With three games remaining in the 2019 regular season, the Fighting Irish are seeking to close with a flourish and compete in a major bowl game. The first chance to improve on their 7-2 record comes this Saturday when they host the 7-1 Navy Midshipmen, an annual opponent since 1927. The rivalry has been one-sided, with the Irish holding a 78-13-1 lead in the series.
Navy has bounced back from an uncharacteristic 3-10 season last year and is also looking to make their mark with bowl scouts. For the third week in a row, Notre Dame’s opponent will have the advantage of coming off a bye week, though the Irish had little trouble in their 38-7 win over Duke on Saturday night.
Below are some of the key matchups:
QB Ian Book vs. Navy Defense
Book continues to be a threat with both his arm and legs, the latter of which he used to gain 139 yards on just 12 carries in the rout against Duke. Yet his leadership down the field in the closing moments against Virginia Tech included a series of clutch passes, so he’s hoping to use one or the other, if not both, against the Midshipmen.
The Navy defense has only allowed 18 points per game this season but has had its problems against teams with winning records. In those three games, they’ve allowed an average of 33 points per contest, with their pass defense not really vulnerable to deep tosses. However, there have been gaps when it came to stopping the run, something Book regularly does.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Malcolm Perry
Coming off their most impressive performance of the year, the Irish allowed just 197 yards of total offense against Duke, with the lone Blue Devils’ touchdown on the night the only blemish. That effort comes one week after they only allowed 240 yards to Virginia Tech, with the Irish defense allowing opposing runners to gain just under three yards per carry, a statistic that becomes important this week.
Navy’s almost exclusive reliance on the running game for their offense means that Perry, who’s only thrown 53 passes this season, is the main target for the Notre Dame defense. He just collected his third consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season and has made it into the end zone 16 times. At just 5-foot-9, he’s on the small side, but he’s obviously been difficult to bring down this year, averaging 6.6 yards per carry.
WR Chris Finke vs. Striker Jake Springer
Before the Duke victory, Finke was having a relatively quiet season. That changed during the first quarter, when he grabbed four of his five passes on the night, scoring twice and also delivering a lengthy punt return to set up Note Dame’s final score. Given the emergence of Chase Claypool this season, Finke’s role in the slot has been subdued, but he remains a receiving threat.
Springer’s role in Navy terminology is to serve as a hybrid between linebacker and safety, which means that he’ll be focusing both on stopping Finke and the Irish running game when necessary. Book also needs to keep an eye on him because Springer leads the Midshipmen with seven sacks among his team-high 11.5 tackles-for-loss.
NT Kurt Hinish vs. C Ford Higgins
Hinish only has 13 tackles on the year, though he’s been productive when making those stops by collecting 4.5 stops behind the line and two sacks, while also forcing a fumble. The nose tackle position has always been one without glamour, but the junior can make a name for himself if he’s able to hold the upper hand in this matchup.
That’s because Higgins represents Navy’s best offensive lineman, even though he’s undersized for the position. He’s embraced the leadership role that comes with this vital position and has opened plenty of holes over the past three years, with Perry’s numbers the most apparent evidence of that opinion.
RB Tony Jones Jr. vs. MLB Diego Fagot
Since leaving early in the Michigan game because of a rib injury, Jones has missed the Virginia Tech game and contributed just 14 yards on seven carries. Rather than rely on Ian Book to power the Notre Dame running game, the Irish would prefer to have Jones return to his early-season form. That’s primarily because he’s not getting much help from many of the other backs.
Fagot leads Navy in tackles with 59 and has made 6.5 of those stops behind the line of scrimmage. He’s only a sophomore, but he’s shown he can handle the rigors of leading the Midshipmen’s defense and has displayed a knack for being able to defend against the pass with a pick-six and two pass breakups, not to mention forcing a fumble.