Observer sports staff predicts Navy vs. Notre Dame
José Sánchez Córdova, Assistant Managing Editor: This game is a long way from home and I think the travel and jet lag will be a factor. I expect both teams to look somewhat sluggish in the first half. Both these teams want their run game to lead the offense, so I think the clock will run a lot and this game will fly by. It’ll be close at the half, but graduate student quarterback Sam Hartman and the offense will click into gear and pull away after the break. I think the Irish will want to show off their new weapons with a deep pass attempt or three.
On the defensive side, Notre Dame has had a few months to prepare for the always-tricky option offense. I think they will rise to the occasion and limit Navy’s rushing attack. I think they hold Navy under 200 total yards and cruise to a comfortable season-opening win on Irish soil. Notre Dame 31, Navy 7.
Andrew McGuinness, Sports Editor: While it’s certainly nice to have seven months to prepare for Navy as opposed to seven days, the Midshipmen will test two of the Irish’s biggest question marks right out of the gate. Defensive line is by far Notre Dame’s most revamped position group (other than quarterback), and the triple option will come at them full throttle. Last year, Navy also largely shut down Notre Dame’s rushing attack, as the Irish averaged a mere 1.9 yards per carry. So expect the vaunted Hartman and the Notre Dame receiving corps to play a key role in the outcome.
These two developments could lead to a bit of a shaky start, the type that led to self-destruction against Marshall and Stanford last season. But this is a different Notre Dame team and a different Marcus Freeman leading them. The Irish, up a single score at halftime, go ahead by double digits early in the second half and keep Navy at arm’s reach the rest of the way. Notre Dame 35, Navy 21.
Emily DeFazio, Associate Sports Editor: The Fighting Irish taking the stage in Ireland is sure to create a crazed energy that the team should be able to capitalize on, and with Hartman being lauded as the kind of “chosen one” this team needs, that energy could skyrocket to unprecedented heights among the tens of thousands of people flocking to the city.
What the Irish have developed on the offensive front will be critical the first time on its feet. I’m expecting a more well-oiled machine than we’ve seen in the past and am especially excited to see senior Chris Tyree at wide receiver. However, while optimism has certainly been frequent on campus, so has the utterance of one word: Marshall. That is where my hope draws its line. But I expect the Irish to prove that Sept. 10, 2022, was just an outlier and come away with a defining win. Notre Dame 28, Navy 14.
J.J. Post, Associate Sports Editor: This game has the potential to have more bumps than people are giving it credit for. A combination of an always-scrappy Navy squad, rain in the forecast and some early hiccups from an unproven receiving core might make the start a little sluggish. But patience will prove a virtue for Irish fans, and Notre Dame will slowly but surely take control over the course of the first half.
An Irish defense with extra time to prepare faces fewer of the traditional triple option struggles. A deep stable of running backs continually pounds Navy’s front seven into submission, with at least three backs earning first-half carries. Eventually, a deep strike from Hartman breaks the game open for good. While Navy fights until the end, Notre Dame keeps last year’s backdoor charge by the Midshipmen a thing of the past. In a reversal of flow from last year’s game, the Irish break things open after halftime and Freeman and Co. notch a comfortable — if not blowout — win in the 2023 opener. Notre Dame 38, Navy 20.
Madeline Ladd, Associate Sports Editor: The Irish return to Dublin for their third matchup against Navy in The Pale, and I predict a decisive victory. This will be Hartman’s Notre Dame debut, and he will certainly come to impress. The Irish will have to take shots deep down the field in order to see success against a very stout Navy run defense that ranked No. 3 in the nation last year in opposing rushing yards per game and returns nine starters. After leaving training camp with several questions still unanswered, the wide receiver room will establish themselves as the threats expected to make big plays this season.
Navy’s new head coach Brian Newberry is looking to throw the ball more this season, a change to the triple option scheme Navy has relied upon in the past. Al Golden’s squad will have to be prepared for this new wrinkle. Hartman and the offensive line will be able to read and react better to the Navy blitzes that plagued the Irish last year in Baltimore. Notre Dame will control Navy, though the Midshipmen will be able to sneak in a touchdown and field goal before the game’s end. I predict that Hartman will throw for three touchdowns, with the Irish running it in for one and adding a field goal to make the final score Notre Dame 31, Navy 10.
Matthew Crow, Associate Sports Editor: Last season’s Navy game saw the Irish jump out to a comfortable first half lead before escaping with a narrow 35-32 victory. Most surprising from that matchup was how effectively the Midshipmen were able to stifle Notre Dame’s rushing attack. The one player they had no answer for was running back Audric Estime, who ran for 49 yards on just eight carries and caught a 30-yard touchdown pass. I expect a huge day for the junior as he starts to establish himself as one of the nation’s top backs.
On the other side of the ball, much has been made about the Irish having an entire offseason to prepare for Navy’s unorthodox offense, rather than just a single week. Notre Dame’s front seven should handle the rushing barrage better than they did last year when Navy ran for 255 yards. But the triple option is difficult to contain for a full 60 minutes. The Midshipmen are likely to rattle off a couple of long drives at some point on Saturday. Navy will find the end zone once, but the Irish should win this one handily. Estime will pick up at least 120 rushing yards, and Hartman will enjoy an efficient outing as he starts to figure out who among an inexperienced wide receiver group will become his go-to targets. Notre Dame 34, Navy 13.
Tom Zwiller, Sports Writer: Navy is always a tricky opponent because of their unique play style, so Notre Dame facing them now as opposed to midseason is ideal. The increased preparation time should prevent any second-half snafus (like 19 unanswered second-half points, for example). Offensively, I expect Notre Dame to look quite good. Much has been made of the wide receivers struggling to break out in practice, and those concerns are valid. In the live reps I have seen, the Irish secondary has proven it can be a strength for the team to lean on. However, I expect Notre Dame’s pass game to be solid. Navy does not have the same secondary as Notre Dame, and Hartman should be able to have the caliber of game that Drew Pyne did last year (at a minimum).
Defensively, while the line might have some struggles, this could also be a game where some rotation-level players can start to separate themselves from the rest of the group. I do believe Navy will be able to move the ball well in the first half. No amount of practice can simulate how the real thing looks and feels. That being said, I would be shocked if Navy can play as well as they did last year. Notre Dame 38, Navy 14.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.