Five keys for Notre Dame against Navy: OL's progression, Book's aggression

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

OFFENSIVE LINE PROGRESSION

The Irish continue to experiment with their offensive line, elevating Aaron Banks to starting left guard. Notre Dame needed a more physical, durable left guard like Banks, a 6-6, 319-pounder. The other option was senior Trevor Ruhland, but a history of torn pectoral muscles for the 6-4, 295-pounder raised a long-term concern. ND seemingly made its final switch, splitting Ruhland at right guard with junior Tommy Kraemer. The unit debuts at Navy, and any sign of regression would be a major concern.

LEANING ON ALOHI GILMAN

The former Midshipmen is not just familiar with the triple-option attack. He’s also a free safety, which plays a pivotal role in stopping such an offense. Gilman recorded 31 tackles, two pass deflections and a forced fumble in his first four ND games. In the prior three, he has just seven tackles. Gilman will need to be productive like he was in September. Don’t be surprised if he records a season-high in tackles.

AGGRESSIVE THROUGH THE AIR

As the nation’s most accurate passer while posting the eighth-best passer efficiency rating, Ian Book has far exceeded expectations. One knock, however, has been the junior’s deep ball. Book is 6-of-17 on passes beyond 20 yards downfield. Two of those completions were beyond 30 yards. The Mids generate no pass rush, tying for No. 122 in sacks and ranking last in tackles for loss (129th). The nation’s 112th pass efficiency defense will be susceptible against Book, who should have opportunities to polish his deep ball.

KEEP FOOT ON THE GAS

Navy’s reputation of wearing out teams has not lived up this season. The Mids have been outscored 66-19 in the second half during their four-game losing streak. Navy looked formidable early last week against Houston, but the Cougars scored 28 second-half points. Navy’s issues on defense should allow ND to score in the high 30’s or 40’s. The Irish cannot afford to keep it close like the games against Ball State, Vanderbilt and Pittsburgh, or else the Mids could return to their suffocating style.

BE WISE WITH ARMSTRONG

Head coach Brian Kelly said he was impressed with running back Jafar Armstrong’s quick recovery. The sophomore is coming off a three-game absence from a knee infection. Armstrong still could not be in game shape and might need to shake off rust. Behind Dexter Williams and Tony Jones Jr., Armstrong does not own an expanded role. The ND coaches have not been afraid to ride the hot hand and might feel tempted to involve Armstrong in the passing game. It would be wise to limit him to a handful of touches.

Notre Dame has scored at least 38 points in each of quarterback Ian Book’s three starts.
Notre Dame sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong should be coming off a three-game absence due to a knee infection, but it might be wise to limit him to a handful of touches.

At SDCCU Stadium (70,561), San Diego

Kickoff: 8 p.m. TV: CBS

Series history: Notre Dame leads series, 77-13-1

Betting line: Notre Dame by 23½