This week’s Gridiron Spotlight highlights the matchup between No. 3 Notre Dame and Navy.
The Midshipmen are heavy underdogs, as the Fighting Irish are favored by a 24-point margin per ESPN. But if games were played on paper, there would be no need to take the field Saturday.
Notre Dame, which has defeated two ranked teams within its last three games, will be facing a team that has lost four straight games. To compound the Midshipmen woes, the Fighting Irish are better in almost every major statistical category. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Navy has a decent chance to pull an Old Dominion-esque upset against such a formidable opponent.
To do that, the Midshipmen need to be able to run the ball early and often.
Navy is currently No. 3 in the nation in rushing yards per game, averaging over 300 yards each time the team takes the field. The Fighting Irish currently allows nearly 130 yards per game on the ground, but Navy represents the best rushing attack that Notre Dame has seen thus far.
Much of that is the byproduct of Navy running its triple-option offense. In its seven games this season, Navy has averaged just 13 pass attempts per game, including an outing against SMU that saw just four pass attempts.
As a result, the Midshipmen have only eclipsed 100 passing yards in a game twice this season, against Lehigh and Houston. In contrast, Navy has averaged over 53 rushing attempts per game, highlighted by the 78 rushing attempts it had against SMU.
The biggest difference between these two teams is the defense. While Navy has been able to run the ball on every team that it has faced, it has not been able to stop opposing teams from doing whatever they want. The Midshipmen have given up 420 yards per game, including more than 250 passing yards allowed per game, which is poor enough to be ranked at No. 97 in the country.
This is where Notre Dame will look to take advantage, as it has gained almost 430 yards per game this season, including almost 250 passing yards per game. The Fighting Irish’s strengths happen to correlate perfectly with Navy struggles.
For Notre Dame, however, it has been able to compile these stats while facing three nationally ranked teams in its first seven games, while Navy has not faced a single ranked team this season.
In the three games before junior quarterback Ian Book took over, the Fighting Irish averaged right at 200 passing yards per game and about 23 points per game. In the four games since Book assumed control of the offense, those numbers have jumped to 284 and 40, respectively. He will look to continue that success against Navy.
While Notre Dame has an excellent chance to win this game, Navy could find itself a victor Saturday if the ball bounces its way a few times.
Final prediction: Notre Dame 38, Navy 28.