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Head To Head: Notre Dame vs. Navy

| Friday, November 5, 2021

Notre Dame welcomes Navy to South Bend as the most respectful rivalry in college football returns after a COVID-induced hiatus. The Observer Sports Staff broke down the upcoming matchup.

Notre Dame Passing

Jack Coan’s strongest trait has always been his arm. His first start for Notre Dame came with over 350 yards throwing and now with a solidified and celebrated offensive line, the Irish should be able to produce. The Navy secondary has no real explosive star. So, with a strengthening receiving corps led by Kevin Austin Jr., Avery Davis and Braden Lenzy and compounded by a speedy Lorenzo Styles and a skilled tight end in Michael Mayer, the Irish will be able to find some connections. Coan’s new found ability to move and trust in the O-line reinforce this again. 

EDGE: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Rushing 

After the two most recent Kyren Williams performances, how could you not grant the Irish an advantage in this department? The offensive line has looked much improved in three straight games, and Williams has responded with three of his top four rushing performances, including 138 and 199-yard efforts against USC and UNC. The latter was of course punctuated by one of the most remarkable touchdown runs you’ll ever see, a 91-yarder that started with a near tackle for loss and a stiff arm in the backfield. Navy is giving up 132 yards per game on the ground and they may be slightly more susceptible through the air, but picking against Kyren Williams doesn’t feel smart right now. 

EDGE: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Offensive Coaching 

Brian Newberry is entering his third season as Navy’s defensive coordinator, and the defense to put it kindly has not improved during his tenure. They’ve had their moments, but after giving up 22 points a game in Newberry’s first season, the Midshipmen have given up 30 plus per contest in 2020 and 2021. Meanwhile, Rees gets some recency bias to his credit, as he’s looked much better in adjusting to his personnel in the past two weeks, creating a game plan that maximizes the tools of quarterback Jack Coan. UNC and USC aren’t exactly frightening defenses, but neither is Navy, so expect Rees to hold an advantage here. 

EDGE: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Offensive Special Teams

With running backs Chris Tyree and Kyren Williams returning kickoffs and punt returns for the Irish, a big play is always on the table, especially against a team that has significantly less talent like Navy. Aside from the potential for big plays in the return game, the Irish also have Jonathan Doerer at kicker, who has proven to be clutch in big moments this year for the Irish, as he already has two game winning kicks.

EDGE: Notre Dame

Navy Passing

With a triple-option attack, passing is never an important part of the offense, and that is the case with Navy this year. The Midshipmen have attempted only 72 passes this year, completing just 33 of them. Despite the holes in the Irish secondary with Kyle Hamilton out, the Midshipmen would be foolish to think they can pass against a more talented, superior Irish defense that should have no problems defending against the pass in this one. If Navy is trying to pass the ball a lot in this game, it is probably because they have gotten in third and long situations, which simply will not work with a triple-option attack.

EDGE: Notre Dame

Navy Rushing

Two words: Triple. Option. Navy’s run game will be its strongest weapon. The Notre Dame defense against Virginia Tech’s run game, could easily take this Navy run game. However, after Sam Howell ran all over a Kyle Hamilton-less defense, that advantage is less sure. All Navy needs to have the edge here is to be able to get a handful of yards per play. Notre Dame’s defense might just allow that this weekend.

EDGE: Navy

Navy Offensive Coaching

Current Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman last faced the triple-option when he faced Navy while at Cincinnati. That game ended in a 42-0 Bearcats’ victory, so Freeman clearly isn’t too phased by the different look. Meanwhile, Navy’s Ivin Jasper was fired early in the season before being reinstated in a reduced role. Navy has scored 18 points per game. Clear advantage here.

EDGE: Notre Dame

Navy Offensive Special Teams

The Midshipmen have a couple of very solid special team contributors in kicker Bijan Nichols and kick returner Maquel Haywood. Haywood is notching over 33 yards per kick return, shortening the field for Navy’s slow-moving offense And Nichols helps put points up when those heavy ground attacks stall out — he’s 11-14 on field goals and perfect on PAT conversions. That being said, Notre Dame is very good on their defensive special teams, routinely generating pressure on punts and field goals, and frequently stopping kick returners short of their 25-yard-line. It’s tough to gauge who has an advantage in a matchup of two quality units. 

EDGE: Even

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