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Navy set to play two quarterbacks vs. Notre Dame as season kicks off from Ireland

The 2023 college football season kicks off Saturday with a standalone 2:30 p.m. ET start from Dublin, Ireland, as Navy faces Notre Dame – the Irish are the official home team and surely will have all the fan support. It’s the start of a new era under first-year coach Brian Newberry for the Midshipmen, and they apparently will begin with a two-quarterback system. Navy is a 20.5-point underdog with a total of 50.5. The SBIA model has a solid lean toward the over, which hit in Notre Dame’s final seven games of 2022.

#GoNavy finished 4-8 last year, its third straight losing campaign, and long-time coach Ken Niumatalolo was forced out. Newberry was promoted from defensive coordinator and that unit was a relative strength in 2022 as Navy finished third nationally in fewest first downs allowed (187), 22nd in fumbles recovered (11), 23rd in sacks (2.8 per game) and 32nd in total defense (339 yards per game). Nine starters are back on that side of the ball.

The Middies will remain a triple option team under new offensive coordinator Grant Chesnut, who comes from Kennesaw State, which ranked in the top three in the FCS in rushing offense in six of the last seven years, including leading the nation in 2017 and 2019 under Chesnut’s watch. Navy fans will see more passing wrinkles than they are used to, though.

Tai Lavatai will be in the Navy quarterback mix.

Last year, Navy ranked fourth nationally in rushing at 241 yards per game but couldn’t keep the offense on the field in ranking No. 84 in third-down conversions. Fellow service academies Air Force and Army were in the Top 35 despite running a similar offense. It was time for an update.

“Obviously we want to be able to throw the ball,” Newberry said. “We want to be able to take what people give us, and it’s not all down-the-field throws. Of course that’s going to be part of our plan, but to be able to throw it out on the perimeter quickly, to be able to run some [run-pass option] type of plays is going to be really good for us. But at the end of the day, if we’ve got to throw it 15 or 20 times to win it, that’s great. If we’ve got to throw it 5 to 10 times a game to win it, that’s great.”

Tai Lavatai (787 yards passing, 5 TD; 309 yards rushing, 5 TD) was Navy’s quarterback for the first eight games of last year before tearing his ACL and Xavier Arline started the final four, including a 35-32 near upset of the Irish in South Bend. Both missed this spring injured, Arline suffering his while playing lacrosse. He’s now being used as a running back.

Sophomores Blake Horvath and Teddy Gleaton split first-team reps this spring but now it’s Lavatai and Horvath who will play against the Irish. Horvath reportedly has distanced himself from the others as a passer and will make his NCAA debut.

“I would expect to be playing two quarterbacks” against Notre Dame, Chesnut said recently. “I don’t mind saying that publicly right now. I feel like both of those guys are progressing in a good direction, and I think at the moment they both can help our football team. As far as who ultimately ends up starting, we’re still battling that out.”

Navy was 6-0 against the spread as a double-digit dog last year, including the cover in this matchup, and is 11-2 ATS as a double-digit dog since the start of 2021. The #GoIrish were 1-5 ATS in 2022 as double-digit favorites. Notre Dame leads the series 81-13-1 and has won five in a row over the Mids. Navy has four all-time wins vs. ranked Irish teams, last in 2009.

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