- The Washington Times - Friday, November 6, 2009

It didn’t take long for Kevin Edwards to realize the challenge that awaits him this weekend in South Bend, Ind.

During a film session earlier this week, the Navy cornerback watched in awe as Notre Dame receiver Golden Tate hauled in a 50-yard touchdown pass at the end of the first half of the Irish’s game against Washington State. The 5-foot-11 junior outjumped three Cougars defensive backs to haul in the Hail Mary pass.

“[Tate] went over the corner and caught it over his head. That play made me say, ‘Wow, that’s a good receiver right there,’ ” Edwards said.

But Tate is just one of many reasons the Navy secondary will have its hands full Saturday when the Midshipmen (6-3) take on No. 19 Notre Dame (6-2).

The Irish passing offense has been clicking all season. The unit appeared to take a serious hit, however, when star receiver Michael Floyd - who led the nation in touchdown catches at the time - broke his collarbone against Michigan State. But that opened the door for Tate, who stepped in to the No. 1 role seamlessly and has become a star of his own.

At the time of his injury, Floyd was expected to be out until at least the bowl season. But after being cleared by doctors earlier this week, the 6-3 sophomore plans to return against the Mids.

“They’re the most complete receiving corps we’ve seen as far as blocking, catching, route-running - just playing the position,” Navy cornerback Blake Carter said. “I think they take it very personal as far as getting their job done and they express that on every play. Some receivers tend to take plays off if the ball isn’t coming to them, but [the Notre Dame receivers] give you 100 percent the whole game regardless of it’s pass or run.”

The Mids’ last game at Notre Dame Stadium was an epic 46-44, triple-overtime win in 2007 that ended their 44-year losing streak to Notre Dame. But the Irish have matured in Charlie Weis’ system and have what Mids coach Ken Niumatalolo called “the best offense we’ll see.”

The progression of his players has allowed Weis to unleash his offensive arsenal on the rest of the country. This year, the Irish have had an answer for whatever defenses present. If the opposition guards against the deep ball, the Irish deploy an effective screen game. If the defense plays tightly, Notre Dame can use play-action to stretch the field.

Notre Dame currently is eighth in the country at 309.8 yards a game behind the arm of junior Jimmy Clausen. The former top recruit was highly scrutinized after a disappointing first two seasons at Notre Dame, but he has excelled this season. With a plethora of weapons at his disposal, Clausen has posted a 164.3 quarterback rating in 2009 thanks largely to an 18-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

“If you blitz him, he’ll kill you. If you’re soft in coverage, he gets you,” Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green said. “He knows where to go with the ball, and the throws he has been making are on the money. I think this year, he’s playing as well as any quarterback I’ve seen.”

The Mids have encountered pass-first offenses already this year, particularly in a two-game Texas trip against Rice and SMU, and have come away unscathed. But the Irish present the most talent and athleticism Navy will see, and the Navy secondary relishes the opportunity.

“That’s what you play football for - to just have the challenge,” Edwards said. “I’m not just looking to play against somebody who I know I can stop, somebody who I know isn’t going to be much of a challenge. I look forward to the challenge. That’s one of the things that keeps me competing.”

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