Notre Dame will remain in the College Football Playoff picture for at least another week. The No. 3 team in the country remained undefeated on Saturday night, cruising past Navy 44-22 in San Diego. The win comes two weeks after the Irish had a close call at home against Pitt. Clearly, the Irish had a much easier time of things on Saturday against the Midshipmen.
The outcome of the game was never in doubt. Well, maybe for a minute or two. Notre Dame fumbled on its first snap of the night, giving Navy terrific field position, but it turned the ball over on downs four plays later. The Irish then went 73 yards in eight plays to score their first touchdown of the night and never looked back. It was 27-0 Notre Dame when Navy finally found the end zone for the first time in the third quarter.
After that, it was just a matter of holding Navy at a distance.
Here are three takeaways from this game.
1. The Irish have so many weapons on offense. They were all on display Saturday night. If the Irish want to beat you on the ground, they can rely on Dexter Williams, who rushed for 142 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. Behind him is Jafar Armstrong, who had a score of his own on 52 rushing yards, and also caught five passes for 64 yards.
If it’s the passing game, Ian Book continues to play well. He threw for 330 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 50 yards. While he spread the ball around (nine Notre Dame players finished with at least one reception, including four with at least four catches), his favorite target when it matters continues to be Miles Boykin. The big target caught four passes for 58 yards, including both of Book’s TD tosses.
All in all, this is an offense that’s more dynamic and well-rounded compared to recent Irish offenses, particularly last season’s. It’s because of this that the Irish are still undefeated and in the playoff conversation.
2. Notre Dame’s opponents aren’t doing it any favors. When the first College Football Playoff rankings come out on Tuesday, there’s a good chance Notre Dame will be in the top four. The question is whether it can remain there the rest of the season, and that question isn’t easy to answer because a few things are working against the Irish.
First of all, staying undefeated isn’t going to be easy no matter who is left on the schedule. More than that, though, Notre Dame not only lacks the chance to play a conference championship game, but its resume wins look weaker every single week.
The win over Michigan looks like one that will stand the test of time, but after Virginia Tech got crushed by Georgia Tech Thursday night to drop the Hokies to 4-3, Stanford lost to Washington State on Saturday night. The Cardinal are now 5-3 and will likely find themselves left out of the polls this week.
When we look at Notre Dame’s remaining schedule, we see a Florida State team that is now 4-4 after being destroyed by Clemson, a USC team that’s 4-4 after losing at home to Arizona State and a Syracuse team that’s 6-2 (and dangerous), but likely won’t be a resume boost.
Then there’s next week’s opponent: Northwestern. The Wildcats are currently in first place in the Big Ten West, but they’re also 5-3 overall with a loss to Akron on their rap sheet. If Notre Dame wins that game to drop the Wildcats to 5-4 on the season, will it do anything to move the needle?
In other words, it’s probably in Notre Dame’s best interest to not just keep winning games, but to win them convincingly. It can’t afford any more Pitt games.
3. Navy’s bowl streak is in serious jeopardy. The Midshipmen have gone to a bowl game each of the last six seasons, and 10 times in Ken Niumatalolo’s first 11 seasons at the school. That streak looks like it will end this season. This loss to Notre Dame drops Navy to 2-6 on the season and its five remaining games (Navy gets 13 games this season since it opened the year in Hawaii) are on the road against Cincinnati, UCF and Tulane, at home against Tulsa, and of course the regular season finale against Army. They would have to win at least four of those five games, and given the way this team has played in 2018, it’s hard to imagine it winning games against Cincinnati, UCF and Army right now.
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