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Keys to victory versus Navy

Notre Dame took their biggest win of the season last weekend, accomplishing three goals: changing the narrative of the season at home, defeating No. 4 Clemson and breaking back into the CFP rankings. 

At No. 20, the Irish head east to Baltimore, Maryland to take on the Midshipmen. Navy is 3-6 on the season but has played some close games. Coming off two statement wins and three straight victories overall, these are the keys to another Irish victory.

Stopping two more quarterbacks

Yes, Navy uses the triple option run, that much is true. The Irish will have to stop this unique style to see success this weekend. There’s an additional level of difficulty in answering the triple option this year, though, as Navy lost their starting quarterback Tai Lavatai two weeks ago to a knee injury.

Lavatai was replaced by Xavier Arline, who now shares the spotlight with Maasai Maynor. Because of Lavatai’s injury, this will be the third week in a row Notre Dame has the potential to see a quarterback they don’t know a lot about. Arline has been a part of the triple option scheme even before he took over as quarterback, so he should rely on that. The wild card will be Maynor. He can throw the ball when asked — he went three for five against Cincinnati for 81 yards. But he’s not as good in the triple-option structure. In that Cincinnati game, he ran the ball six times for negative nine yards.

The Midshipmen are still figuring out how best to move forward without Lavatai. It’s highly possible it will be a mixed bag in terms of who’s under center against the Irish. Regardless, Notre Dame needs to be ready for anything that’s coming their way. The Irish defense need to be ready for a surprise through the air from Maynor. Arline, meanwhile, can run the triple option seamlessly. Communication and clarity from the linebackers is vital. 

Tackle well, force a fumble

The triple option relies most heavily on Daba Fofana, Maquel Haywood and Anton Hall, Jr. The Irish will need to not only contain those three, but also take the ball back from them. Through the air, the Irish have taken the ball back; they’ve defended 17 passes and have racked up five interceptions. All of the latter figure have come in Notre Dame’s last five games. On the ground, though, they haven’t made as much of an impact. Notre Dame has only forced five and recovered two fumbles all season. This weekend, forcing and recovering them will play a large role in the outcome of the game.

Additionally, first touches on the ball carrier will be important. Fofana and Haywood cannot break any tackles. If the Irish want to win, they will have to limit carries and drive length tremendously. In order to do that, the first touch on a running back will need to take him down. Without that, the Irish will lose too much yardage too quickly.

Waste time, but turn it into points

Every Irish win this season has come on the backs of their running backs — sophomores Audric Estime and Logan Diggs and junior Chris Tyree. The run game has been instrumental to the Irish cause and has made a difference in several games throughout the season.

The Irish will need to continue their success on the ground Saturday. They will need to march downfield, six or seven yards at a time, and ensure they score a touchdown when they get to the red zone. Scoring quickly would put pressure on the Midshipmen to score quickly, something the triple option is not built for. Forcing the Midshipmen into this position will force them into the air and change their game, allowing the Irish defense to look for mistakes and take advantage of them. Additionally, if the Irish are ahead to start, the triple option’s benefit of wasting time no longer works in Navy’s favor.

Contact Mannion McGinley at mmcginl3@nd.edu.

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