For Notre Dame football, Navy week is never a fun one and no one expects this game to be any different. The Midshipmen always seem to bring their best against the Irish, so what matchups do the Notre Dame defense need to focus on this week?
Brian Kelly said it himself: his defense definitely could have used another week of preparation to fully get ready for everything Navy will throw at them. You may say, “Well, this is Kelly’s 9th year playing Navy, shouldn’t he have their offense figured out by now?”
The answer is no. Ken Niumatalolo runs a ridiculously complex offense at Navy and it’s never something you really get used to. Niumatalolo runs a fine-oiled machine at Navy and it will take the very best from this Irish defense to shut them down.
While it may be true that Navy is not having the best of seasons this year (2-5), don’t be fooled. They always seem to bring something extra when they play Notre Dame and don’t expect this year to be any different. With the game being played in San Diego, Navy will have all the motivation they need to knock off the current No. 3 team in the country.
Notre Dame Front 7 vs. Navy Rushing Attack
If you know anything about Navy, you know that they run the ball. A lot. And by a lot, I mean that these guys are averaging over 300 yards on the ground per game this season. That stat may be a bit misleading since Navy has nearly completely gotten rid of every passing play in the playbook, but still. Averaging 300+ yards per game? Wow.
Notre Dame comes into this game boasting one of the best front 7’s in the nation, but it will truly be tested against the triple-option that is Navy. This season, Notre Dame has only been giving up 126 yards per game on the ground. This matchup will truly define the game as it is a matchup of both teams strengths.
Luckily for the Irish defense, it is returning plenty of guys on defense that have played against this Navy rushing barrage, and have some experience stopping it. Expect guys like Drue Tranquill, Te’von Coney and Jerry Tillery to be big factors for the Irish in this game.
Irish Secondary vs. Navy Passing Attack
The Notre Dame secondary has been solid all year; however, Navy presents an interesting challenge. The secondary won’t be tasked with defending the pass, but helping to defend the run.
Most teams Notre Dame squares off against–well most football teams in general–have some sort of passing attack. Navy does not. As a whole, through 7 games Navy has tallied 548 yards through the air. That is an average of just over 78 yards per game. To put that in perspective, between Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book, Notre Dame has racked up over 1,700 passing yards.
So, it can be inferred that the Irish secondary won’t be too focused on the pass, obviously. The Notre Dame secondary has yet to see a rushing attack like this, and has yet to have to help this much against the run. It should be fun to see how well they perform.
Notre Dame Defensive Ends vs. the Triple Option
Notre Dame’s defensive line has been a major strength for this team and it will be challenged to prove itself yet again against the tough running game of Navy.
Most big teams avoid playing a team like Navy because of the way they play. They control the clock because of how they run the ball and with a rushing attack like this, comes cut and chop blocks. While, if done correctly, they’re not illegal, they’re very dangerous to the players that are being cut-blocked: the defensive lineman.
Anytime you hit a big guy down low, it always runs a risk of injury. Notre Dame will have prepared for this, but will be praying that they can get out of San Diego with a win and with no injuries.
The Notre Dame defensive ends will need to be able to get off of their blocks and stuff the Navy running game. If they can force the run back inside, where Navy does not want to be, Navy will find little success on the ground. If Navy manages to bounce the ball outside in space with blockers, that is where Notre Dame could be in trouble.
If you stop Navy’s running game, you beat Navy. Simple as can be. Or is it? We’ll see come Saturday afternoon, Go Irish.