Defensive line coach Greg Mattison is in his eighth year as a Notre Dame assistant coach. He's been through the wars against Navy, and how well his defensive line plays on Saturday will likely play a large role in which team comes out victorious.
Mattison says the key to winning this game is having everyone on defense being on the same page.
"You go in there with a real sense of urgency," said Mattison. "Having played the wishbone so many times, you know how bad it can make you look. You've got to make sure that everybody is on the same page and everybody understand what is it stake when you play this kind of offense."
The former Irish defensive coordinator says the entire defense will need to play well, but the defensive line in particular will play an important role in stopping the Navy option attack.
"Playing good against the wishbone usually comes down to how you play in the front seven," Mattison said. "You have to be able to establish a new line of scrimmage. You have to be able to control your gaps and your assignments. The secondary becomes huge in not giving up big plays, and not being lulled to sleep, and fitting where they have to on the outside part of it.
"The front four has to play a very physical game or they'll really take advantage of it."
Senior safety Quentin Burrell also has some experience playing the option as he started in Notre Dame's 27-24 win against Navy last season in Notre Dame Stadium.
"It's a whole lot different," Burrell said of preparing for Navy. "You've got to get used to guys cutting you every play and having a lot of eye discipline because if you don't read your keys, it could be six."
Burrell's job this week will also include helping sophomore strong safety Tom Zbikowski get ready to face the Navy option attack. The talented sophomore has never played against Navy and Burrell says their offense is hard to simulate in practice.
"We simulate a lot of cut blocks in practice, but I told him it's going to be nothing like it is in a game," said Burrell. "They do cut-blocking to a T."
As much as Navy likes the run, they do like to sneak one over the top now and again according to Burrell.
"You still have to be aware of the pass," he said. "If you focus on the run, that one pass can go for 70-80 yards.
"This is pretty much just run, run, run, run, run. I'm going to feel like a linebacker out there."
Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham agreed with Burrell. The Irish secondary does have a difficult job this week.
"Keys are going to be patience--that is No. 1," Willingham said when asked what his secondary needed to do this week to be successful. "What these offenses thrive on, and what this quarterback does so well, is that they lull you asleep with the option with all the responsibilities, then all of the sudden, he's off the line of scrimmage and he's throwing the football.
"We've got to have a great deal of patience. We've got to do a great job of reading our keys and just staying within the structure of our defense."
Willingham said Navy quarterback Aaron Palanco can also hurt you with his arm. The senior quarterback is completing 63 percent of his passes coming into this game.
"I'd say it's fairly dangerous," Willingham said when asked to describe the Navy passing game. "I think his efficiency is one of the best in the country. He's pretty good."
Much has already been said about the match-up between the Irish defense and the Navy offense. Willingham also said he believes the Midshipmen have a pretty talented defense that's allowing less than 17 points per game.
"They're assisted with their defense by their offense," Willingham said. "Their offense usually controls the ball. Therefore you're not on the field a lot to try to do things against their defense. Then you multiply that by the fact that they are playing very well and not giving up a great deal, now you've got a team that's pretty tough."