Lesar: Five keys to Notre Dame-Navy

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

LIMIT POSSESSIONS

Navy is averaging 35 points and 444 offensive yards (297 rushing) this season. The Midshipmen have converted on 46 of 90 third-down attempts (compared to 40 of 111 by Notre Dame). They are able to hold onto the football for a long time. That means the Irish offense has to be clean (no turnovers) and efficient (putting points on the board). Notre Dame must treat each possession as something special, because there won’t be that many to be had against the Navy offense.

WHAT IT’S WORTH

Normally, the first rule of defending against the triple-option offense is to stop the fullback. That was the problem Notre Dame had in 2010, coach Brian Kelly’s first season, when Alexander Teich ran wild in a stunning 35-17 Navy victory. The Irish concern this season, though, is that quarterback Will Worth (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) runs like a second fullback. On top of his ability to run the ball (161 carries, 618 yards 13 TDs), he can also throw (52 of 87 passing, 987 yards, 6 TDs, 3 interceptions). That gives a completely different dimension to an already-effective Navy attack.

BIG TARGET

While the focus of Notre Dame’s defensive plan will be to slow down the Navy running game, the Irish secondary will have to give plenty of respect to Navy receiver Jamir Tillman. The 6-4, 212-pound senior has caught 23 passes for 362 yards and a touchdown. His longest reception this year has been 47 yards. He had a 72-yarder last season.

USE THE ADVANTAGE

Notre Dame’s offensive line always enjoys a lopsided size advantage over Navy’s defensive line. This year is no different. What the Irish need to do is use that edge in size and strength to put together a quality run game. They are desperate to develop a consistent ground attack with Josh Adams, Tarean Folston and Dexter Williams averaging about 150 yards. Having success with the run would take some of the steam out of the tempo that Navy tries to establish.

MAINTAIN FOCUS

The big-picture focus of the Notre Dame program must remain the same – be decisive, play fast and have fun. Even when the immediate challenge – dealing with a very difficult and truly unique Navy offense – might necessitate a more disciplined and thoughtful approach, Irish defenders can’t lose sight of the basic premise. That’s how they’ve been able to make strides since the firing of coordinator Brian VanGorder, and it’s the only way they can continue to trend in a positive direction.

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Greg Hudson looks at the clock during the Miami at Notre Dame NCAA college football game Saturday Oct. 29, 2016, inside Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA