Notre Dame’s Opponents: Navy’s blocking woes, Boston College’s backup QB and USC’s turnover reliance
The NCAA took some of the teeth out of Navy’s triple-option attack. Well, not just the Midshipmen’s, but all the service academy’s option offenses. No. 20 Notre Dame (6-3) might be hungover after upsetting Clemson, 35-14, on Saturday, and the Navy offense will still be a headache, but much less of the Irish defense needs to be up late this week worrying about the injury risk of facing the Midshipmen.
That was the impetus to the NCAA’s decision, lessening the risk of leg injuries. The simple description of the change is that players can no longer block below the waist if they are outside the tackle box. As soon as a Navy ball carrier gets to the offensive tackle’s outside shoulder, any blocker aiding his cause will be undersized without an ability to compensate for that by going low.
Tight ends taking on mobile defensive ends, fullbacks meeting linebackers, receivers keeping cornerbacks at bay are now all fully at the disadvantage inherent to recruiting to a military academy.
“It’s definitely challenging and there has been a learning curve. You have to adapt and move forward,” Navy slotbacks coach Joe DuPaix said last month to The Capital Gazette. “We can’t cut anymore, but we still have to get the job done and we will. We’re far from perfect and have a tremendous amount of work to do. We’ll get better at it as we move forward.”
Notre Dame’s defensive line still needs to ready itself at the snap for offensive linemen cutting them down, but no Navy blockers will make cut blocks with a running start.
“It’s changed in that you can only cut at the line of scrimmage now with those interior linemen,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said Monday. “We’re not really working on that at the second and third level like you used to in the past. Every level had to wok on cut blocks. No longer do you have to do that. It’s those interior linemen.”
Past Notre Dame defenders like Greer Martini and Drew White, even Xavier Watts last season, found their moments of initial success by both learning to shed cut blocks and to stay disciplined in their assignments against the triple-option. The latter skill is still needed, one aided by the Irish devoting scout-team quarterbacks to season-long option study, but the literal pursuit of the ball is now hardly different than when Notre Dame’s linebackers and safeties chased Clemson running back Will Shipley last week.
Navy (3-6): The new blocking rules are undoubtedly part of why the Midshipmen have continued to struggle this season, including a 20-10 loss to Cincinnati last week. Without starting quarterback Tai Lavatai, lost for the season two weeks ago, Navy rushed for just 176 yards on 53 carries, a 3.3 yards per attempt average.
Perhaps it is an expectation that Notre Dame (12 ET; ABC) will be sluggish after beat the Tigers. Maybe it is thinking Midshipmen quarterback Xavier Arline will play better in his second start. It could be a broad expectation of a low-scoring game keeping the Irish from opening up a significant margin, but as of midday Thursday, Notre Dame is favored by just 15.5 points with a combined points total Over/Under of 39.5.
A 27-13 final score would likely lack the excitement of last week.
Boston College (2-7): Phil Jurkovec’s time at Chestnut Hill may be up. An injury kept him out of practices early this week, and Eagles head coach Jeff Hafley has not committed to a starter for Saturday at No. 16 North Carolina State (3:30 ET; ACCN). Boston College’s continued struggles extend further than Jurkovec’s injury. In nine games, an offensive line has 45 starts; the Eagles expected starters have missed 33 of them.
That is how Boston College ends up outmanned against Duke, falling 38-31 on Friday, a score that was as lopsided as 38-21 before a late Eagles’ scoring run. Quarterback Emmett Morehead went 27-of-45 for 330 yards and four touchdowns. A sophomore once recruited by the likes of Kentucky, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech, Morehead is the other reason Jurkovec’s time at Chestnut Hill may be up. The Eagles are high on Morehead, and he avoided the turnovers that have plagued Jurkovec this season.
It helped that he could rely on star receiver Zay Flowers.
Boston College is an 18-point underdog against the Wolfpack this week, perhaps a spread that does not give Morehead enough credit.
No. 8 USC (8-1): The Trojans struggled with Cal, winning 41-35, partly because they did not win the turnover battle for a change. USC could handily lose it this weekend and still cruise to victory against Colorado (9:30 ET on Friday; FS1), favored by five touchdowns. Life will get more difficult in a week, facing No. 9 UCLA in what will essentially be a Pac-12 quarterfinal. A win there should have the Trojans in the mix of Playoff talk when Notre Dame ends its season in Los Angeles.
No. 2 Ohio State (9-0): The Buckeyes endured the weather to beat Northwestern 21-7, and now have to endure the monotony of facing Indiana (12 ET; FOX), favored by 40 points.
Marshall (5-4): You scored as many touchdowns as the Herd did in a 12-0 win against Old Dominion. That kind of output will not get the job done against Appalachian State (3:30 ET; ESPN+), even if the Mountaineers are only one-point favorites.
Cal (3-6): That loss to USC once again underscored that the Bears are reliable underdogs. Heading to Oregon State (9 ET; Pac 12 Network) as a 14-point underdog will be another chance to prove that.
No. 15 North Carolina (8-1): The Tar Heels are one win away from heading to the ACC championship game, and they might even have a vague Playoff hope. Unlikely, of course, but plausible. Slipping by Virginia, 31-28, kept those thoughts all alive, but a trip to Wake Forest (7:30 ET; ESPN2) will be more difficult, with the Demon Deacons favored by 3.5 points.
BYU (5-5): The Cougars upset Boise State, 31-28, and now get to enjoy their first week off of the season.
Stanford (3-6): The Cardinal may have quit on the season. If that sounds harsh, fault a 42-7 halftime deficit against middling Washington State. Don’t believe it is the case? Tune in to see how Stanford fares at No. 13 Utah (10 ET; ESPN) as 24-point underdogs.
UNLV (4-5): The return of quarterback Doug Brumfield did not spur the Rebels to an upset at San Diego State, though they were at least competitive in a 14-10 loss. More offense will be needed against Fresno State (10:30 ET on Friday; CBSSN), especially with Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener back in the lineup and thus Fresno State being favored by 9.5 points.
Syracuse (6-3): The Orange woes have reached a three-game losing streak, failing to reach the end zone in a 19-9 loss at Pittsburgh. Garrett Shrader did not play; backup quarterback Carlos Del Rio-Wilson threw for 120 yards on 8-of-23 passing, while star running back Sean Tucker gained all of 19 yards on 10 rushes.
Finding a way to kickstart that offense will be imperative against No. 23 Florida State (8 ET; ACCN). The Seminoles look better and better, hence being favored by a touchdown, and Syracuse may be headed toward a fourth-straight loss.
No. 10 Clemson (8-1): Can the Tigers return to winning against Louisville (3:30 ET; ESPN)? A touchdown spread suggests so.
According to PFF, Clemson targeted WRs against Notre Dame freshman CB Benjamin Morrison 8 times.— Matt Connolly (@MattConnollyOn3) November 10, 2022
Clemson WRs caught 2 of the 8 and Morrison caught 2 of the 8, including a pick-six.
9:30 ET on Friday — USC vs. Colorado (FS1)
10:30 ET on Friday — UNLV vs. Fresno State (CBSSN)
12 ET — Notre Dame vs. Navy (ABC); Ohio State vs. Indiana (FOX)
3:30 ET — Boston College at North Carolina State (ACCN); Marshall vs. Appalachian State (ESPN+); Clemson vs. Louisville (ESPN)
7:30 ET — North Carolina at Wake Forest (ESPN2)
8 ET — Syracuse vs. Florida State (ACCN)
9 ET — Cal at Oregon State (Pac 12 Network)
10 ET — Stanford at Utah (ESPN)
Favorites: USC (-35) vs. Colorado; Ohio State (-40) vs. Indiana; Clemson (-7) vs. Louisville.
Underdogs: Navy (+15.5) vs. Notre Dame; Boston College (+18) at North Carolina State; Marshall (+1) vs. Appalachian State; Cal (+14) at Oregon State; North Carolina (+3.5) at Wake Forest; Stanford (+24) at Utah; UNLV (+9.5) vs. Fresno State; Syracuse (+7) vs. Florida State.