Irish Have To Dominate Navy

Irish Have To Dominate Navy

If you haven’t been watching over the last month, this is a different Notre Dame team than what many saw in the first couple of weeks. Now, the Irish have to dominate Navy, and they have not been proficient in beating lesser teams this year.

The Irish, fresh off a dominating win over then-fourth-ranked Clemson, are now 6-3 as they travel to Maryland to face the Navy Midshipmen. Navy comes in at 3-6 and needs to win out this season to become bowl eligible.

While Notre Dame has beaten the ranked likes of Syracuse, Clemson, and North Carolina, they have also lost to Marshall and Stanford. But with three straight wins, the howling about the job of new coach Marcus Freeman has quieted precipitously. Notre Dame dominated undefeated Clemson on both sides of the ball, leading 28-0 with less than 13 minutes to go before Clemson finally got on the board.

The Irish have back-to-back games where they should dominate with the Navy this weekend and Boston College next week. Then they wrap up the regular season in Los Angeles against USC. But it is the Notre Dame version that is 2-2 this season against unranked teams that should have Irish fans nervous.

Navy is seventh in the country against the run, allowing only 88 rushing yards per game. That puts a little more weight on Irish quarterback Drew Pyne’s shoulders. He has not been good enough to go crazy in the passing game against anyone. Against Clemson, he was nine of 17 for 85 yards and a touchdown…and yet Notre Dame won in convincing fashion. He engineered a six-minute long drive against Clemson that ended with his own rushing touchdown.

But again, this is a Navy defense that is 115th in the country in passing yards given up, averaging 275 per game. They are also down at 54th in the country in scoring defense, giving up just over 24 per game. Notre Dame has scored that or more six times this season. Not exactly shocking news, but they won all six. They are averaging 29.1 points per game. So Notre Dame should expect that opportunities will be there for Pyne. He doesn’t have to take chances or make massive throwing plays. He just has to keep the offense moving, even if it is underneath the defense.

Notre Dame goes into the game with a rock-solid 42.7% third down conversion rate. It helps to have Michael Mayer who is one of the best tight ends in the country with 164 career receptions and seven touchdown catches this season.

Of course, as long as Navy is running the triple option offense, the Midshipmen keep themselves in many games. The offense burns a lot of clock, limiting opportunities for the opposing offense. They are down to backup quarterback Xavier Arline. Starter Tai Lavatai suffered a season-ending injury a couple of games ago. Arline has plenty of game experience over the past two seasons. He doesn’t have the passing ability that Lavatai possesses, (yes, Navy threw the ball earlier this season), but he is a more explosive runner.

The Midshipmen are in the top 10 of the country in rushing yards with 2,132 this season. They are also among the best in the country converting short-yardage situations. That gets to a  54.8% fourth down conversion rate. Navy is 2-1 when it runs for at least 215 yards. They are 1-5 when they don’t. Marshall is the only team to hit those rushing yards against the Irish this season.

The game features two of the oldest college football programs in the country. This will be the 95th meeting between the two, going back to 1927. They skipped 2020 because of Covid schedules.

Notre Dame has dominated the series. They lead the head-to-head 78-13-1. Notre Dame has won four straight in this series and six of the last seven going back to 2014. This game figures to lean heavily in Notre Dame’s favor. Navy needs the win to keep its season viable. Notre Dame is trying to improve its post-season profile.

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