For Notre Dame Against Navy, Keeping The Ball Is Everything

A buddy of mine sent me an email the other day, asking how worried I was for this weekends matchup. To answer that, I consulted my Navy handbook of worriedness.

Is Navy competent? This season, the answer is yes. It doesn’t much matter if they are ranked or not, that’s just the nature of their record, and this season their record is very good. There is some argument to be made whether the record in inflated based on their competition, but 7-1 means they are a good and competent team. And those two factors mean the offense is clicking, which lends itself to a pretty high level of concern.

The second relevant question is how powerful is the Notre Dame offense? If they are high powered and explosive, the concern is alleviated some. Figure Navy is always good for at least 21 points, so if they can be outscored then their quirkiness on offense is mitigated. But, Notre Dame doesn’t really have a high powered offense this season, and they’ve had a penchant for throwing possessions in the garbage with three and outs–they had multiple against Virginia Tech and opened the game against Duke with one.

So, a competent Navy team combined with an offense that hasn’t been a staple of efficiency means there is good reason to be concerned. Odds are, it’ll be a close game. One way to take away the advantage of Navy bleeding the clock is to keep them from having the ball, and that means changing the way Notre Dame approaches the game offensively and defensively.

Go For It On 4th Down Most Of The Time

Something we’ve all certainly noticed when we play the Middies is they are constantly going for it on 4th down. Since 2010, Navy has gone for it on 4th down 29 times, converting 18 of those. In the same time frame, Notre Dame has gone for 10 times, successful on eight. Since 2015, the numbers are 14-18 Navy, 6-6 Notre Dame. That is eight more times over the last four seasons that Navy has kept the ball instead of giving it back to the Irish or attempting a field goal. Navy knows the best way to keep Notre Dame from killing them offensively is to not allow them to have the ball, and Notre Dame needs to think the same way.

Is it 4th and 10 from the 50? Go for it. Is it 4th and 4 from your own 40? Go for it. Stop giving them the ball back, especially with longer fields. This is a good Navy offense, it’s unlikely Notre Dame is going to shut them down completely, which means the longer they have to move the ball, the longer they’ll possess the ball which means you aren’t playing offense.

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Notre Dame possessed the ball more than Navy did last season, a 44-22 victory, and it may not be a coincidence that they matched them in 4th down attempts at three. In 2017? Navy possessed the ball for 41 minutes to Notre Dame’s 18. 4th down conversion attempts in that one were six for Navy, none for Notre Dame. And that wasn’t even a good Navy team. Notre Dame eked out a victory, but they didn’t need to given their 6.4 yards per play to Navy’s 4.0.

Stop. Punting. To. Navy.

That’s what they want. They want you voluntarily give it to them so they can burn eight minutes off the clock on a touchdown drive. So don’t do it. Value the ball and possession just as much as they do. Go for it when you are in doubt. Treat every drive like you have four downs to get 10, not just three. Do the thing they don’t want, which is keep the ball away from them.

Don’t Be Afraid Of Big Plays On Defense

Normally, this is the opposite of what you’d think as a defense. Big plays are a big no-no defensively. You want to make the offense work for everything. But, that’s when you’re not playing a team like Navy, when you could conceivably get 7-8 possessions in a game. Four yards at a time is just fine for them.

Above I talked about possessing the ball. To possess it, you have to get it and to get it you need to get Navy off the field on offense. Novel concept, I know. But, for a team where four yards on first down means it’s basically 1st and six, you need to get them for no gains or going backward. To do that, the defense has to be aggressive, which naturally leads to some vulnerabilities in the back. But, that’s ok because a 20 yard gash followed by a loss of 4 is the way to get the ball away from Navy. Bend but don’t break is how Navy wants to play the game. Take the fight to them, let them have to adjust to our pressure, instead of us reacting to their option. Put it on your players to make the plays.

Stops and possessions, that’s the way to beat Navy consistently. And to do it, Notre Dame has to be aggressive on both offense and defense. If they are reacting to Navy, that’s how they get beaten. Make Navy react to you and you’re taking the fight to them, just what an underdog doesn’t want. Navy doesn’t treat this like a conventional game, so neither should we.

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24 Comments

  1. Shutting down these option attacks has a few variations. You hear all of these: Stop the fullback first, play your assignment, stay on your feet, stay home…or, quick penetration, disrupt before the mesh, pursue…or make the QB commit ASAP, if you are the veer guy on defense, immediately tackle the QB, let your DB’s come up and worry about what’s left to do…and a few other variations. I don’t know what Lea will use.
    I actually prefer the old wishbone…every play started exactly the same, there was no motion to one side or another before the snap. Even pass plays started the same as everything else. But with the advanced blocking techniques of the flexbone, the motion has a purpose…so it’s a tradeoff.
    Offensively to beat this attack, score on every possession, or at least flip field position on any position that does not score points. They won’t be going for it on fourth down from the WRONG 20 yard line! Play to “break serve” if the bone is working…stop them, then score, then stop them again. And if they do go on fourth down, from anywhere, and they don’t make it, that behavior needs to be punished by us scoring after the COP.

    BGC ’77 ’82

      1. Geez , any chance a guy will ever win the Heisman on a team with 2-8 record ? Wonder if any young whipper snapper on here remembers last player who did ?

  2. Its become a lose-lose situation for ND. If you win you get accused of playing an over-matched ,over rated team.
    If you lose you lose respect because you were beaten by an inferior academy team. So, either way its a weird position to be in.
    ND knows how to beat Navy after 100 years of playing them. Its comes down to ball control and execution.
    Every year there is all this teeth gnashing over which ND team will show up. I think its time to put Navy on the back burner.
    A change is needed on the schedule. Play them every 4 yrs and get some new blood on the schedule. The other scheduling
    issue is you NEVER see Alabama, Ohio St, Clemson, etc travel to the West Coast. I know they are all in a conference but
    the only time to see them ON the ROAD is if they are in the PLAYOFFS. Most of their road games are in their own backyard.

  3. david says: October 15, 2019 at 1:09 pm
    Just so you know, I don’t read your posts.
    For your own sake, you could do the same.

    1. Regina the internet librarian spends the days of her fulfilling life indexing copmments on the internet.

      No football again this week, toots? Let’s see…that makes….all of them.

  4. Kudos, Greg. Excellent analysis re: how to beat Navy. Well thought out and delivered. The key you mentioned is aggressive strategy on both sides of the ball and, of course, as always, control of the LOS – make them react to your aggression.
    Despite the ‘tradition’ and respect that is in abundance, it’s my least favorite game of the year- so much to lose; so little to gain. Maybe the lack of interest (the failure to sell-out the stadium in over 45 years) will catch the attention of the powers-that-be!

    1. Maybe this year there might be just a little bit to gain if ND can get a strong win to help them get a NY Day 6 bowl, since Navy is ranked in the top 25. A loss would end it all, but a win may not be totally without some benefit (if Navy manages to win out after our game that would help).

      But yeah, most years it’s almost a moot game. But I expect, like USC, we will always play Navy because of the history.

      1. So….while anyone who might dare accuse ND of being a sellout is vilified and ridiculed,
        you consider the annual ND-Navy game to now be “moot”, inconvenient drudgery.

        Which, if you had your druthers, clearly would be replaced with a “better” opponent.

        Remind me again……who are the “worthy ND fans”, and who aren’t?
        You keep the list, right?

      2. No. I never said they should stop playing Navy.

        Only that most years winning that game doesn’t do squat for our SOS

        Stop putting words in people’s mouth

      3. Yes…putting words in people’s mouths,
        or dismissing their genuine opinions as unworthy.,
        or making biased, baseless presumptions of their motivations,
        or accusing them of being many things they are not…
        that would all be just terrible
        wouldn’t it?

        You hypocrite.

      4. Well, all Notre Dame has to do is hold serve and they will be well into the Top 10 at season’s end.

        There are a lot of significant, impactful games over the next FOUR weekends.

        There won’t be too many 2 loss teams by the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

        I actually like this kind of game. It sets up a special, unusual challenge for the players, and they can return to normalcy for BC and Stanford.

        The entire team, coaches and players, will breate a sigh of relief after this one.

      5. Thanks David….you actually made me laugh. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Wow. I dismiss other people’s opinions? OMG. That is so funny because that is you in a nutshell. I’m not the one that accuses anyone of disagreeing with me of being on drugs, needing mental health and everything else you accuse people of who disagree with you.

        I think I’ll just go back to ignoring you. While I love a good debate, debating someone who’s convinced of their own righteousness grows tiresome.

        But thanks for the laugh. That one post told me all I need to know about you. Have fun posting with yourself.

    1. Burgey , I still got a couple of yellow Livstrong wrist bands from my time (job transfer1996-2009) in San Diego. Ha — I jumped on the Armstrong bandwagon–getting a 24 speed Cannondale , crotch padded shorts , water bottle. I still cycle to this day –despite his down fall.

  5. You make good points. I have a feeling BK won’t do any of that though. We have a bad habit of treating Navy games like any other game. As you point out you can’t do that with Navy. Normally you’d punt a 4th and 6 away. And normally you’d be absolutely right to do that (I mean unless there’s 2 minutes left and you’re down a TD).

    But against Navy…they are licking their chops with that punt. It’s a nail biter for sure. You’re natural inclination is to punt, but I agree with Greg, be very judicious with that punt.

    I noted before, I don’t worry as much about their option attack as I once did. They won’t get behind our defense with it. But I am concerned about their tendency to bleed clock. All they need to do is average 3 to 4 yards per play. With using 4 downs many times that’s all they need. And they’ll take their time setting up the next play. And all that could frustrate an opposing defense. They’re not used to seeing a team burn up as much of the play clock as they can. So the defense needs to stay disciplined and expect in every series that they will need to go 4 and out. 3 and out won’t be enough.

    But none of that probably matters. I pretty much expect BK to play this like any other game and we’ll be sweating it out to the end of the game. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.

    1. Unless you have the level of respect for the wishbone that someone who (ostensibly) loves college football should have.

      BGC ’77 ’82

      1. ostensibly…..
        Trying to wring some bonus value out of your degrees?
        Dude, take off the bow tie and stop being a dick.

      2. The bow tie? You are confusing me with my father…and that is not easy for anyone who knows either of us to do, David.

        BGC ’77 ’82

      3. Hey David! Thanks for jarring the old memory. Back in those days, only “my dear old Dad” and some senator, who became an economist, I think, actually wore bow ties to work.

        BGC ’77 ’82

      4. BGC we ran the wishbone in HS ! We beat teams bigger and stronger than us with speed, misdirection and a QB who was the fastest man on the field! To watch the OKLAHOMA’S , BAMA and the many teams from the 70’s and 80’s running the wishbone was a thing of beauty!

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