SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees has been making teams pay lately for challenging his arm.
Rees was 17 for 22 passing last week against Air Force for 284 yards and five touchdowns, including eight completions of 15 yards or more as he took advantage of the Falcons' defense crowding the line of scrimmage.
"If a team wants to hunker down and get those safeties low, we've got to be able to throw the ball over their heads and get them to play back. That helps out the running game if you can stretch those safeties out. We took advantage of some good looks," he said.
Rees competed 61 percent of his passes through three games, throwing for 300 yards or more in each. But he completed just 42 percent of his passes in the next three, throwing four interceptions. With Notre Dame (6-2) trying to make a push for a BCS bowl berth, Rees seems to have regained his touch. Despite missing most of the second half against USC with a neck injury, the past two weeks Rees is completing 72 percent of his passes with no interceptions and seven touchdowns.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly attributes part of Rees' midseason struggles to the opponents, pointing out that Michigan State, Oklahoma and Arizona State all have good pass defenses. He also believes Rees is feeling more comfortable in the pocket and playing more confident.
Rees will be looking to take advantage of a Navy secondary undergoing changes with cornerback Parrish Gaines moving to free safety a week ago to try to strengthen Navy's run defense, which is giving up 188 yards rushing per game. Freshman Brendon Clements took over at cornerback, making eight tackles and a pass breakup in an overtime win over Pittsburgh.
"Having two tall, rangy guys back there at the safety spots strengthens us against the run," Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green said.
Notre Dame is favored by 16 points.
Five things to know about the Navy-Notre Dame game on Saturday:
OUTCOACHED: Notre Dame's 35-17 loss to Navy in 2010, the Cadets' most lopsided win over the Irish since 1963 with 367 yards rushing, is one Kelly won't forget. "We felt like there's only been a couple of times since we've been here where we've let the players down. As coaches, you never want to feel that way. I take full responsibility for that. You want your team prepared. That's why we're in this profession, to prepare our kids, and we weren't prepared properly. So we've redoubled our efforts based on that game to make sure that never happens again."
LOPSIDED RIVALRY: Although Notre Dame started playing USC in 1926, a year before its first game with Navy, the Irish have played the Cadets more than any other team with 86 games. That's because the Irish didn't play the Trojans 1943-45 because of World War II. Notre Dame leads the series with Navy 73-12-1 and won an NCAA-record 43 straight until the Cadets won three of four games from 2007-10. Notre Dame has scored at least 50 points against the Cadets in two straight victories. Navy knows it needs to play well to win. "We have to try to be perfect in everything we do because that's the only way we'll have a chance to beat them," Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds said.
ANOTHER OPTION: Playing the option for the second straight week, after beating Air Force 45-10, is a double-edge sword for Notre Dame. The Irish have an extra week of practice against the option, but Navy also has seen how Notre Dame's defends the option. "They have answers. They've been running the triple option way more than people have been defending it. So we have to be prepared because nobody runs the triple and the details of it better than Navy," Kelly said.
SCORING AVERAGE: The Irish are scoring 28 points a game. When scoring at least 28 points against Navy, the Irish are 40-1. The lone loss was in 2007, a 46-44 defeat in three overtimes. Navy is 5-1 against Notre Dame when its scores at least 28 points, losing 52-31 in 1990 at Giants Stadium.
NO NIX: Nose guard Louis Nix III, who sat out against Air Force with knee tendinitis, will sit out again against Navy. Nix wasn't expected to play much against either because he's not well-suited to play against the option.