How does No. 8 Notre Dame beat Navy? By following these four keys to the game.
These keys to the game will likely decide if AP No. 8/CFP No. 10 Notre Dame (7-1) can beat Navy (2-6) on Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium (3:30 p.m. EDT on NBC).
Score early and often
It’s a lot harder for Navy to be patient in its triple-option offense if Notre Dame builds up an early lead. The Irish need to maximize their first few drives with points to create a cushion and force the Midshipmen to make a comeback. A two-touchdown lead can threaten Navy’s plan to control the game by hogging possession of the football.
Even though Navy’s offense hasn’t been as sharp this season, the long drives can still be a nuisance to start the game. The Midshipmen have played stout defense at times this season too. Four teams (Tulsa, Air Force, Houston and Cincinnati) have failed to score at least 14 points in the first half against Navy this season.
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Finish the tackles
Notre Dame’s defense made it look like North Carolina’s skill players were covered in Vaseline last Saturday. The Irish missed 13 tackles in the 44-34 victory over the Tar Heels, and yet that number, which was only higher in the season opener at Florida State, still doesn’t feel high enough.
While UNC deserves credit for being tough to tackle, the Irish have to be better against Navy. A missed tackle against the triple-option can throw the entire defensive scheme out of whack and turn a short gain into a long one. Notre Dame must be assignment-sound in getting to the football and take extra care in wrapping up Navy’s ball carriers.
No extra chances
Notre Dame can’t afford to give Navy’s offense extra possessions. A turnover or two could allow Navy to really eat away at the game clock and decrease the future number of possessions for the Irish. Even though Navy has only forced 11 turnovers this season, a total that ranked No. 67 in the FBS entering this week, only four teams in the FBS possess the football longer than Navy’s average of 35:30 per game.
What does that dominant time of possession lead to? Fewer plays for the opposing offense. Navy’s opponents have averaged just 59 players per game. The Irish offense averaged 70.25 plays in its first eight games. Notre Dame should want as many possibilities to score against Navy as possible.
Let freshmen thrive
Notre Dame’s freshmen keep earning more and more trust on Notre Dame’s offense. First, Tyler Buchner brought a spark to the Irish. Next, Joe Alt stepped up at left tackle. Then, Logan Diggs proved to be a reliable running back. Now, Lorenzo Styles has shown big-play capability at wide receiver. The Irish should continue to lean into that youth to keep the offense evolving.
The Irish shouldn’t have to give running back Chris Tyree a heavy workload as he works his way back from a turf toe injury. If wide receiver Braden Lenzy needs a week off following a concussion, no sweat. In small doses, freshman tight end Mitchell Evans and freshman wide receiver Deion Colzie have proven capable too. Maybe their roles can expand even more against Navy if Notre Dame gains a comfortable lead.
Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.