Notre Dame is back in action tonight after a bye week. Their foe is the familiar Midshipmen of the Naval Academy – a team that has given Notre Dame fits in the past despite having less talent at virtually every position on the roster. The Irish have the playoffs in their sights and should be comfortably in the top 4 in the first rankings if they take care of business tonight. Will they or will Navy give the Irish another dogfight?
What Worries Me This Week
Navy’s option offense. The option isn’t fun to face when you aren’t used to seeing it and at this point, no one is used to seeing it. Look at what just happened to Virginia Tech Thursday night. They gave up 49 points to Georgia Tech without the Yellow Jackets completing a single pass all game long.
Navy’s offense is not as good as it’s been in years past so this isn’t as big of a worry as it is most years, but there is still a good chance that Navy has some early success that makes every Notre Dame extremely frustrated. Notre Dame’s defense should settle in eventually but the problem with any early success is that it leads to confidence and once that happens it can snowball.
One factor Notre Dame has strongly in its favor is former Navy transfer Alohi Gilman. He wasn’t able to suit up against the Middies last year as he sat out for his transfer year, but he will be in action this week and his experience at Navy should be invaluable.
A slow start from Notre Dame. While a quick start from Navy worries me a bit this week, the reverse should be a concern for the Irish. A slow start after the Irish are coming off a bye week. Notre Dame’s offense wasn’t as sharp as it’s been the previous few weeks against Pitt and then they went on the bye.
Navy’s option attack is designed to help limit the other team’s offensive opportunities and keep their offense off the field. If Notre Dame doesn’t start slow on offense, the Irish could easily find themselves in a situation where they are in a close game in the second quarter.
Surviving the week without any injuries. Notre Dame has had some rough games against Navy in the past because the smaller Navy offensive line usually has to rely on cut blocks to make up for what they lack in size. Brian Kelly was asked about this earlier this week and Kelly took the high road and didn’t take the bait, but it’s still a concern this week. Whenever you face a team that cut blocks often, your defensive line specifically is vulnerable to injury. Houston’s Ed Oliver got hurt against Navy last week for instance. With a potentially huge prize at the end of the road for the Irish this season, they need to make it out of this one unscathed.
What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week
Ian Book bouncing back. The last time we saw Ian Book he wasn’t having the best game of his season. His final numbers looked pretty good actually, but he turned the ball over twice with a pair of interceptions. That is not the kind of performance that Notre Dame will need out of Book down the stretch in order to make the playoffs.
Even in an “off” game Book still completed 26 of 32 passes for 264 yards with a couple of touchdowns on top of those two interceptions. Look for Book to limit the interceptions this week and continue to complete a very high percentage of his passes. We saw him hit Miles Boykin downfield for the game winner two weeks ago and it wouldn’t surprise me if he hit a few more deep passes this week.
Notre Dame’s reshuffled offensive line. Notre Dame has not been afraid to shake things up this year even as they keep winning. First it was Kelly benching Brandon Wimbush after a 3-0 start. Coming out of the bye week, Kelly has inserted Aaron Banks into the starting line at left guard while moving Trevor Ruhland over to right guard to compete with Tommy Kraemer.
Kraemer has struggled in his second season in the starting lineup. Banks meanwhile has been ascending following the season ending injury to Alex Bars. It will be interesting to see how the reps are split at right guard between Kraemer and Ruhland, but either way the reshuffled Notre Dame offensive line doesn’t worry me this week.
Players to Watch This Week
- Alohi Gilman – It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Gilman leads Notre Dame in tackles this week. Look for him to have 10+ this weekend.
- Jafar Armstrong – He is back this week after missing the last three games. A backfield featuring Armstrong and Dexter Williams is very exciting to think about. We’ll see it in action tonight.
- Kevin Austin – Is this the week the freshman finally has his breakthrough performance?
- Aaron Banks – He will make his first start of his career tonight.
- Drue Tranquill – He has had some monster performances against Navy in the past but will be facing them from a different position.
- Asmar Bilal – Bilal has been great all year long but he will get his first taste of the option as a starting ROVER for the Irish defense. How he keeps contain will go a long way in determining Notre Dame’s defensive success.
How’d I Do Last Week
Like everyone else, I expected Notre Dame to roll over Pitt. They didn’t. Given it was two weeks ago and we’ve had the bye week in between, there’s no use in rehashing it any more.
Notre Dame is currently a 24 point favorite this week and that feels about right. Notre Dame isn’t going to get a ton of possessions tonight so they will need to make the most of them. Pitt was able to get Notre Dame’s offense off-balance by sending a lot of pressure. Navy doesn’t have the personnel to do the same without getting torched in the short passing game.
Notre Dame should win this game easily, but it’s also been six years since the Irish have beaten Navy by more than 17 points. Coming off the bye week though, the Irish should be in a good position to handle Navy better than they have the past few years. I am still not going to predict a massive blowout for the Irish – even if all goes really well they probably won’t have enough possessions for that. I am going to predict Notre Dame to win relatively comfortably though.
Notre Dame 38, Navy 10