The Irish return to the field on Saturday, taking on the Navy Midshipmen for the 85th time in series history. Here are a few things to look for this weekend... Beyond the Box Score: Three weeks ago against Air Force, the Irish gave up 565 offensive yards, including 363 yards on the ground, but still won the game 59-33. Obviously Notre Dame is going to do everything it can to stop the ball, but don't be shocked Navy comes through with a similarly impressive rushing performance, regardless of final score. Despite a 2-5 record, the Midshipmen are currently ranked third in the nation in rushing, averaging 325 yards per game. As head coach Brian Kelly explained in his press conference on Tuesday, the Irish are not concerned with the number of yards they give up against Navy. "When you play option teams, the yardage is irrelevant. It's all about minimizing big plays and keeping the points down," Kelly said. Shoes To Fill: Kapron Lewis-Moore is out for the season with a knee injury and Ethan Johnson may be limited with a high ankle sprain (if he can play at all), so Notre Dame will rely upon its highly touted freshmen in this weekend's game. Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt and Chase Hounshell should all see significant action against the Midshipmen. Lynch has appeared in six games for the Irish, starting twice and making 13 tackles. He burst onto the scene with a crushing sack and forced fumble on Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins. Tuitt has played in five games, but will be making his first start on Saturday. Hounshell played against Air Force and USC, and is expected to take on an increased role against Navy.
X for X: Saturday marks what would have been Xavier Murphy's 23rd birthday. Murphy, a former football senior manager, graduated in May and was back this semester to finish one class and intern with the team. He passed away on Oct. 11 after a short battle with cancer. The Irish are honoring Murphy throughout the season by wearing a green shamrock sticker on their helmets. Residents of Murphy's dorm, Zahm, are also selling t-shirts and bandanas with the phrase "Raise an X for X," in support of those fighting cancer. They are encouraging students to wear the shirts and bandanas to Saturday's game, and to raise their arms in an "X" rather than do the traditional cheer during the Celtic Chant. Stadium Status: Last week, fans were as fired up as I have ever seen them at Notre Dame Stadium. I have only been going to games since I was a freshman in 2007, so I can't speak for the days of old, but it certainly got loud against USC. The night atmosphere, the fierce rivalry, the towels and the music all contributed to the amped crowd. While Dropkick Murphys and Guns n' Roses may make a return appearance against Navy, those other external factors will be absent on Saturday afternoon and I am interested to hear how the fans respond. It is certainly understandable that fans will be louder against the Trojans. It is no secret that many Notre Dame fans strongly, strongly dislike USC. However, the stadium atmosphere debate has been going on for quite some time, and especially this season. No matter the opponent, the role of the 80,795 fans should remain the same - Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame. Back on Track: Though Notre Dame's BCS dreams were dashed with a loss to USC last weekend, the Irish still have a lot to play for in the final five games of the season. First, the Midshipmen have taken three out of the last four between the teams, including two in a row at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish have dictated most of the historic series, but recent history has been different. Navy took the college football world by surprise when it snapped a 43-year losing streak in 2007. The Midshipmen also squeaked out a 23-21 win in 2009 and dominated the Irish in last season's game at the New Meadowlands Stadium. The Irish need a victory to prevent Navy from their first-ever three-game winning streak in the series, but more importantly, Notre Dame needs to avoid falling to .500 on the season. A lot can happen in five or six weeks of college football, and Saturday is the first opportunity for the Irish to regain some of the momentum they had before the USC game. - Josh Flynt ('11)