FOOTBALL

Five keys for Notre Dame against Navy: WR Chris Finke needs to continue his hot streak

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Here are five keys for No. 16 Notre Dame (7-2) when it hosts No. 23 Navy (7-1) on Saturday (2:30 p.m. EST on NBC).

VALUE POSSESSIONS

Notre Dame’s offense registered 18 three-and-outs combined in its last three games against Michigan, Virginia Tech and Duke. The Irish can’t afford to continue having stalled drives against the Midshipmen. Because the triple-option offense tends to generate long-sustained drives, opposing offenses must value their abbreviated time with the football. Navy also excels at keeping opposing offenses off the field by ranking No. 23 nationally in third-down defense. Minimizing penalties and negatives plays will help the Irish be in more favorable third down situations.

LOOK FOR FINKE

Wide receiver Chase Claypool and tight end Cole Kmet seem to shine on a weekly basis. A much-needed third choice has not always emerged for quarterback Ian Book — until recently. Receiver Chris Finke is finally becoming one of Book’s top targets again. The graduate receiver recorded five passes and at least 45 receiving yards in three of his last four games. He broke out against Duke with two touchdowns and a 46-yard punt return. Finke’s ability to create separation and grab passes in tight windows will bode well for a Notre Dame offense in need of moving the chains on third down.

STAY DISCIPLINED

Defending the triple option may require discipline more than anything else. All 11 defenders are responsible with at least the handoff, quarterback run or toss option and can’t stray from that task. The Mids will look to wear the Irish defense down with gains that may seem minimal but are enough to move the sticks. Navy counts on missed assignments, whiffed tackles, fatigue and a lack of physicality. Defensive end Jamir Jones, starting in the place of Julian Okwara (fractured fibula), figures to be a critical piece to slowing down quarterback Malcolm Perry.

CONTAIN PERRY

Perry not only leads all quarterbacks in rushing (1,042 yards and 16 touchdowns on 157 attempts), but also has helped Navy rank No. 7 in passing efficiency. That balance and Perry’s improvement as a passer makes this Mids offense more dynamic than usual. Notre Dame defended Navy’s triple-option look last season by dropping Asmar Bilal, a rover at the time, as a fifth defender on the line of scrimmage. He operated on the wide side of the field beside defensive end Khalid Kareem. Maybe the Irish will use rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in a similar way to help contain Perry’s running threat.

START FAST

The Irish have not scored on their opening possession in six of their last seven games. They also had three-and-outs to begin their last two games. Navy thrives off obtaining an early lead and draining the clock through its top-ranked rushing attack. The Mids have gained at least 290 rushing yards in all but one game this season. Notre Dame’s 44-22 win last season proved Navy will find difficulty making up a double-digit deficit due to its style, however. The Irish scoring on their first drive and building an early lead will likely be enough to throw the Mids out of their element.

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Notre Dame’s Chris Finke (10) celebrates a touchdown with Tony Jones Jr. (6) during the Notre Dame-Duke NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, NC.
Navy fullback Jamale Carothers runs for a score against Tulane on Oct. 26.

NAVY (7-1) at NOTRE DAME (7-2)

At Notre Dame Stadium (77,622), South Bend, IN

Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. EST

TV: NBC

Series history: Notre Dame leads 78-13-1

Betting line: Notre Dame by 7