy can lead to marathon drives that produce points and take time off the clock.
“They’re extremely efficient,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly told reporters this week. “They’ve given us all that we can handle year in and year out. There has to be an incredible sense of urgency on the offensive side of the ball, by maximizing possessions, quite frankly every snap, because you just don’t know how many possessions that you will, in fact, get. Scoring points is absolutely crucial.”
The Fighting Irish are coming off a bye after a narrow 19-14 win over Pitt that preserved an undefeated season. Students and alums are excited for an increasingly likely playoff berth and possible championship run.
Navy is far outmanned on paper, having lost four straight games after beginning the season at 2-1. Last week, Houston outlasted the Midshipmen for a 49-36 victory.
The next test will be the toughest, said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo.
“We recognize who we are and that we have to play perfect against a team like this,” he said to the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Md. “We have to minimize our mistakes as much as possible and hope they’re off a little bit. We know exactly who they are. They are going to be the best team we play every year and it’s going to be a tall order to beat them. We have to play really, really well to even have a chance.”
Niumatalolo knows the path to success. His teams have toppled Notre Dame in 2009, 2010 and 2016.
In addition, multiple top-five teams have been upset this season. But Kelly does not use recent history as a warning for his players, who are looking to push the program to an 8-0 start for only the 12th time since 1950.
“I mean, I didn’t go in front of them and say, ‘Did you guys watch the Ohio State-Purdue game?’ ” Kelly said. “They all have phones, TVs. I’m sure they know. They probably heard a million times when they went home how they didn’t play great against Pittsburgh.
“Look, it’s a one-week deal for us. We’re one day at a time, one practice at a time. They know where they are. They have to stay focused, stick with their process. I know you all hear that all the time. If you don’t have a process you can stick with, then you’re going to listen to all that stuff. But if you just stick with, you know, your preparation, what your process is, then you can focus on the moment and not worry about all that other stuff.”