As Notre Dame makes its final preparations before facing Navy in Dublin on Saturday, Irish fans are likely having mixed feelings entering the game.
Certainly, Notre Dame has the physical advantage, but the quirks of the way Navy plays the game have caused Notre Dame fans more hair loss than old age in recent history — as recent as the second half of last year’s game to be exact.
This football game is and has always been more about what Notre Dame does or doesn’t do correctly rather than it is about Navy. This game is going to indicate to fans what level the Irish are starting at. Is this game a cakewalk with a month to prepare or a dogfight like last year? Let’s examine the keys to an Irish win.
Because of the way Navy strategizes and plays games, it is not built to come from behind. Its drives usually take large amounts of time to reach paydirt, and seldom will it turn to the downfield passing game to gain big chunks. Inversely, for the same reason, it’s quite hard to come back on Navy when behind.
Notre Dame must seize this game early. Establish physical dominance, score touchdowns and overpower Navy’s offensive front when on defense. Will new Irish offensive coordinator Gerad Parker let Sam Hartman open the passing game or will he try to push Navy around with Audric Estime? Perhaps a perfect blend is in order?
Do The Basics
Knowing Navy’s entire game philosophy is predicated on eating up time, Notre Dame’s possessions may be limited. This leaves little room for silly “Week 1 sloppiness” that sometimes occurs in first games.
The Irish must keep the penalties, missed tackles, mental lapses to an absolute minimum. I’m eager to find out just how mature this Notre Dame team is in Week 1 when discipline is the play call of the day.
Defense Has No Excuse
Defending the option is fairly simple in concept. Know your keys and cues, be where you are supposed to be, and do your job. A big key to stopping Navy’s offense is to get it off schedule behind the chains on early downs. Notre Dame must disrupt.
Navy has a new coach this year, and he may have a trick or two up his sleeve. The Irish must be prepared for everything. And with a month to prepare for this game, I expect them to be. They cannot afford to lose momentum on a silly trick gadget gotcha play.
Offense: Take What You Want
Notre Dame has the clear physical advantage. It should lean into its game plan offensively and push it. If Navy defends the Irish straight up, the Irish win those man-to-man matchups. If the Midshipmen crowd the line of scrimmage to stop the run, Hartman should pick apart their back end. If they back up, the run game kicks in. It’s a lose-lose for Navy.
With a capable quarterback at the helm, Notre Dame should be able to take what Navy gives it and maximize it into matchups it wants. Hartman can make all the throws needed and has sixth-year recognition skills in addition to the impressive running back group behind him. If the Irish offense doesn’t roll, I predict the middle of the offensive line may be the culprit. Notre Dame fans hope we don’t have to have that discussion.
Notre Dame is largely flying under the radar to start this year nationally speaking. I hope the team uses this as motivation. The schedule certainly provides a challenging slate with multiple opportunities to change the national narrative. Can the Irish take advantage?
From what I saw from fall camp, the energy seemed notched up compared to recent years. That’s a good sign to me. I hope the players on this team set out to not just win games, but prove a point with a chip on their shoulder. To everyone. And they’ll have every opportunity this year to do just that.