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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Receives Rare "Advantage" Facing Navy in Season Opener

August 21, 2023

Notre Dame is 79–13–1 against Navy all-time — a record that excludes a vacated Fighting Irish win from the 2012 matchup in Dublin, Ireland. 

Currently, it’s the only time the Fighting Irish opened the season against the Naval Academy, resulting in a 50-10 thrashing of the Midshipmen. 

That’ll change this weekend when Notre Dame returns to Dublin’s Aviva Stadium to take on Navy Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EST.

It may be a rarity, but coach Marcus Freeman believes kicking off the season against Notre Dame’s long-time rival presents some apparent benefits.

“We’ve been able to prepare from spring ball to parts of the summer to parts of fall camp and then, obviously, two weeks to prepare for just strictly Navy,” Freeman said. “It’s a tremendous advantage to play Navy the first game of the year because the preparation that entails getting ready for them has obviously lengthened.”

Most notably, the Irish defense receives extra prep time for one of the few remaining college football teams to employ the triple-option offense.

Navy struggled last season, but the Midshipmen still finished with the nation’s No. 4 rush offense in 2022, averaging 241.1 yards on the ground. 

“You don’t see triple-option offenses often in college football, and you have to be so disciplined,” Freeman said. “Our guys, defensively, are used to being able to, yeah, do your job, but finding a way to get to the ball. Finding a way to make a play happen at times. When you play the triple option, you might not ever make a take on the guy with the ball, but you have to do your job. It’s something that’s extremely difficult.”

Of course, things are a bit different in Annapolis, Maryland. Ken Niumatalolo stepped down last winter after spending the last 15 years as the program’s head coach. 

New head coach Brian Newberry, the former defensive coordinator, hired Kennesaw State’s Grant Chesnut as his offensive coordinator.

As ISD’s Jamie Uyeyama pointed out in his scouting report, Navy will still run the triple-option but with some creative wrinkles, including shotgun formations. 

“We had to watch Kennesaw State,” Freeman said. “That’s not what Navy did last year. We have to prepare for a lot of different things that we might see. It will be a challenge.”

An Uncommon Defense

The Navy offense also presents difficult matchups. 

“You guys might not see it, but we almost look at their defense like we look at their offense,” Freeman said. “It’s something we won’t see every week. You don’t see this type of defense often in college football. It presents a big challenge that we’ve been preparing for for months.”

Navy employs a 4-2-5 base defense, but Uyeyama wrote on Monday about how the defense often varies its fronts and coverages, but they’re also willing to unleash an onslaught of blitzes to stop the run. 

There’s no better example of the challenges that Navy’s defense can pose than the second half of last year’s matchup. 

Notre Dame took a 35-13 lead into halftime last November, but the Midshipmen shut out the Irish in the second half by blitzing more defenders than Notre Dame could block. 

“We’ve got to be efficient,” Freeman said. “We cannot go three-and-out. We’ve got to take care of the ball. All of a sudden, if we go three-and-out. if you look at last year’s second half. The first couple of drives were three and out and then we had an interception.”

Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman should handle the blitz better than Drew Pyne did, which should benefit the passing and running elements of the offense. 

“I’m a coach that always comes up here and says we’ve got to be able to run the ball and run the ball because that opens up things in the pass game,” Freeman said. “At times, you can’t run the ball versus them, because they have more people than you can block. So we have to be able to utilize different formations and utilize our pass game at times to open up the run.”

Interior Concerns

Notre Dame will need the interior of its offensive line to play well to run and pass the ball effectively.

Will that happen?

That’s a bit of a wild card as of Monday. Veteran center Zeke Correll was hobbled last week with an ankle injury that limited him during practice, but there’s a good chance he’ll be available this weekend. 

“We expect him to go. He’s progressing really well,” Freeman said of Correll. “I want to see him go out there and practice today. We kind of held him out last week. Today, we’re going to push him to go. He’s been doing a great job in rehab and recovery, so I think today will tell us a lot.”

Still, the biggest concern may be the unknown. How will Notre Dame’s new offensive guards Pat Coogan and Rocco Spindler perform in their first games as starters?

Freeman believes both will be ready based on their performance throughout fall camp.

“Those two guys, man, have had a really good fall camp in terms of just the execution,” Freeman said. “All of our physical, all of them have the trace that you look for in offensive guards, but the overall execution of what they were asked to do on a consistent basis is why those guys will be starting for us.”

Each had to overcome long odds. During the spring, Andrew Kristofic and Billy Schrauth were the favorites to start, but Coogan and Spindler ultimately won out. 

“Our guard battles were really, really good,” Freeman said. The competition amongst those guys was what you want to see. I think Rocco and Pat both the confidence they build in our coaching staff, the trust of them being able to do their job on a consistent basis is why they'll be in there to start the game. I feel really good about the depth of our guard position. and Billy had a great fall camp.”

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