Head to head: Navy
Observer Sports Staff | Friday, November 15, 2019
While not the weakest part of their offensive scheme, Notre Dame’s passing efforts have not lived up to the expectations set with the return of Ian Book, Chris Finke and two big targets in Cole Kmet and Chase Claypool. Although Book completed 18 of 32 passes against Duke, the big takeaway was his ability to create, leading all rushers with 139 yards. Meanwhile, the gritty, in-the-trenches defense Navy boasts is a force for the run game but leaves gaps for the offense to make moves over the top. Their opponents have averaged a staggering 201 passing yards per game, and this should be the perfect opportunity for Book to look downfield to those big receivers.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Navy has the 17th-best rushing defense in the FBS. The Midshipmen have only faced two opponents who are particularly strong on the ground, but they managed to hold Tulane (10th in rushing offense, 261.2 yards/game) to 187 rushing yards on 42 rushes and Air Force (2nd in rushing offense, 323.1 yards/game) to 108 yards on 45 rushes, good for 2.4 yards/carry. The Irish finally have Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr., their intended starters at the beginning of the season, back healthy and opening up options for the offense. However, the fact of the matter remains that the Notre Dame offensive line depth is sparse with Tommy Kraemer and Robert Hainsey out. The Irish managed to run all over Duke, but Navy is highly disciplined and should put up much more of a stand on the ground.
Irish Offensive Coaching
Navy only gives up 18.13 points per game. Against their two best opponents, they ceded 35 points to No. 18 Memphis and a season-high 38 to Tulane, two teams that rank 21st and 22nd nationally in total offense, respectively. Notre Dame stands 54th nationally in total offense, precisely double Navy’s standing, while the Midshipmen are 17th in total defense. All this should be taken with a grain of salt, given Notre Dame’s and Navy’s clearly differing strength of schedules. Even so, this will pose a stiff test for the Irish. Chip Long has done an adequate job this season of designing good plays, even when the offense hasn’t capitalized on them, but he’s hamstrung by injuries at receiver and on the offensive line. This offense needs to be efficient, since the triple option will extend Navy’s time of possession, and therein lies the issue. Given the propensity of the Irish offense for slow starts and missed opportunities, the Midshipmen get the edge.
Irish Offensive Special Teams
Notre Dame special teams have been solid thus far. Kicker Jonathan Doerer has made everything under 30 yards and all 37 of his extra points. While this is often taken for granted, it is somewhat of a luxury in college football to be automatic on kicks that should always be made. Jay Bramblett’s skill holding was on full display against Virginia Tech, and he has been punting the ball well, too. Punt returner Chris Finke put his athleticism on display in the receiving game against Duke, tripling his year-long touchdown total from one to three in one game. However, the punt return unit has been somewhat lackluster, with Finke only electing to return 12 punts to date. While the lack of returns may be disappointing to some, he has only fumbled once and makes sound decisions between fair catching and returning punts.
Navy has attempted just 62 passes in their eight games, opting to keep the ball on the ground with their triple option more often than not. They are extremely effective when they do go to the air, earning 12.8 yards per attempt, second in the FBS to Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts. They have also thrown four interceptions on those few pass attempts, an abysmal total that leaves them vulnerable to takeaways. Pass plays are Navy’s equivalent of a high-risk-high-reward trick play that can go for big gains or become costly turnovers. If the Midshipmen take care of the ball, the pass should be open, as Notre Dame will inevitably have to focus on the run. Still, their turnover-prone nature and infrequent throwing makes their passing game a relative non-factor compared to most opponents.
EDGE: Notre Dame
It’s inevitable for a triple-option team, especially a quality Navy one that is No. 1 in the country in rushing offense with the fifth-most yards/carry (6.08) and the most yards per game (357.9) and rushing touchdowns (36). Granted, their strength of schedule is not in upper echelon, but their rushing attack is dominant thanks to a highly disciplined group. The Midshipmen likely won’t pick the Irish apart through the air, but it’s virtually impossible to snuff out a triple-option ground game when executed to perfection. The Notre Dame defense has consistently done well stopping the run game save for the blowout in Ann Arbor, but the sheer volume of rushes and time of possession should wear the Irish down defensively.
Midshipmen Offensive Coaching
Ivin Jasper leads the triple option offense as offensive coordinator for the Midshipmen. Jasper has managed to put together a solid unit this year, and granted, a lot of that has to do with the extraordinary play of senior quarterback Malcolm Perry, but the unit has come up with some interesting plays in the red zone outside of the triple-option. Plus, the Midshipmen currently rank ninth in the nation in offensive efficiency. Pair that with the fact that the Irish rank 64th in defense against the rush, and you start to worry about the Notre Dame defense, even though it has shown signs of mastery this year. Ultimately, considering Notre Dame’s struggles against the run at certain key moments this year, you could give Navy’s triple option scheme the edge here.
Midshipmen Offensive Special Teams
Senior punter Owen White is averaging nearly 45 yards per attempt and has somehow only recorded one touchback all season. Similarly, the Midshipmen average nearly 20 yards per kickoff return, so they’ll definitely be able to put up a fight to open those drives. Special teams is also incredibly disciplined and shouldn’t expect to make many silly mistakes. Notre Dame’s defensive presence on special teams has certainly improved and has come up big at times (e.g., Georgia), but is not conclusively better to warrant tipping the scale that way.