Notre Dame looks to improve to 8-1 on the season on Saturday against long-time rival Navy. The Irish and Midshipmen’s yearly contest took a one year hiatus in 2020 because of the pandemic, but they resume their rivalry this weekend and will make up that game in Dublin in 2023 as we learned earlier this week. This is a unique game every year and one that tends to either be a laugher or a nailbitter, usually without much in between. So which will it be this year?
What Worries Me This Week
This might be an overblown worry based on a rough outing tackling-wise last week, but all the missed tackles last week immediately made me think about what would happen if the Irish missed as many tackles this week as they did last. Navy thrives on those situations, and really the only way their offense will be able to sustain enough drives to make this interesting is if Notre Dame doesn’t tackle well and isn’t disciplined.
The good news is that Notre Dame has tackled well in six of the eight games this year – Florida State and North Carolina games being the outliers. The other good news is Navy doesn’t have Sam Howell. They don’t even have have a Malcolm Perry or Keenan Reynolds.
Overall, Notre Dame has tackled well this year, but if they slip again, Navy is the kind of team that will make them pay.
Injuries/Wear & Tear
Notre Dame is beat up right now, and we’ve seen bad November performances in the past on Notre Dame teams that have been beaten up by injuries – mainly 2014. The Irish have withstood more injuries than anyone thought they’d be able to and still have a record like 7-1 at this point. A game like this could offer the chance to build a lead and rest starters as it did in 2019. It could also be the kind of game that comes down to the wire, as we’ve seen far too many times.
The other worry this week is more injuries. Without getting too deep into the ongoing debate about whether or not Notre Dame should continue this series perpetually, it’s no surprise that the non-stop cut blocks are always an injury concern. Notre Dame is already razor-thin at linebacker and safety. They have to make it out of this game without any more injuries for 11-1 to stay within sight.
Notre Dame likely won’t have a ton of possessions in this game, given how Navy plays on offense. Even when they don’t score a lot, they drain the clock and limit possessions for the opposition. Notre Dame has to maximize their drives to counteract that. They’ve had trouble doing that the last few weeks. If Notre Dame kicks field goals instead of touchdowns, it’ll keep this game closer much longer than it needs to.
Perhaps we see more of Tyler Buchner in the redzone this week. Navy is used to defending mobile quarterbacks, but they aren’t used to defending mobile quarterbacks with the kind of weapons Buchner has on the field with him.
What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week
Marcus Freeman defending the option
Freeman has defended the option before, and he has option veteran Mike Elston on staff at his disposal. Elston and Kelly have seen just about every iteration of the option that Navy has though the Midshipmen always unveil some new wrinkle or some new trick play against the Irish.
We’ve also seen Freeman come out in some opponent-specific schemes this year that should give Notre Dame fans confidence that he’ll do the same for Navy. The Irish played with more of a 4-4 type scheme against Wisconsin that stymied the Badger offense. Expect some sort of wrinkle like that again on Saturday.
Big plays from the Irish offense
Efficiency has been the name of the game for the Notre Dame offense over the last few weeks, but I think that could change against Navy. There will be opportunities for big plays,, whether they be catch and runs ala Lorenzo Styles last week or receivers running free downfield like we also saw last week from Lorenzo Styles. Notre Dame didn’t hit on the shot play to Styles last week – and have missed quite a few of them recently – but the Navy defense is an excellent opportunity for Notre Dame to hit on them.
Between Styles and Avery Davis and then Braden Lenzy and Chris Tyree – assuming both are fully available – that’s a lot of speed that Navy can’t keep up with. They don’t have anyone who can match Kevin Austin either. Big plays will be there to be made.
Players to Watch This Week
- Jordan Botelho – He played a lot against Wisconsin and should play a lot against Navy. He’s uber aggressive so there’s a chance Navy actually looks for him and hopes for him to be too aggressive and give something up. There’s also the chance that he blows up a number of plays.
- Lorenzo Styles – We almost got the Lorenzo Styles breakout game against North Carolina. This might be the week we see him really take off.
- Isaiah Foskey – For as great as he’s been rushing the passer, he’s also been a tad bit over aggressive and run himself out of times as well. Being gap-disciplined is cirtical against Navy.
- Kurt Hinish – It’s been a little while since a big Kurt Hinish game, but this kinda feels like a big week for him. If he can consistently blow things up in the middle, it makes everything else a lot easier on the defense.
- Drew White – He’s the only starting linebacker who has played against Navy. He might not be Greer Martini aka the Option Destroyer, but he should have 10+ tackles
- Cam Hart – He won’t be tasked with a lot of coverage, but every year there is a defensive back that steps up and makes a lot of stops against Navy. Hart has had some issues tackling, but he could end up with quite a few stops.
- Avery Davis – A LOT of attention will be paid to Lorenzo Styles – if by nothing else than by Notre Dame fans – but don’t forget about Davis. He’s a crafty vet who we saw has a lot of speed on Kyren Williams’s 91-yard touchdown run. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had a big game.
- Kyren Williams – He has reminded everyone he is a beast and should top 100 yards for the third straight game.
So will it be a fun or a frustrating afternoon for Notre Dame fans? I think it’ll be a bit of both. I’d love to see Notre Dame come out and jump all over Navy as they did in 2019, but I expect to see it be something like 17-3 at halftime where the Irish have clearly dominated everywhere but the scoreboard. Eventually, I do see the Irish pulling away and winning comfortably, but there’ll be a breakdown or two on defense and Navy will inevitably have at least one drive where they convert like six third and shorts since that’s what they do, but in the end, Notre Dame has it’s largest margin of victory on the season
Notre Dame 38, Navy 10