Last weekend the Irish got a taste of the option attack from the Air Force Academy; fast forward to Saturday afternoon and you will see the same, except more dynamic and with a better defense.
The Irish are just 3-3 in their last six games against the Naval Academy, after dominating the series for forty-two years. While the Irish have beat up on the Midshipmen that last two seasons, this year both teams have drastically changed. The Irish defense, while improving, still isn’t nearly what it was last season and the offense still doesn’t seem to have an identity. Navy, on the other hand, has had a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde type of season. After scoring ninety-two points through the first two weeks, the Midshipmen lost two of their next three games, scoring just forty-two points combined. Defensively, Navy has given up an average of thirty-five points in each of their three losses.
Let’s take a closer look at the Navy defense:
The Irish have an obvious size advantage in the trenches which won’t make it any easier for Navy to increase their 0.86 sacks per game average. With defensive ends, Paul Quessenbury and Evan Palelei built more like linebackers; Zach Martin and Ronnie Stanley should have no problem keeping Tommy Rees upright. At 6-1, 303lbs, sophomore nose guard, Bernard Sarra poses the biggest threat to stop any interior rushing attack; but don’t expect much resistance. Look for the Irish to dominate the line of scrimmage early on and wear out and undersized defensive front.
The best player on the Navy defense resides in the middle of the field; Cody Peterson. Peterson leads the Midshipmen in tackles this season and will be lurking as the Irish try to jump-start their running game. The Navy linebackers play aggressive and fly to the ball, however, they rank 89th in the country in rush defense.
The Midshipmen rank 21st in the nation in passing yards allowed, surrendering just 204 yards a game through the air. Brian Kelly mentioned earlier this week that big plays in the passing game will be hard to come by as the Midshipmen rarely give up the big play. Navy’s best defensive back, Parrish Gaines will be roaming the secondary and looking to pester the Irish receiving corps with his size and speed. Look for Gaines to move around a bit throughout the game to give Tommy Rees some different looks in coverage.
This game will likely be won or lost with the rushing attack of Notre Dame. The undersized defensive front and linebackers of the Midshipmen should allow Brian Kelly to dial-up the pressure on the ground and exhaust Navy’s front seven. With Navy’s solid pass defense, Kelly will have to use the rushing game to open up opportunities for big plays against a disciplined defensive backfield. Look for Troy Nicklas to be an x-factor in this weekends game; he is a match-up nightmare for the Navy defense.