Navy and Notre Dame will meet on Saturday to etch another chapter in their storied rivalry, but this one will come with an added twist. For the first time since 1978, the Midshipmen and Irish are both ranked at the time of their annual matchup, with Navy coming in at No. 21 and Notre Dame at No. 16 in the AP poll.
Navy enters at 7-1 and winners of five in a row, coming off a bye after a 56-10 drubbing of UConn. Malcolm Perry rushed 11 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns (and added 165 yards and a touchdown on six passes) while fullback Jamale Carothers scored three times on just eight carries for 65 yards. The Midshipmen's only loss this season was on the road at now-No. 18 Memphis, but they've rebounded to right the ship and currently sit at 5-1 in American Athletic Conference play, tied with SMU atop the West Division standings.
Notre Dame (7-2) won its second straight last week at Duke, leading wire-to-wire in a 38-7 handling of the Blue Devils in Durham. Quarterback Ian Book threw for four touchdowns while completing 18 of 32 passes, and he also led the Irish in rushing with 139 yards on 12 carries.
In a series that dates back to 1927, Notre Dame has historically held the upper hand, winning 76 of 90 all-time meetings (Irish and Midshipmen tied 6-6 in 1945). Notre Dame won the first six games before Navy got its first win in 1933, and in 2007 the Midshipmen most notably snapped the Irish's 43-game win streak against them that spanned from 1964 to 2006. Last year, these two teams met in sunny San Diego in late October, with Notre Dame winning 44-22 on the strength of a 27-0 halftime lead.
Navy at Notre Dame
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 16 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Notre Dame -7
When Navy Has the Ball
As expected, Navy's triple option will be the primary point of attack offensively for head coach Ken Niumatalolo. The rushing attack is most certainly the weapon of choice, as the Midshipmen put up an FBS-best 357.9 yards per game on the ground. Quarterback Malcolm Perry is 11th in the nation in rushing at 130.3 yards per game, with 16 rushing touchdowns (fourth).
Perhaps slightly less expected is that the Midshipmen rank only 19th in time of possession at 32:41, not even tops in the conference (UConn: 32:56). But this is a team that’s climbed into the top 25 and is currently ninth in the FBS at 40.1 points per game. Riding a five-game winning streak with sights set on a double-digit-win campaign for just the second time since 2004, the threat certainly exists for this team to test the Irish's vaunted defense.
Speaking of that defense, Notre Dame enters ranked among the top 30 in the FBS in turnover margin (+7 for the season) and passing defense (171.8 ypg), with their 19.2 points allowed per game good for 21st. Defensive backs Troy Pride Jr. and Jalen Elliott, rewarded for their play and veteran leadership as they've become leaders in the Irish secondary, recently accepted invites to play in the upcoming Senior Bowl. As a unit, this defense has been very effective at creating pressure and will present an intriguing matchup against the disciplined Navy offense that rarely beats itself.
When Notre Dame Has the Ball
Ian Book has surpassed 300 yards only twice (New Mexico, Virginia Tech) after doing so four times in just nine starts in 2018. Aside from his struggles on the road, he hasn't been terribly sharp at home either, though his four touchdowns against Duke last weekend was as many as he'd thrown in the previous three weeks combined.
Against Duke, though, Book had his full complement of running backs available, with Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr. seeing limited work in the 38-7 win. Book led the way with 139 yards rushing, while Jahmir Smith and C'Bo Flemister combined for 13 carries and 83 yards, with the latter scoring the Irish's only rushing touchdown. On the receiving end, Chase Claypool caught five passes for 97 yards and a touchdown, while Chris Finke added 49 yards and a pair of scores. Without question, Book will need his top weapons for a full 60 minutes to compete with Navy's potent offense.
Navy would happily affirm the saying that sometimes the best offense is a good defense, especially because it can lay claim to both. In addition to their prolific scoring, the Midshipmen rank in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense (18.1 ppg) and total defense (310.6 ypg), both good enough to lead the AAC. Additionally, Jacob Springer is 11th nationally with seven sacks, leading a defense that has 24 total sacks and 57 tackles for a loss in eight games.
This matchup that takes on an added level of importance this week with both teams ranked heading into the week. For Navy, a win would mean running its win streak to six games while a Notre Dame win would keep the Irish within reach of its third straight 10-win campaign under Brian Kelly.
Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Navy 26
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.