Notre Dame and Navy kick off the 2023 college football season on Saturday from Dublin, Ireland, in a game that was supposed to happen three years ago but got canceled because of COVID-19. The Irish head into the game ranked 13th in the country, while Navy enters with a new head coach and some more intrigue than in past seasons. The game is also the long-awaited Notre Dame debut for transfer QB Sam Hartman, who Irish fans hope will ignite the offense. Will that start this week? Let’s dig in.
What Worries Me This Week
Navy’s pressure up the middle. Navy made its second-half run last year when they decided to blitz Notre Dame on almost every down. Tommy Rees had no answer (good luck, Alabama) as Drew Pyne struggled to make Navy pay for the pressure. Notre Dame has two new starting guards, and starting center Zeke Correll has been banged up this summer. If Navy wants to send pressure as often again, look for them to try to exploit the interior of the line.
Rocco Spindler and Pat Coogan won their starting positions when neither was considered the front-runner coming into summer, so their positions are well earned. Still, it could take a while to set in. Remember how bad the Notre Dame offensive line looked in 2021 with new starters before eventually settling in? I don’t expect it to be that bad this time around since its tackles are so good, but there may be some blown assignments early that could lead to free blitzers.
Taking too long to adjust to new Navy wrinkles. Navy isn’t going to abandon the option offense completely, but there are likely to be a lot of new wrinkles that Notre Dame hasn’t seen from the Midshipmen before with a new coaching staff.
Most expect Navy to pass more under new offensive coordinator Grant Chestnut. Still, it’s unlikely we’ll see Navy come out and have a completely new offensive system, ala Charlie Weis and the spread against Georgia Tech in 2007. Still, there will be more passing plays that the Irish defense will see for the first time during the game. If Navy hits on a couple of those, it could be a frustrating afternoon for the Irish.
What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week
Notre Dame’s passing attack. The big difference between last year and this year for Notre Dame – if Navy decides to go all Jon Tenuta on Notre Dame – is at the quarterback position. Drew Pyne was fine last year for Notre Dame, but he wasn’t great under pressure, and he wasn’t great when someone took away Michael Mayer. Sam Hartman is not Drew Pyne. He’s battle-tested and out to use his one season at Notre Dame as a springboard to the NFL.
If Navy is going to give Notre Dame free yards, Hartman will take them. Notre Dame didn’t do that enough last year, but with a veteran quarterback, that should be a problem. Regardless of what Navy does defensively, Hartman and the Irish passing attack will eventually find a way to exploit it and put up points.
Navy’s passing attack. While Navy will pass more, and there is a worry of some big plays off of it, in general, Navy passing more is probably a good thing for Notre Dame in this game because it will be new for them, too. Navy barely threw the ball last year. Navy quarterbacks passed for a total of 1,030 yards on the season. No receiver had more than 242 yards for Navy last year. If they decide to throw it more, they’ll have growing pains.
Timing of the matchup. Playing Navy in the first week of the season is an ideal time, outside of the new offensive coordinator wrinkle. Preparing for the option in the middle of the season after weeks of playing “normal” offenses and after a couple of months’ worth of bumps and bruises accumulating isn’t fun for anyone involved. Getting Navy in week 0 before their timing is down and their offense is humming is advantageous for the Irish.
Is it any coincidence that one of the most dominating performances from the Irish over Navy came in 2012 when the two last faced off in Dublin to start the season?
Players to Watch
- Jordan Botelho – He was one of Notre Dame’s highest-rated defenders last year against Navy.
- JD Bertrand – His late scratch was an underrated reason for Notre Dame’s struggles with Navy last year. He should have 10+ tackles on Saturday.
- Xavier Watts – Watts got his first real action as a safety against Navy in 2021 and is built for matchups like this.
- Tobias Merriweather – Will the sophomore pop off for a big play from Sam Hartman? I think so.
- Chris Tyree – No one on Navy can keep up with Tyree in space; look for Notre Dame to find ways to get him the ball and watch him make people miss – especially if Navy blitzes a lot.
- Jaylen Sneed – He got his first extended action as a freshman against Navy in 2022. He could be unleashed again this year.
- Pat Coogan/Rocco Spindler – If they are stout up the middle, Notre Dame might be able to do whatever they want against the Midshipmen.
- Nana Osafo Mensah – Javontae Jean-Baptise got a lot of the headlines this off-season at DE, but Osafo Mensah is better against the run and could have a sneaky good game for the Irish defense.
First games of the year are always among the toughest to predict because of all the variables. That said, I don’t expect this to be one of those frustrating and annoying Navy games that is much closer than it needed to be ala last year. Brian Kelly got whipped by Navy in his first matchup. Notre Dame beat NAvy by 42 the following year. Marcus Freeman and DC Al Golden have a year preparing for Navy under their belts and even with some unknowns on Navy’s side, this one should not be overly close.
Notre Dame 42, Navy 10