(WSCR) – The last 46 years of the Notre Dame vs Navy rivalry can be summed up as a Notre Dame domination of the Midshipmen. However, the last three years have been a much different story, with Navy taking two out of the last three meetings.
“From a confidence standpoint, it does help that we’ve beaten Notre Dame twice in the last three years. You go into every game with the mindset that you can win, but now it’s more of a reality with Notre Dame because we’ve actually done it,” safety Wyatt Middleton said. “Navy is no longer a guaranteed win on Notre Dame’s schedule.”
At least in part because of that, Brian Kelly is now the coach at Notre Dame (4-3) as the Fighting Irish prepare to face Navy (4-2) for the 84th consecutive season on Saturday at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
“I haven’t driven anything home about the history of it,” Kelly said. “All I know is we’re looking for another win, whether it’s Navy or Western Michigan, that’s really immaterial.
“So our focus is trying to get another win against a team that really derailed their season last year. I know they remember that. I don’t. I was doing something else.”
While Kelly was leading Cincinnati to an unbeaten regular season, Notre Dame lost 23-21 at South Bend to Navy, the first of four straight losses to end the season and Charlie Weis’ tenure as Fighting Irish coach.
Now it’s Kelly’s job to make Notre Dame a national championship contender again. That’s the longterm goal. Even though Kelly came in talking about five-minute plans instead of five-year plans, no one expected the Irish to contend for a BCS title this season.
What Irish fans do immediately expect from Kelly is a team that no longer loses to opponents it’s supposed beat. Opponents such as Navy.
“They’ve had the upper hand on us the past couple of years,” Irish defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said. “It’s a new year. We’re a new team and I’m pretty sure they’re a new team.”
The Midshipmen have been no pushover in recent years, having won at least eight games every season since 2005. But even they admit Notre Dame’s players are generally bigger, stronger and faster than they are.
And that’s why victories against Notre Dame last year and in 2007 – a wild 46-44 upset in triple overtime that snapped the longest winning streak by one major college team over another – rank among the greatest achievements by a group of Navy players who have never lost to Army.
“When I think back to last year, that is the first game that comes to mind,” senior cornerback Kevin Edwards said. “Beating Notre Dame was a major turning point in our season. When I think back over my career, that first win against Notre Dame is a great memory because of what it meant to Navy football.
“To have beaten Notre Dame twice in three years is a great accomplishment. It definitely makes you think about how far we’ve come as a program. It just reinforces that we can beat any team on any given Saturday.”
Especially if that team can’t figure out how to stop Navy’s triple-option.
Navy is averaging 259 yards rushing per game, good for ninth in the nation. Quarterback Ricky Dobbs came into the season as a fringe Heisman trophy contender after running for 1,203 yards and setting an NCAA record for rushing touchdowns for a quarterback with 27 in 2009.
This season Dobbs hasn’t been nearly as good, with 379 yards rushing, five touchdowns and a 2.9-yard average per carry.
Notre Dame brings a three-game winning streak with it on its first of two trips this season to the New York area. Next month, the Fighting Irish play Army at Yankee Stadium.
But quarterback Dayne Crist will be without at least a couple of key targets. Tight end Kyle Rudolph had hamstring surgery last week and is done for the season. Joining him on the shelf this week is receiver Theo Riddick (ankle). Top receiver Michael Floyd has a sore hamstring. He expects to play, but isn’t sure how much.
Even with the injuries and recent results, Notre Dame is a touchdown favorite. A third loss in four seasons to the Middies would go down as the first black mark on Kelly’s Irish record.
“Nobody ever expects Navy to beat Notre Dame,” Edwards said. “It was just as big a surprise to people last year as it was (in 2007). What’s changed is that within our team we know we can do it because we have.”
Copyright 2010 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press contributed to this article. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.