Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 6, 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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44 NOV. 6, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED GAME PREVIEW: NAVY BY TODD D. BURLAGE NAVY RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE Traditionally considered the best rushing team in the country, the fact that Navy has ranked outside of the nation's top 20 in this category most of this season suggests there's a problem. The triple-option formula remains the same, but the production has not. The Midshipmen entered their game against Tulsa Oct. 29 averaging 211.1 rushing yards per game — a respectable number but nowhere near the 300-yard rushing mark they typically eclipse or at least flirt with. Using a by-committee approach, Navy featured four players that were averaging at least 35 rushing yards per game and six with more than 20 carries through seven weeks. Senior fullback Isaac Ruoss has been the fo- cal point of the Navy ground attack. Through seven games, he paced the Midshipmen with 55.4 rushing yards per game and had scored two touchdowns. James Harris II, another senior fullback, was averaging 39.0 yards per game and sophomore quarterback Tai Lavatai added 35.6 rushing yards per game and led the team with four rushing touchdowns. The Midshipmen were averaging only 3.5 yards per carry, again far off the norm from a Naval Academy offense that had to replace three starting offensive linemen after last season. For Notre Dame, a unit that struggled to stop the run early this season has become one of the strengths of the team. In fact, none of Notre Dame's last six opponents through the USC game Oct. 23 had recorded more than 134 rushing yards and three of those six — Purdue, Wisconsin and Cincinnati — didn't manage 100 yards on the ground. Junior linebacker JD Bertrand easily led the Irish in tackles with 65 stops. His 9.3 tackles per game ranked 20th in the country heading into the final weekend of October. Advantage: Notre Dame NAVY PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE As one of the three or four most run-reliant teams in the country, Navy's passing game never provides much intrigue, beyond the big-play sur- prise here and there. In fact, the Midshipmen are easily last in the country in passing offense and no other team is even close. Through seven games, Navy was averaging 67.4 passing yards per game and had only 33 pass com- pletions with 11 of those coming from Lavatai against Cincinnati Oct. 23. With Lavatai working through a knee injury, sophomore Xavier Arline made four appearances with two starts earlier this season and completed only 5 of 15 passes for 109 yards. In the rare event Navy takes to the air, senior wide receiver Mychal Cooper (6-foot-5, 221 pounds) provides a big and talented target, though he averages averaging roughly one catch per game. The Midshipmen receiving crew had just two touchdown receptions through seven games. As it has in almost every defensive category, Notre Dame is showing steady improvement in its pass defense, best evidenced by the work it did against USC. Trojans wide receiver Drake London managed 15 catches for 171 yards, but the Irish kept the All-American out of the end zone and held high- powered USC quarterback Kedon Slovis without a touchdown pass for only the third time in his 25 games as a three-year starter. Notre Dame entered the North Carolina game ranked in the top 25 in pass efficiency defense and also was tied for fifth nationally with 11 intercep- tions. Notre Dame's pass rush continues to be an- chored by junior defensive end Isaiah Foskey. With two more sacks against USC, Foskey entered the North Carolina game with 8.0 sacks, staying on pace to tie or break Notre Dame's single-season sack record of 13.5 set by Justin Tuck in 2003. Through the USC game, Foskey ranked third in the country with 1.14 sacks per game and was one of only eight players in the country averaging at least 1.0 sack per outing. Navy allows more than three sacks a game, which puts it near the bottom of the NCAA in pass protection. Advantage: Notre Dame NOTRE DAME RUNNING GAME VS. NAVY RUN DEFENSE With 180 rushing yards in the 32-29 win over Virginia Tech Oct. 9 followed by 170 rushing yards against USC, Notre Dame is finally showing signs of life in this category. However, Notre Dame still ranked only 115th out of 130 FBS teams in rush- ing offense even after those solid back-to-back performances. Against USC, junior Irish tailback Kyren Williams scored two touchdowns and recorded 138 rushing On PaPer Senior fullback James Harris II is Navy's second-leading rusher with an average of 39.0 yards per game. PHOTO COURTESY NAVY

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