Rested Irish head to West Coast to face Navy
Notre Dame and Navy have battled 91 times with most of the Midshipmen's home games being played on the East Coast, with a couple trips to Dublin, Ireland, sprinkled in. But this year the two rivals will head west to San Diego, the home to one of the nation’s largest naval facilities.
Coming off an open date following a narrow victory over Pittsburgh, the Irish are still harboring championship dreams and are currently No. 3 in the AP Poll. On the other hand, Ken Niumatalolo’s team has not had a typical Navy season. The Midshipmen have lost their last four games and sit at 2-5.
Since 2007, Navy has been a worthy adversary for ND, but the Irish have won six of the last seven meetings.
Notre Dame vs. Navy (San Diego)
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 27 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Notre Dame -24
Three Things to Watch
1. The Navy quarterback
Garrett Lewis and Malcolm Perry have both seen time at quarterback this year, and Zach Abey, who was last year’s starter and is now playing wide receiver, is an option to return to his old position. Niumatalolo announced that Lewis will start his third straight game and that both Perry and Lewis would be featured in other roles. But that doesn’t mean that either — or both — could be inserted at quarterback at some point during the game. Lewis is actually a better passer than Perry, giving the offense a bit more diversity. But running the ball is still the first, second, and third option for Navy.
2. Can Navy’s defense slow down Notre Dame?
The Irish were held to just 19 points by Pittsburgh, primarily because of ND mistakes and the Panthers’ emphasis on stopping the run. Navy will probably try to employ the same strategy, but do they have the personnel to pull it off? The statistics suggest that the answer is no. The Midshipmen are 76th nationally against the run, and even if they can stymie the Irish running game, Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book and his receivers should have a big day facing Navy’s 102nd-ranked pass defense.
3. Limiting Notre Dame possessions
The way Navy has stayed with the Irish in past years is by holding onto the ball and keeping the Irish offense on the bench. That has to be the plan again. The Middies once again rank near the top of the national charts in rushing offense, but they are 2-5 for a reason. One big issue is third down success rate. In the last six years, Navy has not finished worse than 15th in America in converting on third downs. But this year, they are 63rd, which is not good for a team that relies on being in manageable third down situations. If the Navy offense can’t control the ball, Notre Dame will run them out of the building.
Even though Navy ranks fourth in time of possession, other teams have had too many opportunities as the Middies have failed to convert on third down. Another reason why the Annapolis group ranks high in time of possession is that Navy is getting the ball back quickly after giving up scores. And now they face the third-ranked Irish.
Notre Dame has been in similar situations twice in the last three years. The Irish were highly ranked late in the 2015 season when lackluster performances against Wake Forest and Boston College knocked them down a bit before Stanford eliminated them from playoff contention. Last year, the Irish showed some vulnerabilities against Wake Forest and then Miami ended the title chase.
So was the sluggishness versus Pitt an aberration after two emotional wins, or was it the start of another down turn? I’m guessing it was a blip on the radar. After a week off to get refreshed, Dexter Williams and the running game gets cranked up again, and Book throws touchdown passes to multiple receivers as the Irish cruise to their eighth win.
Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Navy 13
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.