If there’s one thing I envy about college football programs that are fully a part of a conference is the “predictable” nature of schedules. You plug in some tune up games for the first 4/5 matchups, get all of the nerves and potential for mishaps out of the way and then you spend the remainder of your season playing mostly consistent opponents. It’s not always that clean but in general it’s how it plays out, at least from a data perspective.
Notre Dame’s schedule historically and especially this year is terrible in this regard.
Let’s start off with a top 5 opponent, skip to Marshall, work through a really really mixed bad in the middle. Then just when we’re just about all exhausted as a fan base throw in another top 5 matchup night game.
Oh y’all are still paying attention!?? Well, well here’s a trip to the Twilight Zone of football strategy aka the triple option. Enjoy!
There’s no shortage of chatter about the Navy game and its advantages/disadvantages on the Irish’s schedule. I’ve teetered on both sides of that fence over the years. As I sit here, slamming a Red Bull and failing horribly at trying to string together a data story of Navy’s triple option performance this season, I’ve never been more on the side of “ok maybe we do need to rethink this.”
Or maybe at least get the game out of the way early into the season. Going into Week 11 of the season, my brain is none too pleased about a fresh set of triple option tainted data tables crashing through the front door.
But here we are so let’s walk through this and see what we’ve got.
Overall Advantage to Notre Dame
The Navy Midshipmen are coming into the game 3-6. Their three victories this season have come against East Carolina, Tulsa and Temple. Two of those three wins (East Carolina and Temple) were decided in overtime, so it really hasn’t been the greatest of runs for Navy.
And for maybe the first time this season, Notre Dame is coming in with an overall scoring advantage over an opponent. The Irish have outscored the Midshipmen 262-184, and Navy is averaging a modest 21 point per game. I know it’s not that long ago that that metric was right up this ND squad’s alley but we’ve grown from there so I’m going to act like it.
Underpowered Navy Offense
Navy hit its offensive peek in Weeks 6 and 7, against Tulsa and SMU respectively. They tallied up a season high of 510 total yards against SMU but still lost the game 40-34.
Some Passing Troubles
Even factoring in the triple option strategy, it’s been a bad passing season for the Midshipmen. One of the standout stats is that in the Week 9 matchup against Temple, they finished out with a total of “zero” passing yards. In that game they only attempted 2 passes and completed none of them (including overtime).
Somehow, they won that Temple game, though.
The team hit a season high of 152 passing yards during its Week 4 win against East Carolina and are averaging around 100 passing yards per game.
Junior quarterback Tai Lavatai has a completion rate of 46% on 91 attempts. Including the Temple game, that averages out to around 10 attempts and 5 completions per game.
The Midshipmen’s Rushing Attack
The triple option menace makes the ground game Navy’s main offensive attraction. The team is averaging 236 rushing yards per game and removing the Tulsa and SMU outliers from the equation that number adjusts to 186 yards per game.
The chaos that is fundamental to the triple option makes rushing attempts and avg. per carry pretty moot data points if your brain is accustomed to thinking about traditional offenses.
The stars, from the production side of things, of the Midshipmen’s rushing collective are Daba Fofana (FB), Maquel Haywood (WR) and Tai Lavatai. The three players account for approximately 60% of the team’s total rushing yards this season.
Quiet Receiving Group
Junior wide receiver Jayden Umbarger has proven most productive member of Navy’s receiving corps. He leads the team with 16 receptions and is averaging 16.6 yards per catch and 36% (265) of the team’s receiving yards.
Hard to Read Defense
The quality of Navy’s opponents this season is what makes it really hard to evaluate their defense. In Week 1 they allowed 202 total yards against Delaware and came out the following weekend and allowed 506 yards from Memphis. Since that seesaw, they’ve been mostly in the habit of allowing upwards of 300 total yards from opponents.
Most of their yards allowed have come through the air. They’ve let every opponent they’ve faced this year, except Delaware and Air Force (another triple option darling), put up 200+ in passing yards.
IMPORTANT: I’m really not invested in how Notre Dame wins this game but I can see how this stat may open up the possibility to give our passing game another chance. I try not to ask for much but please don’t. It’s been that kind of season and it’s already going to be a tough holiday season defending the Irish when I’m back in SEC country for the holidays. Stinking it up trying to reignite the stalled 2022 passing attack against Navy of all opponents would make that task almost impossible. Please don’t do that to us.
Navy has proven much stingier when it comes to defending against the run. But given what we saw under the Notre Dame stadium lights last weekend I’m not even going to entertain the idea that we’re going to struggle with running the ball better than the Midshipmen’s previous opponents.
I’m hoping for and I’d daresay am in need a quiet, uneventful win against Navy this weekend. The college football fates have not been particularly kind to us this season but even I don’t think they would stoop so low as to deprive us of this.
Cheers and Go Irish!!