Efficiency the key to Beating Navy for Notre Dame Head Coach Marcus Freeman

For Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman, efficiency and preparation are the keys to success as they prepare to face Navy in Dublin, Ireland.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Marcus Freeman knows the key to beating the Navy Midshipmen in Dublin, Ireland. Efficiency. It might only be his second encounter with their bitter rivals as a head coach, but Freeman knows that if you give the Midshipmen an inch, they’ll punish you for a mile.

On both sides of the ball, efficiency is key to coming away with a Week 0 win.

Efficiency the Key to Beating Navy for Notre Dame Head Coach Marcus Freeman

“You have to be so disciplined,” Freeman said of how the Fighting Irish has to approach any game where you play Navy. The Notre Dame head coach was answering questions from assembled media during a press conference ahead of the Aer Lingus College Football Classic, which takes place in Aviva Stadium, Dublin, on Saturday.

While it may only be his second time as the head coach of a Notre Dame team facing the Midshipmen, Freeman has 95 previous matchups with their rival to reflect back on.

Although the Fighting Irish hold a 79-13-1 winning record over their rival that includes a five-game streak dating back to 2017, last year’s matchup in Baltimore came with plenty of warning signs.

“We’ve got to be efficient. We can not go three and out. We’ve got to take care of the ball. If all of a sudden we go three and out…you look at last year’s second half.”

Freeman is talking about the near-fatal second-half collapse that occurred in the 95th meeting of the two Ireland-bound programs. Leading 35-13 at the half and looking perhaps even more comfortable than the scoreline suggests, Notre Dame gave up 19 unanswered points that saw Navy come up just short in a 35-32 game.

“The first couple of drives, the three and out, then we had the interception,” Freeman reflects on the inefficiencies that eliminating are his key to success on Saturday, “Navy’s time of possession in the second half was tremendous and an advantage to them. We have to be efficient on offense. We can not have negative yardage plays and we can not go three and out.”

While offensive efficiency will be key to success against Navy on Saturday, Freeman also spoke at length about the defensive difficulties of facing an opponent like Navy. Service academies have been traditionally option-centric offenses that provide a specific set of problems for defensive coordinators.

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“Our guys, defensively are used to being able to find a way to get to the ball, find a way to make a play happen at times. When you play against the triple option, you might never make a tackle on the ball but you have to do your job. It’s something that’s extremely difficult.” Freeman elaborated.

However, there’s something different in the offensive air for some of the service academies. Changes to regulations around the chop block — a staple of the option offense — have forced programs such as Navy and Army to reevaluate their style of offense.

Army hired a new offensive coordinator this fall to implement some changes to their usual way of doing things, and Navy is no different. New Midshipmen head coach Brian Newberry enlisted the services of former Kennesaw State offensive coordinator Grant Chestnut who is expected to bring some not-before-seen “wrinkles” to the Navy offense.

“We got to watch Kennesaw State, that’s not what Navy did last year,” Freeman explains. “So, we have to prepare for a lot of different things that we might see. It will be a challenge, but we have a great plan and I love the plan that Coach Golden has come up with defensively. It’s the ability to recognize what the offense, is going to do and then jump into that game plan.”

The defensive challenge is somewhat mitigated by some pleasant surprises from the players who will be the first line of resistance against whatever Navy tries to run (or throw) at Notre Dame on Saturday.

After ranking outside of the top 50 nationally for yards per carry allowed, coupled with their ground game capitulation against Marshall, Navy, and to some extent Ohio State, there had been some preseason concerns about the defensive line both externally and, it transpires, internally. However, Freeman allayed some of those fears as he spoke to the media Monday.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was a little bit surprised,” Freeman stated of the off-season development of some of his defensive linemen ahead of the 2023 college football campaign.

“You’ve got some guys who have not shown in a game, guys who haven’t played much in game situations, that we’re going to be able to count on. We’re going to be able to use those guys. Our edges go against Joe Alt and Blake Fisher every day. That’s going to make you get better, or expose you, one or the other.”

While focusing on offensive and defensive efficiency is the key to success in Ireland for Freeman and the Fighting Irish, when you travel overseas, with all the complications and difficulties that entails, preparation is just as important.

Similarly, facing a team like Navy, who are so hard to game plan against, requires great preparation, and a different type of preparation. For the Notre Dame head coach, the timing of the Week 0 clash against their bitter rivalry could not be better from a preparation standpoint.

“We’ve been able to prepare from spring ball through parts of summer and fall camp to these two weeks to prepare for Navy. It’s just strictly Navy. It’s a tremendous advantage to play Navy first game of the year.”

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Between efficiency and preparation, Notre Dame head coach Freeman has the keys to success in his pocket. The Fighting Irish leave South Bend Wednesday night for Dublin, and their head coach will firmly have those keys tucked into his suit pocket and ready to deploy on Saturday evening in Aviva Stadium.