Navy comes into South Bend at 2-6. They were victors last Friday night over Tulsa by a score of 20-17. Their other victory came in week 4 over Central Florida 34-30. Among their 6 losses, three were within 1 score including two weeks ago when the Midshipmen came within a touchdown of #2 Cincinnati 27-20. The Midshipman also gave 24th ranked SMU all they wanted in a 31-24 loss.
Typical of Navy teams, they run the football, a lot, and rarely throw it. National ranks tell the story: 14th in rushing yards at 222 per game, and Navy is dead last 130th in passing yards at 59 per game. Last week in their win over Tulsa they had zero passing yards on just one attempt.
The Navy option offense does help their defense because they control time of possession, and that limits the opportunities for opponents to score. Navy executed this strategy perfectly in the 2016 matchup when the Irish had just 2 possessions in the second half and 6 total for the game. The Irish lost that day 27-28.
The key guy in the option game is always the quarterback, and the Middies have settled on Tai Lavatai. He is a 6-2 210-pound Sophomore who has run for 242 yards on 117 attempts and 5 TDs. Lavatai does have passing statistics and they sound like they should be for a game not a season. He is 21-39 for 273 yards and 2 TDs and 2 Interceptions, and has been sacked 13 times. Overall Navy QBs have been sacked 25 times and have averaged just 9 pass attempts per game.
The leading rushers are Senior fullback Isaac Ruoss who has 437 yards and 2 TDs and Senior slotback Carlinos Acie who has 37 carries and 287 yards good for 7.8 yards per carry. Acie carried just 3 times last week but went for 80 yards including a 64-yard burst.
The Navy defense allows 30 points per game which is a lot, but they are ranked a respectable 43rd in total defense giving up 347 yards per game. Senior Linebacker Diago Fagot has NFL talent and leads the team with 71 tackles. Brian Kelly this week said that he is one of the top five linebackers the Irish will play against all year. Navy has been pretty good at defending the red zone but they have not had a lot of success sacking the quarterback as they average just over one sack per game.
In the first half against #2 Cincinnati, Navy led or was in a tie for all but the final second when Cincinnati kicked a field goal to take a 13-10 halftime lead. In the 3rd quarter Cincinnati took a 17-point lead with two TDs. Navy however came storming back in the 4th by scoring 10 unanswered and then recovered an onside kick in the closing minutes giving them a chance to tie or win before an interception ended the game.
Defending option teams has very little in common with defending conventional teams and experience in dealing with the option is critical. Fortunately, ND has that experience. Brian Kelly and his staff have coached against the offense many times, and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman while at Cincinnati faced off against Navy in 2017 and 2018. Cincinnati lost 42-32 in Freeman’s first go around but dominated Navy in 2018, 42-0.
Week one, Navy was blown out by Marshall 49-7, but since then they look to have steadily improved. Expect the Irish to give up some long drives in a game that moves quickly. If Navy does not turn the ball over, this will not be a blow out. On the other hand even if it stays fairly close, the Irish have superior athletes, experience at defending the option, and this is not a vintage Navy squad.
TV coverage on NBC starts at 3:30 PM South Bend time (EDT)
The Irish are favored by 20.5 points and the over/under is 47
The Fighting Irish Preview Pick: ND 34 Navy 17