This will be short. In full transparency, there isn’t really much we can talk about from an analytics perspective for this game that will be enlightening. Navy runs the most boring offense and has been one of the worst offenses in the country, a far cry from some of their peak years. But we’ll give you some key stats and give you a betting preview, which if you’re into that sort of thing will make this game more watchable.
Navy actually has a competent defense and they will need to lean on them heavily because of the woeful offense (as we’ll talk about later). They actually profile pretty similarly to North Carolina’s defense (0.05 EPA/Pass Allowed, 0.08 EPA/Rush allowed). Given how that game played out, the talent disparity between the Tar Heels and Midshipmen, and the fact that Notre Dame’s offense is hitting its stride lately, Tommy Rees and Co. shouldn’t have a problem tomorrow afternoon. With the quick passing game keeping Coan from taking a bunch of sacks and with pass-catchers who can win in space, complemented by a monster at the Running Back position in Kyren Williams, every drive that doesn’t result in points should be considered a failure/missed opportunity against this team. It’s also critical that they do accomplish that, because the one path to making this game tricky is Navy’s offense stringing together long drives that significantly limits the number of possessions Notre Dame will have in the game.
But this shouldn’t matter at all. Navy ranks 123rd in PFF Coverage Grade and only has one starter with a Coverage Grade above 70 (average) in Linebacker Diego Fagot. He’s been excellent with an 87.8 Grade, so anticipate Michael Mayer and Kyren Williams being taken away on some plays, but with the lack of good defenders elsewhere Jack Coan shouldn’t have a problem finding open receivers.
They also rank 127th in PFF Pass Rush Grade and 97th in PFF Run Defense Grade, meaning the Irish should have their way both on the ground and through the air.
This isn’t the Navy offense of some recent years that could really make you anxious about the game. They’ve struggled to move the ball and score points. Ranking 91st in EPA/Rush and 112th in Success Rate has led to them averaging 16.6 Points Per Game (122nd). While going away from Xavier Arline and his -0.39 EPA/Rush has helped, his replacement Tai Lavatai still averages negative EPA and a sub-40% Success Rate. The only viable players in this Triple-Option offense have been Carlinos Acie and Chance Warren, rushing for 0.38 and 0.22 EPA/Play, respectively. But regardless, this is an offense that Notre Dame should have no problem stopping. And although it’s Marcus Freeman’s first game facing Navy at Notre Dame, this will be his third game against the Midshipmen as a Defensive Coordinator, losing the first one in 2017 42-32 (his first year as DC) and winning the next year 42-0. With most of the coaching staff well-versed in defending the Triple-Option, schematics should not be an issue. The key will be to get off the field on 3rd and 4th Downs when you have the opportunity to do so and not allow them to convert a high percentage of short-yardage opportunities.
So, to the prediction. This line feels just about right, with the implied score being very realistic. But given how weak the Navy offense is and that the defense may be worse than their EPA metrics suggest, we are going to take Notre Dame to cover the 21 points. Jack Coan and Kyren Williams shouldn’t have a problem against this defense and it is tough to see how Navy scores enough points to cover without a lot of high variance plays. It’s football so that could happen, but the most likely outcome in our eyes is a Notre Dame cover.