Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2023

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

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42 PRESEASON 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED GAME PREVIEW: NAVY BY TYLER HORKA NAVY RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE This is generally the matchup this rivalry series comes down to every year. Notre Dame has a little extra time to prepare for Navy's triple-option rush- ing attack, which bodes well for the Irish. Head coach Marcus Freeman said in the spring that the Irish would have a day dedicated to pre- paring for Navy. Undoubtedly, there will be more than just one fall camp day designed to get the players' minds thinking about how to stay assign- ment sound against the option. If last year was any indication of what Navy might do to Notre Dame in Dublin, every single one of those days will be needed. Navy rushed for 5.5 yards per carry versus the Irish in Baltimore last November. That was the Midshipmen's second-best single-game yards per carry average of the 2022 season. Notre Dame couldn't contain fullback Daba Fofana, who ran 15 times for 133 yards and a touchdown. Fofana, a junior, is back in the fold this fall. Notre Dame has a bunch of veteran defensive linemen and three graduate student linebackers returning from the team that barely squeaked by Navy, 35-32, after allowing 19 unanswered points in the second half last year. They'll remember how close they came to blowing the game and won't want to let that happen in the 2023 season opener. Look for veteran tackles Rylie Mills and Howard Cross III to have a good performance overseas. Sophomore linebacker Jaylen Sneed might have a chance to display his athleticism and set the tone for his second season on the team. Notre Dame will shut the Mids down from the start on Aug. 26. Advantage: Notre Dame NAVY PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE Navy's passing offense is basically the inverse of its rushing defense. The Midshipmen run de- fense is everywhere. Its passing game is mostly nonexistent. Navy ranked 127th out of 131 FBS teams in in- tended air yards in 2022. The Midshipmen had 1,787 per Sports Info Solutions. For reference, an average mark was Colorado at 65th nationally with 3,403 — nearly double that of Navy. First-year head coach Brian Newberry said Navy is going to throw it a little more than it has in years past, so Notre Dame needs to be ready for that, but by and large there is no excuse for the Fighting Irish to let Navy have success through the air. The Mids did not throw for more than 152 yards in a single game last year. They went for 108 yards on 13 attempts against the Irish. Notre Dame did not boast a particularly strong passing defense in 2022. The Irish ranked tied for 129th in passes broken up with just 24, less than two per game. They don't have to be aggressive against Navy against the pass, though. They just need to be on high alert. They can't bite on any of the quirky stuff the Midshipmen are bound to throw them in a highly anticipated season opener. Even if they do, if the worst that happens to the Notre Dame defense is a chunk play allowed on a gimmicky pass then defensive coordinator Al Golden can live with it — especially if the unit rebounds and does not give up a touchdown on either the play itself or afterward. Advantage: Notre Dame NOTRE DAME RUNNING GAME VS. NAVY RUN DEFENSE In spite of a 4-8 record in 2022, Navy actually performed quite well defensively against the run. The second-best rushing yards allowed per game average in the country told most of the story. The Midshipmen gave up only 88.9 yards on the ground per contest. There were some advanced analytics that played out in favor of the Mids as well. Per Sports Info Solutions, Navy had the fifth-lowest rushing touchdown percentage in the FBS at 2.2 percent. For reference, national champion Georgia ranked On PaPer Junior fullback Daba Fofana, who led Navy in rushing with 769 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2022, notched 15 carries for 133 yards and 1 score against the Fighting Irish in last year's matchup. PHOTO COURTESY NAVY ATHLETICS

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