Notre Dame vs. Navy – Key Matchups

Carlo Calabrese - Notre Dame ILB
Carlo Calabrese (44) celebrates after a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter against the Temple Owls at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 28-6. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame won its third straight game for the first time this season in last week’s destruction of Air Force, and the Irish will be expected to put another dominating performance together this week versus one of the oldest rivals of the  Notre Dame football program – Navy.  The Irish looked strong against the option last week and will face it again this week versus the Midshipmen, which should lead to another strong effort by the Irish defense.  This week’s game could be a mirror image of last week’s offensively as the Irish will likely pick apart Navy’s secondary at will.  The following are the key matchups the Irish must dictate to win as convincingly as they should:

Dan Fox versus Keenan Reynolds:

Just as it was last week linebacker play will be under the microscope this week versus the option.  Fifth-year senior Dan Fox will be responsible for shutting down the engine that makes the Navy offense run, quarterback Keenan Reynolds.  Reynolds is Navy’s leading rusher with 546 yards and 11 touchdowns and is also a very solid passer with 667 yards and four touchdowns on the season.  If Fox can do the grunt work and limit Reynolds’s big plays then linebackers like Jaylon Smith will be able to shine and fill up the stat sheet.

[ Related: Brian Kelly talks about Navy and updates Notre Dame injuries heading into this weekend. ]

Carlo Calabrese versus Chris Swain:

Inside linebacker Carlo Calabrese will be charged with the responsibility of shutting down the first option in the triple option, fullback Chris Swain.  In what promises to be an extremely physical matchup Calabrese will battle the hardnosed Swain who is one of two frequently used fullbacks for the Midshipmen.  Swain has 284 rushing yards and three touchdowns, good for second on the Navy roster and will occupy Calabrese’s full attention from start to finish.

TJ Jones versus Parrish Gaines:

Irish receiver TJ Jones is likely in for another huge day when he faces Navy.  Jones has separated himself as far and away Notre Dame’s best receiver and Tommy Rees’s favorite target.  Charged with trying to contain Jones will be Navy corner Parrish Gaines.  Gaines is a junior and is a big corner at 6’2’’ 196 pounds.  The Midshipmen corner has 34 tackles and an interception so far this season.

The Irish running backs versus Cody Peterson:

With the Irish having a bit of trouble getting the run game going against Air Force don’t be surprised if the attack is run heavy this week to make a statement.  With the backs still splitting carries at this point in the season and some of them still struggling to find consistency look for all four big players to get carries.  Navy linebacker Cody Peterson will be in charge of slowing down the Notre Dame ground attack.  Peterson is a co-captain and leading tackler for the Midshipmen and the senior has plenty of experience.  He’ll be in tough however as the Irish will likely look to pound the ball on the ground throughout the game.

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  1. This is always a big game for the Middies. I am sure last year’s game has not been forgotten. They usually come ready to play and have a not too recent history of winning some games in this series. They are much different than Air Force other they have some offensive similarities. ND better show up ready to play. I believe ND is the better team and have more talent so on paper but again they better be ready to play. Hopefully the D will be a little more wiser quicker with this option based team . The Middie QB is pretty good.

    Go Irish

  2. Another thing to consider is the weather. Once the callender turns to November in South Bend, weather can be a factor.

    For example, for Saturday’s game they are calling for cloudy sky’s, chilly temps (high of 48), and rainy conditions (60% chance), with NW winds at 17mph gusting to 25.

    Add in the fact that the field was recently re-sodded, and then played on against USC 14 days ago, and I’m just not sure what the field conditions will be, how they will play out, or who they might favor.

    If the weather doesn’t get too bad, and the field holds up well, ND could probably open up their entire playbook.

    Poor footing, with wet, windy conditions, may favor a power running game, a shorter passing game at times, along with having the wind at your back (defending the north end) in the fourth quarter.

    1. Good points Shaz. Windy conditions certainly wont help TR and the passing game. We should roll over Navy regardless of conditions But with BKs conservative play calling you just never know.

  3. Well, at the risk of going out on a limb, some wags would suggest that
    the Navy secondary is not very good. They gave up 363 passing to the Hurrying Hoosiers and 301 to Duke’s mighty Blue Devils.

    I suggest that our passing attack is a notch above Indiana or Duke.

  4. I reviewed the game stats from Air Force and Navy. Air Force was losing 14-10 in the fourth quarter. They had two interceptions that opened the game up for Navy. I would hardly say that the score was like Notre Dame and Air Force.

    Now I do feel this game will be a lot closer due to the fact that Navy’s QB is really good. I watched the Pitt vs Navy and the play Pitt had trouble with the QB following the back up into the hole. ND had trouble with the same play. I think that play will give ND fits and will ND will need to adjust. Plus Navy with a good QB will always give ND trouble. I see this game as being close and if ND doesn’t show up they can lose.

  5. Which Navy team will show up Saturday?

    The one that put up 41 in a season opener road win against Indiana and also upset PITT last week after coming off a double overtime, back and forth heartbreaking loss to Toledo the week before?

    Or the one that scored 7 points in road losses to W.Kentucky and Duke?

    Navy always tries to give ND their best effort, but after their last two games it’s hard not to think that they might be a little beat-up physically and mentally.

    Woody is right, let’s get on top them from the get go!

  6. Air Force ran the ball on our defense in the first half for some good yards. It was a lot closer game if they don’t fumble
    Before the half. Better be ready.

  7. ….and Navy crushed Air Force, almost as bad as we did.

    We better come out with our war bonnets on and chin straps fastened! Let’s get on top of them from the get go!!!

    Go Irish,

  8. Unfortunately, this week’s game will not be a “mirror image” of the Air Force game; and ND will not be able to “pick apart Navy’s secondary at will.” That is because Navy is a very different team from Air Force and has different strengths and weaknesses.

    First of all, Navy has a good secondary that is having a good year, unlike Air Force, whose secondary was its weakest link. Whereas Air Force took it chances by going one-on-one with our receivers, Navy will do no such thing. As usual, Navy will play a zone with the objective of keeping the play in front of the corners and safeties, avoiding the big play and making ND go on long sustained drives to score. In other words, Navy’s defensive strategy is the same as ours.

    Air Force’s relative strength on defense was its line and linebackers. ND did not run easily or all that effectively against them, partly because Air Force loaded the line to stop the run. Navy, on the other hand, has been vulnerable to the run this year. However, as we’ve seen, ND has had trouble running well. It will be even more difficult for ND to run this week because we will have a new man at right guard (Elmer), and Watt will be coming back soon from an injury. Stanley is also banged up. Under the circumstances, with Atkinson still trying to learn how to be a running back, our rushing attack and Navy’s defense against the run will not be that much of a mismatch.

    For these reasons, ND will not score as easily or as often against Navy as we did against Air Force. Instead of long strikes down the field, Rees will have to take what the defense gives him and try to take the offense on sustained drives with a robust running game — if possible — and short to medium passes. There is unlikely to be a 35 point blowout this week.

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