For the first time since 1978, Navy and Notre Dame will meet while both programs are ranked in the top 25 – Notre Dame at number 16 and Navy at number 21. This historic rivalry, built on the foundation of mutual respect, goes back decades and this year’s Navy program comes in posing more of a threat than in years past. Yes, we all know to expect the triple option offense that the Midshipmen are accustomed to running, but Navy will enter Saturday’s matchup ranked 21st in the country with a 7-1 overall record. Will the Irish be able to contain the option and come out victorious? The key will lie in Notre Dame’s offensive efficiency and the defense’s discipline.
Since 2007, the Midshipmen have been led by head coach Ken Niumatalolo and this year will feature a 5 foot 9 inch senior quarterback, Malcolm Perry running the Navy offense. Perry was actually a slot receiver/running back for the Midshipmen in the past before switching to quarterback prior to this season. Navy’s triple option allows them to control the game clock and time of possession, which in a close game, can have a heavy influence on the outcome. While averaging over 300 rushing yards per game, Perry and the Midshipmen are no strangers to chewing up the clock and severely limiting the total number of possessions for each team in the game. This is where efficiency is going to come into play. With Notre Dame not expected to have the “normal” time of possession that most teams are accustomed to, it will be up to Ian Book and the Notre Dame offense to put points on the board nearly every time they are on the field. A positive aspect of Navy’s run-dominant offense is that through their eight games of the 2019 season, they are averaging less than 100 passing yards per game. As the Midshipmen are not known for the explosive “USC-like” air raid offense, the Irish defense will be tested to stay disciplined on their assignments.
Defensively, the Irish line will need to get in the backfield to disrupt the Navy runs. With Navy’s offensive line being significantly smaller than Notre Dame’s defensive line, the Midshipmen’s success this season has come when their offensive line has been able to get up to the opposing linebackers, sealing off more blocks and creating the lanes needed for Nelson Smith, Jamale Carothers, Perry Olson and the Naval rushing attack to be successful. As mentioned with such a run-heave offense, Navy will often times look to use misdirection to confuse the defense and in turn, create more room to run. This is where Notre Dame’s linebackers, corner backs, and safeties will need to trust their coaching, stay disciplined, and not fall for the eye fakes and extra movements. As there have been some missed tackles by the Notre Dame defense throughout the season, it is these small aspects of execution that can add up to potentially tumultuous effects in a game where a lot of time will be bled off the clock. Navy’s offense has converted over 80% of their fourth down tries this year, and is averaging just over 40 points per game, so the Notre Dame defense will need to limit their red zone success as I’m not the most confident that this Irish offense can win in a shootout. It was last year’s matchup against Navy that current Notre Dame starting linebacker, Drew White, proved his value, filling in for an injured Drue Tranquill and shutting down the option attack. With Julian Okwara’s injury last weekend and Daelin Hayes going out in the Virginia game, Notre Dame’s depth at the defensive end position will be tested yet again. If the Irish defense is going to be successful, I expect some good play from linebackers Drew White and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah – playing physical and getting downhill to the Navy rushing attack, as well as the Irish defensive line using their size to control the line of scrimmage.
Offensively, I am still not sure which Irish team will show up. The Notre Dame offense has been playing hot and cold recently; if the team puts up a performance similar to that seen in the Virginia Tech game, Irish fans will be in for a long afternoon. However, if the team looks more like they did this past weekend against Duke, I am confident that Notre Dame will come out with their eighth victory of the season. There is no question that the Irish running backs, receivers, and tight ends will be bigger and stronger, but will Book be able to put the ball where it needs to go in order for the Irish playmakers to assert their dominance? As it has been seen, Chase Claypool’s catch radius is absolutely incredible, so I expect Book to be able to get him the ball for some chunk plays throughout the afternoon. Book will need to continue to trust his receivers, play with the confidence he showed last weekend, and look to get the ball downfield when possible. Yes, the Irish could theoretically pass all day against Navy given the talent of Claypool, Finke, Kmet, and others, but it will be up to Book to be aggressive yet efficient with his reads, allowing for the Irish to have the success necessary to beat the Midshipmen.
At the time of writing this article, Notre Dame is currently sitting as 7.5 point favorites for Saturday’s matchup. In my opinion, Navy’s 7-1 record looks better than it actually is. The Midshipmen have not played a Power 5 school this season and their lone loss came in a 35-23 defeat by Memphis. Could the Irish come in and win this game by three to four touchdowns if they are able to jump out to an early lead? Yes. Could this game also come down to the last possession in a low scoring, sweat it out, slug fest? Yes. There have been plenty of arguments made as to which outcome will be most likely and frankly I think it will come down to which Notre Dame offense we see on the field. With all of that being said, I am going to predict a 30-21 Notre Dame victory. Go Irish. Beat Midshipmen.
A Look at Notre Dame’s Opponents:
Louisville: 5-4 overall, lost to Miami (FL) 52-27
New Mexico: 2-7 overall, coming off bye week
Georgia: 8-1 overall, currently ranked #4/#5, beat Missouri 27-0
Virginia: 7-3 overall, beat Georgia Tech 33-28
Bowling Green: 3-7 overall, lost to Miami (OH) 44-3
USC: 6-4 overall, beat Arizona State 31-26
Michigan: 7-2 overall, currently ranked #14, coming off bye week
Virginia Tech: 6-3 overall, beat Wake Forest 36-17
Duke: 4-5 overall, lost to Notre Dame 38-7
Navy: 7-1 overall, currently ranked #21, coming off bye week
Boston College: 5-5 overall, beat Florida State 38-31
Stanford: 4-5 overall, lost to Colorado 16-13