The Navy Midshipmen had a week off. They knew that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish had been struggling for multiple weeks. They knew that Notre Dame looked vulnerable on a scale not seen in a few years.
Notre Dame was an airtight team in 2018, answering every challenge and comporting itself like the playoff team it turned out to be. The Irish weren’t necessarily dazzling in the first month of 2019, but they certainly looked strong and robust, a team which wouldn’t get shoved around and could battle in the trenches with any team in the country. Notre Dame fought Georgia on very even terms down in Athens, Between the Hedges. Georgia might be an imperfect team, but the Bulldogs are definitely physical, and Notre Dame was the physical equal of Georgia. The Bulldogs had the better quarterback, Jake Fromm, but nothing they did was easy. Notre Dame made Georgia work for everything.
That Notre Dame team got lost somewhere along the way in the 2019 season. The Fighting Irish barely beat a struggling USC team at home, but given USC’s considerable talent, it was easy to brush aside that 30-27 win as a close rivalry game. Notre Dame was going to remain a strong team. The Irish were going to return to being the imposing, thumping team which could – and would – punch most opponents in the mouth.
Yet, when Notre Dame went to Michigan in late October, it was the Irish who got kicked in the teeth. Notre Dame never truly showed up in a 45-14 blowout loss which was shocking not just because Notre Dame’s defense had been so dependable, but because Michigan’s offense had been so noticeably feeble for much of the season. The game was an ambush, and as is the case with many ambush jobs, Notre Dame stumbled around for awhile, wondering what the heck just happened.
The Irish drifted through a mistake-filled game against Virginia Tech and were one play from losing on multiple occasions, but they put together an 18-play, 87-yard touchdown drive with a pair of fourth-down conversions, including a fourth-and-10 conversion, to beat the Hokies by one point.
The Irish escaped. They then beat a very bad Duke team. They had avoided disaster, but the idea that the Irish would reclaim their September sharpness seemed dubious at best.
Go tell that to Navy.
The Midshipmen were overwhelmed by the Irish this past Saturday in South Bend. Notre Dame scored four touchdowns in the game’s first 20 minutes. An early Navy drive ended with a fumble in Irish territory due to Navy’s offensive line – which has enjoyed such an impressive and resurgent season – getting blown up by Notre Dame’s defensive front. Malcolm Perry didn’t have a chance. Navy got rattled. Mistakes accumulated. The game quickly snowballed. Notre Dame took a 38-0 lead before halftime en route to a 52-20 win.
Navy ran up against a physically superior opponent. The Midshipmen were out of the game before it even began. This is a game which offers a wakeup call to Navy heading into next weekend’s game against SMU. If the Mids can topple the Mustangs and Cincinnati can beat Memphis on Nov. 29, Navy will have a chance to win the AAC West with a victory over Houston on Nov. 30. A division and conference title are still within reach. Navy has to use this Notre Dame nightmare as a call to improvement, vigilance, and increased toughness in the stretch run.
Air Force kept alive its push for a 10-win regular season this past Saturday. The Falcons trailed Colorado State, 14-10, entering the fourth quarter, and then busted loose for 28 points to defeat the Rams, 38-21. Air Force let the Navy game slip away, but the Falcons have been excellent in difficult situations the rest of the year. They took back the Army game, which could have easily been a loss. They defeated Colorado in overtime in September, a season-shaping win whose impact cannot be overstated. This was another game played in the state of Colorado which the Falcons rescued from a precarious position. Their offense had been stymied through three quarters, but Troy Calhoun’s defense kept Air Force close. It finally broke down Colorado State’s resistance and then created a tsunami of touchdowns against the wobbling Rams, who buckled in the face of Air Force’s final, furious flurry.
Air Force next visits New Mexico. The Falcons will be favored to attain a 10-2 season, which would mark this season as a considerable success.
Army’s two-game homestand of UMass and VMI was just what the doctor ordered for Jeff Monken’s team. Army hammered VMI to move to 5-6. Now comes a week off. Then, on Nov. 30, the Black Knights will go to Hawaii for a game with bowl implications. Navy looms in the distance on Dec. 14.