Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 12, 2022

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

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38 NOV. 12, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED GAME PREVIEW: NAVY game and was second at his position in TD catches through games of Oct. 29. As Notre Dame continues the search for more production from its wide receivers, sophomore De- ion Colzie emerged as a promising option against Syracuse with career highs in receptions (3) and yards (44). Navy sophomore cornerback Elias Larry leads the Midshipmen with 2 of its 6 interceptions. With 6 sacks through eight games, junior defensive end Jacob Busic anchors a Navy defense that averaged 2.5 sacks per game to rank 41st in the country. Marshall, with 4 sacks, and sophomore line- backer Tyler Fletcher, with 3, also help highlight a unit that has collected 20 sacks total in eight games. Advantage: Notre Dame SPECIAL TEAMS Three blocked punts for Notre Dame in the two games against UNLV and Syracuse — which led to 17 points — moved the Irish into a tie with South Carolina for the most in the country (5), and it's a single-season high for Notre Dame since at least 2000. The Irish have also received solid work from its kicking game this season. Graduate student kicker Blake Grupe has hit 10 of 13 field goal attempts — with a long of 47 yards — and had converted all 25 of his point after tries. Graduate student punter Jon Sot has been terrific all season. His 44.5-yard average ranked No. 19 in the country through Week 9, and he compiled 10 kicks of at least 50 yards and had 15 downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Navy's kick coverage units have been stingy. The Midshipmen ranked second in the country in kick- off return defense (12.9 yards) and No. 18 in punt return defense (2.89 yards) heading into Week 10. Navy sophomore punter Riley Riethman aver- ages a respectable 45.1 yards per punt, and senior kicker Daniel Davies entered his game last week- end 9 of 13 on his field goals and a perfect 18 of 18 on extra points. Navy has allowed a blocked field goal. And, like Notre Dame, the Midshipmen have neither al- lowed nor scored a touchdown on any punt or kickoff return this season. Advantage: Notre Dame COACHING Even with his program stabilized after winning five of the six games between Sept. 17 and Oct. 29, Marcus Freeman remains an unproven commodity. The stench of the losses to Marshall and Stanford remained too rich to completely dismiss, forgive and move on. That said, the court of public opinion was trend- ing back in Freeman's favor after the solid 41-24 win over Syracuse Oct. 29. Notre Dame didn't trail in either of its victories over UNLV and the No. 16 Orange, while at the same time, Freeman's team has shown steady improvement since the 16-14 loss to Stanford Oct. 15. In his 16th season with Navy, veteran head coach Ken Niumatalolo had his program rolling with five wins in six bowl games between 2014 and 2019. He actually beat Notre Dame three times during his first four seasons in Annapolis. More recently, Niumatalolo and his program have fallen on hard times with a 10-20 record since the start of the 2020 season through October 2022. With a 108-80 record before games of last week, Niumatalolo remains a terrific head coach and an even better ambassador for college football. Advantage: Even INTANGIBLES Not surprisingly, Navy ranks among the most disciplined teams in the country when it comes to avoiding penalties. Through its first eight games, the Midshipmen led the nation in fewest penalties per game (3.62) and were third in fewest penalty yards per game (30.1). Also staying true to form, Navy was fifth nationally and first in the AAC in time of possession (34:58). And that will be one of the keys for Notre Dame — keeping Navy's ball-control offense off the field. For Notre Dame, one troubling stat still remained heading into the Clemson game. Through its 5-3 start, the Irish still remained tied with Rutgers for last in the country in red zone defense. Irish opponents had scored on all 18 of their red- zone trips, with 15 touchdowns and 3 field goals. After losing three of four games to Navy from 2007-10, Notre Dame has now won nine of the last 10 meetings in the series, including four in a row. Advantage: Notre Dame Through eight games, senior striker John Marshall led the Midshipmen in tackles (62) and tackles for loss (10). PHOTO BY PHIL HOFFMANN/COURTESY NAVY

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