Players to watch: Notre Dame vs. Navy
A look at a few players to watch in Saturday’s game (2:30 p.m. EST on NBC) between No. 16 Notre Dame (7-2) and No. 23 Navy (7-1).
WR CHRIS FINKE, Notre Dame
After playing through injuries the first couple months of this season, Finke has emerged as a reliable target for quarterback Ian Book again. Finke has at least 45 receiving yards and five catches in three of the past four games, with the Michigan blowout as the anomaly. The graduate senior enjoyed a breakout game against Duke last week, scoring two touchdowns and returning a punt for 46 yards. Look for Finke to challenge a Navy defense that ranks No. 24 nationally on third down. Finke caught three straight third-down passes on Notre Dame’s first touchdown drive against Duke, converting each of them for a first down.
DE JAMIR JONES, Notre Dame
Jones first received an increased role when backup defensive end Daelin Hayes suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. A fractured fibula ending the Notre Dame career of star defensive end Julian Okwara last week now thrusts Jones into a starter’s role. Slowing the nation’s top-ranked rushing offense (357.9 yards per game) will be a big challenge for the Irish and the 6-foot-3, 255-pound senior. Jones will be tasked with handling an elite athlete in Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry. Jones must remain disciplined against a triple-option attack that looks to take opportunistic risks and capitalize on missed tackles and poor gap pursuit.
QB MALCOLM PERRY, Navy
Not having an elite playmaker at quarterback in 2018 hampered Navy’s ceiling on offense. By moving Malcolm Perry to the position from slotback before this season, the Midshipmen reestablished their traditional triple-option scheme and vaunted rushing attack. Perry, the nation’s leader among quarterbacks in rushing (1,042 yards and 16 touchdowns on 157 carries), will challenge the Irish run defense, ranked No. 64. Louisville (249 rushing yards) and Michigan (303 rushing yards) gashed Notre Dame on the ground. Should Navy follow suit and surpass 290 rushing yards for the eighth time in nine games this season, it will be because of Perry.
LB JACOB SPRINGER, Navy
Operating in Navy’s new outside linebacker position referred to as the striker, Springer leads the Mids in sacks and tackles for a loss by a wide margin with seven and 11, respectively. The 6-1, 206-pound junior is one of Navy’s better athletes as a former safety and has even returned kicks. Book and Notre Dame’s makeshift offensive line that’s missing original starters right guard Tommy Kraemer (knee) and right tackle Robert Hainsey (ankle) will need to account for Springer. He leads a unit that ranks No. 15 in scoring defense, No. 17 against the run and No. 19 in pass-efficiency defense.