The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are coming off their most impressive performance of the season following their 35-14 pounding of the Clemson Tigers. They enter this rivalry clash against the Navy Midshipmen hoping to continue their recent success and have their running game surging at the right time of year.
Navy enters enter this game with a 3-6 record and is coming off a competitive 20-10 road loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats. The Midshipmen have struggled in recent years, compiling a record of 10-21 since 2020, with no bowl appearances. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo is in his 15th season at the Naval Academy and continues to rely almost exclusively on the triple option offense.
Below are some of the key matchups to watch in this contest:
QB Drew Pyne vs. Navy Defense
Pyne has been able to rely on a consistent running game in recent weeks. His overall numbers are down as a result but the scoreboard clearly shows that it’s a winning strategy for the Irish. Navy is more vulnerable through the air, so Pyne may choose to supplement the work of his backs by looking at his different receiving options.
The Midshipmen have offered a mixed bag on offense, allowing just over 38 points per game in three of their losses, In the other trio of defeats, they’ve managed to keep things interesting by only allowing an average of just under 16 points per contest. Navy has been able to force nine fumbles and picked off six passes, so Pyne does need to be careful with the ball.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Xavier Arline
Even though the Irish did allow 14 points to Clemson, those points came with Notre Dame comfortably in the lead. Two interceptions by freshman Benjamin Morrison helped break the game open, but the Irish secondary won’t see too many tosses through the air in this one. Notre Dame defenders have allowed 3.8 yards per rushing carry and have to be on guard to keep Navy’s game in check.
Arline has taken over for Tai Lavatai, who was lost for the season a few weeks ago with a knee injury. He’s almost exclusively a runner with backup Maasai Maynor the primary passer when that rarity occurs. Navy has had problems in recent years with their once-powerful triple option attack, so if the Irish can shut this down, it could make for an easy afternoon of work.
T Joe Alt vs. DE Jacob Busic
Alt continues to be a central component of an offensive line that’s opened up plenty of holes for the thriving running game. In addition, he’s also been invaluable in protecting Pyne on his blind side, with the Irish line allowing only five sacks in the past six contests. Alt has the size to contain Busci but will need to maintain the consistency he’s shown all year.
Busic is the Midshipmen’s leader in sacks and manages to find his way into opposing backfields. His numbers in that category have largely come against some of Navy’s weaker opponents, which makes his matchup with Alt a challenge that should be intriguing to watch. Busic hits hard and will do his part to contain a Notre Dame offense that’s averaged 40 points per game in their last three contests.
DT Howard Cross vs. C Lirion Murtezi
Cross isn’t among the leaders when it comes to tackles or sacks but he plays an important role on the inside of the Notre Dame defensive line. He does have three sacks and despite not possessing a great deal of size, he can handle himself against bigger opposing linemen. His ability to affect a game was evident in the win over Syracuse when he tipped a pass that was picked off by Marist Liufau.
Murtezi only recently returned to the lineup after suffering a season-ending injury last year. He’s big and has the athletic ability to shift to guard, if necessary. During his high school days, he played on the defensive line, so he’s well-versed when it comes to life in the trenches. Neutralizing his impact should help limit any damage the Navy running attack can do.
WR Jayden Thomas vs. STRIKER John Marshall
Given Marshall’s looming presence, right tackle Blake Fisher will need to keep him out of the backfield. Yet, when Notre Dame looks to go to the air, Thomas is getting to be a more popular option for Pyne. Thomas matched his career high with three grabs against Clemson and gives the Irish an athletic player who can get up for a 50-50 ball.
Marshall’s role is serving as a hybrid linebacker and safety and he’s shown the ability to get into the backfield as well as drop back into pass coverage. He leads the team with 72 tackles, 13 of those stops behind the line of scrimmage. He’s also slapped away seven passes on the year and is slightly larger than Thomas, which will make for interesting viewing.