Notre Dame returns home today to take on long-time rival Navy. Unlike a year ago, the Midshipmen are a top-25 opponent after a disastrous 2018 season in Annapolis. The Irish meanwhile come in off their most complete win of the season, but the threat of Navy’s triple-option looms large heading into today’s contest. Here’s how I see this one playing out.
Apologies on the late posting and abridged version this week, but again, work travel had me all over this week.
What Worries Me This Week
Defensive line. Notre Dame lost Julian Okwara for the year last week, so there will be a shuffling of the rotation up front for the Notre Dame defense. Jamir Jones will start and has seen the option before, so that isn’t a worry, but after him is when it gets worrisome. Ovie Oghoufo and Justin Ademilola figure to play more, but neither of them has much experience against the option.
Running the football. Notre Dame hasn’t been able to run the ball well since the USC game – with their running backs at least. Last week Ian Book torched Duke on the ground, but the backs never got going. Notre Dame will need its running game to keep drives alive and converting third downs. Tony Jones and Jafar Armstrong just don’t look entirely healthy, and so far, at least, the staff has looked reluctant to give Jahmir Smith the lead role.
Not getting Navy off the field. This is always a game that frustrates the hell out of Notre Dame fans because Navy will convert third down after third down and milk the clock. If Notre Dame keeps Navy in third and long and plays well on first and second down, this won’t be an issue. It has in years past against the Midshipmen though and probably will be today.
Wasting possessions. Greg wrote about this on Friday already, but Notre Dame has to make the most out of every opportunity it has with the football since Navy tries to limit its opponent’s possessions. We’ve seen the Notre Dame offense waste drives and waste golden opportunities at times this year. That can’t happen today.
Ian Book has also been uncharacteristically careless with the football the last two weeks with four interceptions in the previous two games – both Notre Dame wins. Turning the ball over and giving Navy a short field is a recipe for disaster today.
What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week
Drew White. Defensively, look for Drew White to shine today. Remember last year, when Drue Tranquill got hurt, it was Drew White that the staff turned to because of his experience against the option. Look for him to have a monster game and help the other linebackers play some assignment correct football. He’ll especially need to help Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who hasn’t played against an option attack and can be vulnerable due to his aggressiveness.
Throwing the ball. Ian Book has looked better throwing the ball the last two, albeit with the interceptions. This is a game in which he should be able to throw the ball with relative ease. Navy is light years better on defense this year versus last, but in last year’s contest, Book threw for over 300 yards. Even with the improvement, Navy just doesn’t have the athletes to cover either Chase Claypool or Cole Kmet. Both should be able to have active games today.
Clark Lea‘s Adjustments. We’ve already seen Clark Lew adjust his defense twice this year for specific opponents. We saw a 3-man front for USC we hadn’t seen before, and against Virginia Tech, he deployed a 5-man front. Lea isn’t stubborn like a previously Notre Dame defensive coordinator who shall remain nameless. He will adjust his defense to stop Navy’s option, and if the Midshipmen come out in some look he hasn’t seen before, we’ve witnessed Lea be able to adjust on the fly in those situations as well (see Louisville).
Players I’m Watching
- Ian Book – Is he turning the corner, or did he have a good night last week? If he struggles today, we know he hasn’t turned the corner and likely won’t this year.
- Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa & Kurt Hinish – Notre Dame needs these two to be disruptive up front to eliminate the first option in the triple option.
- Kyle Hamilton – He should see the field a lot, and it will be fun to watch how the heady freshman handles the option.
- Chase Claypool – He goes over 100 yards today.
This game has worried me all week long. I want to think that Notre Dame handles Navy just fine, but we just haven’t seen evidence from this team this year that they are that kind of team. Trust me, I realize that in year 10 of the Brian Kelly Era, Navy should not ever be a concern for Notre Dame, but this is a good Navy team, and it’s an inconsistent at best Notre Dame squad in 2019. Almost no circumstance would surprise me. I could see Notre Dame win comfortably, and I would not be shocked if Navy found a way to win this one relatively comfortably.
Ultimately though, I think (maybe hope moreso) that in the end, Notre Dame’s athletic ability is the difference. I think it’s going to be a close one though.
Notre Dame 27, Navy 24