The Navy Midshipmen are not likely to go to a bowl game this season, so they can view the remainder of their season as a collection of bowl games.
By Matt Zemek
Army is the ultimate football festival for Navy. That game means more than any bowl will ever matter for the Mids. This upcoming clash with Notre Dame is also very important to the Navy football family.
Notre Dame looks a lot better than it did a few weeks ago. Navy has to hope that Notre Dame will regress and play – at least on offense – a lot more like the team which lost at home to Marshall and Stanford. The team which just beat Syracuse and Clemson is a really good team. Navy can hope for the best, but it has to prepare for the worst and expect to get Notre Dame’s best shot. If the Irish start the game with sharpness and force, here’s what Navy has to do to counter Marcus Freeman’s surging team:
1 – Load the box
An opponent of 2022 Notre Dame has to load the tackle box and stuff the run. It’s really that simple. Defenses need to force Notre Dame and quarterback Drew Pyne to throw the ball. They don’t do that very well. Even though Notre Dame did blow out Clemson, the Irish scored just one offensive touchdown in the first three quarters of that game. Their other touchdown in the first three quarters was on a blocked punt returned for a score.
Notre Dame running back Audric Estime has been really strong in recent weeks. The Irish are running to the left side of their offensive line and are blowing opponents off the ball. Estime has been really good at looking up the middle but then bouncing plays to the left side and taking advantage of safeties overrunning their gaps and getting caught in the middle of the field. Navy has to load the box and make sure the safeties stay in their lanes and exhibit good gap responsibility. If Notre Dame throws the ball well and makes great plays in the passing game, just tip the cap and move on. Navy has to make the Irish convert third downs and gain big yards through the air. Stopping the run has to be the whole focus.
2 – Pounce when given an opportunity
Drew Pyne will probably make one or two bad throws in this game. When he does, Navy has to be ready to intercept the ball. The Navy defense simply has to convert when it is given a chance to make a significant, high-leverage, equation-changing play.
3 – Fourth downs
Navy’s defense played well at Cincinnati and has played well for much of the year. The offense has to find a way to help out that defense. Converting fourth downs – the ultimate ball-control and field position formula – is the best way for the Navy to do this. The Midshipmen failed on fourth down late in the Temple game, which put the defense under the gun and nearly led to a loss. When Navy football is thriving, fourth downs are welcome occurrences. Few things offer a bigger boost than converting on fourth down and mentally wearing down an opposing defense. Those situations haven’t worked out well in the past three years of the post-Malcolm Perry era. This group has to transcend its limitations for one game and find some fourth-down magic.