Stacking Up: Notre Dame Defense vs. Navy Offense
Navy (7-1) will bring its potent triple option offense and No. 21 national ranking into South Bend this weekend in what will be a major test for Notre Dame. The difference between a successful season or a hugely disappointing season could very well hinge on how the Irish perform this weekend against the Midshipmen.
Notre Dame will need a plan for the Navy triple option offense, which has helped fuel a resurgence in Annapolis. After going 3-10 a season ago, Navy has bounced back in impressive fashion, sitting atop the AAC West with SMU.
The Notre Dame defense has been stout this season, but Navy will present it with a difficult - and unique - challenge.
Notre Dame Scoring Defense vs. Navy Scoring Offense
Outside of its loss to Michigan, the Notre Dame defense has been been quite adept at holding teams well below their season scoring and yards averages. Michigan is the only team to top its season scoring after against Notre Dame, and only USC was within a touchdown of its season scoring average against the Irish.
The other seven opponents were held at least 9.4 points below their season scoring average. Georgia, Louisville, Virginia, Bowling Green and Duke were all held at least 10 points below their season scoring average.
Keeping opponents off the field has been a major part of that success. Michigan is the only Irish opponent to go over its season average in yards per game. USC was just 18.1 yards below its average and Virginia was 31.2 yards below its average. Every other opponent was at least 55 yards below its season average.
After giving up 45 points and 437 yards to Michigan, the Irish defense has bounced back with a pair of brilliant defensive performances. Notre Dame held Virginia Tech to just 13 offensive points (16.8 points below its season average) and 150.7 yards below its season average. Duke was held 20 points below its season average and 147.4 yards below its season average.
In its last two games, Notre Dame has allowed opposing offenses to score a combined 20 points, and the two touchdown drives covered just 45 and 39 yards.
Notre Dame will need to be at its best defensively against a Navy offense that ranks ninth in the country in scoring offense, 12th in yards per play and 27th in yards per game. The Midshipmen lead the nation in red zone touchdown rate and rank 13th in third-down offense.
Navy has racked up at least 423 yards of offense in all but two games this season, and it has gone for at least 6.48 yards per play in all but one game. Only Memphis was able to hold Navy under 34 points, and it’s no coincidence that it was Navy’s only loss.
Navy has been an incredibly steady offense, and if it gets into the red zone it’s almost assured of getting into the end zone. Only three of Navy’s 29 trips into the scoring zone ended with anything other than a touchdown.
Notre Dame Rush Defense vs. Navy Rush Offense
It’s no surprise that Navy leads the nation in rushing offense. The nature of its option offense always has Navy near the top, and even last season during its 3-10 campaign the Midshipmen ranked fifth nationally in rushing offense. It ranked second in 2017 during a 7-6. campaign.
The difference this season is how explosive Navy has been on the ground. Navy averaged at least 6.69 yards per rush in each of its last four games. During that stretch, Navy has averaged 44.3 points per game.
Getting production from the quarterback and fullback positions is ideal to an option offense working at its peak level, and we’ve seen that from Navy this season.
Senior quarterback Malcolm Perry is a dynamic athlete that has already racked up 1,042 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns in just eight games. Perry was held to just 28 yards in the season opener, but since then he’s had at least 111 rushing yards in all but one game.
Fullbacks Nelson Smith and Jamale Carothers have combined for 860 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging 6.1 yards per rush. Smith has been the hammer (505 yards, 4.9 YPC) while Carothers has been more of a home run hitter (355 yards, 9.9 YPC).
Notre Dame's run defense has been up-and-down all season. The Irish rank 62nd nationally in rushing yards and 52nd in yards allowed per attempt. Notre Dame gave up 461 combined rushing yards in the first two games of the season, and in its loss to Michigan the defense allowed 303 yards.
The Irish showed flashes of being a stout run defense, including limiting Virginia to just four yards in a 35-20 Notre Dame victory. In wins over Virginia Tech and Duke, the Irish were at their best, holding both to less than 100 yards while limiting those two ACC opponents to just 2.9 yards per attempt.
Notre Dame will need to be at its best against Navy, especially from a tackling standpoint. That was a significant issue for Notre Dame during the first seven games of the season, with the Irish averaging 11.1 missed tackles per game according to Pro Football Focus. In the last two games the Irish averaged just 6.5 missed tackles per game.
Notre Dame’s defensive line will certainly be a key to success against the Navy option attack, but the linebackers and especially the safeties - led by seniors Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott - will need big games.
Notre Dame Pass Defense vs. Navy Pass Offense
Advantage: Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s pass defense has been the backbone of the unit all season, but the Irish face a completely different passing test against Navy. The Midshipmen average just 8.9 attempts per game, and just once has Navy topped nine pass attempts in a game.
During its recent four-game hot streak on offense, Navy has thrown only 24 passes, completing just nine, but those nine completions have averaged 32.3 yards. That is the challenge with Navy. As a defensive back or outside linebacker so much of your focus is on the option and the run game. It requires so much attention, and one mistake in coverage can result in a huge play for the offense.
Notre Dame completely shut down the Navy pass game last season, with Navy going 4-12 for just 52 yards and an interception. The Irish will need to once again be disciplined and effective against the Navy pass attack.
The safeties are especially threatened in this matchup. They are essential to success against the run game, but they cannot overcommit and must be prepared for the wheel routes and seam routes that Navy will throw at them.