SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Navy has a way of tripping up Notre Dame for more than one game.
Navy lost to Notre Dame for an NCAA-record 43 consecutive times, but they've beaten the Fighting Irish three times in the past seven seasons. Five other times since 2007, Notre Dame has lost the game they play after facing the Midshipmen — including two big upsets: a 24-23 loss to a two-win Syracuse team that had fired its coach days earlier, and a 28-27 loss to Tulsa in 2010.
Kelly said he couldn't explain why playing Navy might have a hangover affect, saying he really hadn't looked at it.
"Maybe I should," he said.
"I don't know why there would be, to be quite honest with you," he added. "There shouldn't be. Navy is a very good opponent, but there shouldn't be any carry over. We should be able to play consistently the next week."
Notre Dame isn't the only team from the power five conferences to struggle after facing the Midshipmen. Ohio State beat Navy 34-17 in the season-opener and then was upset 35-21 a week later by Virginia Tech. The same thing happened in 2009 when the Buckeyes barely beat the Midshipmen 31-27 then lost a week later to Southern California 18-15. Pittsburgh is 2-2 against the Midshipmen since 2007 and 1-3 in the game after.
After Navy, the sixth-ranked Irish (6-1) face No. 15 Arizona State (6-1) in a game that could give Notre Dame another chance to impress the playoff selection committee. But the biggest concern for now is finding a way to stop Navy's triple-option, which leads the nation at 352 yards a game rushing.
The Midshipmen (4-4) rushed for 331 yards against Notre Dame a season ago as the Irish held on when Shawn Lynch was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-4 from the Notre Dame 31 with 68 seconds left.
Kelly said what makes the Midshipmen offense so tough is the little changes they make from game to game and even possession to possession.
"I think that that's the secret to their success in that they evolve enough offensively that slight tweaks make it difficult to defend with certainty, and then their in-game adjustments are outstanding," Kelly said.
Navy handed Kelly his third-most lopsided loss while at Notre Dame, a 35-17 victory in 2010. Kelly said he and the coaching staff failed to have the Irish properly prepared as the Midshipmen amassed 367 yards rushing.
The game Saturday in Landover, Maryland, will be the first time first-year Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has faced a triple-option since he was at Georgia in 2004, when the Bulldogs had to put their starters back on the field after Georgia Southern scored a couple of quick touchdowns late in a game the Bulldogs won 48-28.
"We thought we had the game pretty much in hand," VanGorder said.
VanGorder said defensive teamwork is key against the option.
"Everybody's got to be detailed. It's assignment football. If you have a breakdown, it can be devastating," he said.
This week or next week.
Notes: Kelly said he told his team it was "a no cry zone" this week when it comes to Navy's cut blocks. "Stop being crybabies, and go play the game. I don't want to hear about cut blocks," Kelly said. ... Safety Eilar Hardy, one of five players who have been held out of games and practices during an investigation into academic misconduct, is back practicing but has not yet been cleared to play. Kelly said he has talked with receiver DaVaris Daniels, one of the other five, but not about the possibility of returning. "Our conversations were strictly about the immediate and what he needed to do to take care of things," Kelly said. ... Safety Austin Collinsworth, who injured his shoulder Oct. 11 against North Carolina, is questionable for Navy.