SOUTH BEND — It’ll be an historic day at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday even before the opening kickoff.
Notre Dame announced Thursday its 273-game sellout streak dating back to 1973 will be snapped when the No. 16 Fighting Irish host No. 23 Navy (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC).
“Based on ticket sales through Wednesday, we do not anticipate sellouts for our games against Navy and Boston College (Nov. 23),” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a statement. “That this comes during a time of sustained success for our football program reflects both challenges impacting the ticket market nationwide and the unique dynamics of this year’s schedule.”
Saturday is the second of three November home games for the Irish. Tickets had been advertised for as low as $45, but even lowered prices couldn’t get enough fans to buy tickets and make it a sellout.
The end of the sellout streak comes on day where a Top 25 matchup will take place between Notre Dame and the Midshipmen. This is the 93rd meeting between the schools, which have played every year since 1927. Notre Dame holds a 76-13-1 lead in the series, but it’s been more competitive recently.
After Navy snapped its 43-game losing streak to the Irish in 2007, Notre Dame has gone 8-3 against the Mids. Of those 11 games, six have been within 10 points. After four-plus decades of dominance from the Irish, the Notre Dame and Navy rivalry has become more even.
When playing Navy, defenses must prepare for the triple-option offense. The ground-based attack has the Midshipmen leading the country in rushing yards, averaging 357.9 per game.
This year’s version of the triple-option is led by quarterback Malcolm Perry. The senior has 1,042 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns, leading the Midshipmen in both categories. In last year’s 44-22 Notre Dame victory, Perry had 133 yards rushing on 12 carries. Perry wasn’t playing quarterback, though, so this is a new role for the Irish to prepare for Perry against.
“He’s precise, very secure with the football,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “He’s a point guard: distributing, making really good decisions. Very difficult to defend.”
Since this is an annual game for Notre Dame, Kelly said the Irish try to recruit players who can also run the triple-option on scout team during Navy week. This year’s honorary quarterback on the scout team is sophomore quarterback Cole Capen. Freshman wide receiver Kendall Abdur-Rahman will also get some snaps at QB for the scout team.
“It’s a year-round study,” Kelly said. “Our coaches are always looking at Navy. … We always recruit somebody that can play the quarterback position and that can run triple-option. They’re always staying up on that in individual drills. So, we stay kind of on top of it all year round. It’s very difficult to prepare for this team with three days of practice.”
What has made Navy go from a three-win team in 2018 to a Top 25 team in 2019, though, is its improved defense. After giving up 33.5 points per game in 2018, Navy is allowing just 18.1 points per game this season.
The turnaround has led to first-year defensive coordinator Brian Newberry being named a finalist for the Broyles Award, given to the top assistant coach in college football.
“They were aggressive last year, but I think they’re just doing a lot more types of blitzes this year from what I’ve seen on film,” junior tight end Cole Kmet said. “I do think they’re a little more disciplined than more teams we play — obviously, Naval Academy and stuff. But, they’re definitely assignment-sound, and they’re able to do that with the type kids that they’ve got there.”
It was a bounce-back week for the Irish offense last week against Duke. Redshirt junior quarterback Ian Book had one of his best games in the blue-and-gold, throwing for 181 yards, rushing for 139 and finishing with four passing touchdowns as Notre Dame won 38-7. After leading the game-winning drive two weeks ago against Virginia Tech, it appears Book has found some of the mojo he had in 2018.
“There was room for him to continue to grow and continue to play at a higher level,” Kelly said. “I think Ian showed himself and his grit in the Virginia Tech game in leading our football team back. … I just think this is a young man that started slow and is kind of gaining his foothold as our team now goes through the month of November.”
With Navy’s time-consuming offense, Notre Dame knows it’s going to have to maximize every possession in order to defeat Navy for a third straight season.
“You see it every year, in regards to Navy. They’re extremely good on offense, especially with taking time away,” redshirt junior offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg said. “We have to maximize our opportunities because you never know how many times you’ll get the ball, especially in a half or a quarter. Just got to do your job, focus on one play at a time and it’ll take care of itself.”