The FBS Coaches’ Poll 25th ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame host the Naval Academy’s Midshipmen in Notre Dame Stadium for the 87th straight year of a series that began in 1927. This is the longest uninterrupted series for Notre Dame. NBC will again televise the game with programming beginning at 3:30 EST and kickoff roughly around 3:41 PM. The weather forecast in South Bend, as of this writing, is calling for a high of 48 degrees, a 60% chance of showers, and winds from the WNW up to 17 MPH.
The Irish lead the series 73-12-1 with a record of 26-5-0 at home, 0-0-0 at Navy, and 46-7-1 at neutral sites. There is of course, the famous forty-three year winning streak, the infamous ending of the streak, and Notre Dame’s modest two game winning streak the last two contests including the 50-10 win in Dublin, Ireland, in last season’s opener.
Navy is led by head coach Ken Niumatalolo, Hawai’i 89, in his sixteenth year at the Naval Academy and his sixth year as head coach. He became the Midshipmen’s head man on December 8, 2007 just in time for the Poinsettia Bowl. Niumatalolo became the first Samoan head coach at any level of college football and the second Polynesian head coach at the FBS level. He is one of only three Navy coaches to have beaten Notre Dame in consecutive seasons.
Niumatalolo was an option quarterback at Hawai’i under Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson. After graduation he became a graduate assistant for Johnson and worked his way up to an assistant coach. When Johnson went to Navy as the offensive coordinator Niumatalolo went with him tutoring Navy quarterbacks. He was elevated to Navy’s offensive coordinator when Johnson went to Georgia Southern to be head coach. Then Niumatalolo went to UNLV as an assistant before coming back to Navy once again as Paul Johnson’s offensive line coach.
As a head coach at Navy Niumatalolo is 44-29 and has guided Navy to four bowl games since 2008. This season he is 4-3 as Navy has wins over Indiana 41-35, Delaware 51-7, Air Force 28-10, and Pittsburgh 24-21. They have lost to Western Kentucky 19-7, Duke 35-7, and Toldeo 45-44 on a missed extra point in overtime. The combined record of Navy’s opponents is 29-25. The Irish opponents are a combined 33-28 with ASU to play Thursday night which will be after this is piece is filed.
Navy has a lot of good to great athletes and many skill players were high school sprinters. Some are just as fast at their position as some of the Irish players. You put a few inches on these kids and a few pounds on them and some are playing at major college powerhouses. If you look up the bios of the Navy players you see a lot of four year lettermen in football, and often in other sports as well. One backup receiver has twelve high school letters, four in football, four in baseball, two in track, and two in basketball. One could argue as to where they played and who they played against, but many come from good to great high school programs. In this age of specialization in high schools some of the Midshipmen have impressive multi-sport resumes. They often just don’t have the size that elite programs want.
Notre Dame-Navy Connections
The US Navy established a Navy College Training Program on Notre Dame’s campus during World War II. According to the President Emeritus of Norte Dame, Father Hesburgh, Navy’s act may have helped save the University. By opening the V-12 training program Notre Dame’s economic status and enrollment were secured through the war years.
Notre Dame was just one of 131 college and universities that benefited from the V-12 program during World War II, but I dare say no other institution has shown their gratitude to the Navy more than Notre Dame. Just a little side note: Notre Dame’s Angelo Bertelli was one of the V-12 program’s veterans.
Navy’s offense begins and ends with the triple option, but they have a dangerous passing playbook that’s based on a quick strike after being lulled to sleep by the triple option. This quarterback centered running attack relies on speed and execution. This Navy option offense is a truer version of the Flexbone offense than what fans saw from Air Force. In fact, there’s no comparison. Navy is far superior running the option.
No team that doesn’t run a triple option offense can approximate the speed in which Navy operates their attack with their scout team. It matters not how great an athlete that scout team quarterback is he won’t be able to match any Navy quarterback in the speed aspect of the option offense, the mesh, making reads, and executing. It can’t possibly be done in a week. That’s why Navy has a tradition of scores on their first drive as defenses have trouble getting used to the speed of Navy’s offense.
Trick Plays & Wrinkles
The Midshipmen will flop a tackle to one side and go unbalanced with both receivers tight and one masquerading as a tight end to the backside and one upright, slightly off the flopped tackle. The slotbacks will align behind the upright receiver, one on his left and one on his right to present an in tight triangle alignment of receivers. At this point the defense thinks they aren’t seeing anything new. Reynolds will quick pitch the ball to the fullback running to the strong side and it gives Navy a big advantage in numbers if the defense doesn’t adjust. Pitt looked lost and didn’t adjust much and Navy got a touchdown.
Navy has always had some slotback or receiver that can throw a pass off of various formations and play looks. They’ve even had their fullback throw a pass over the years. The most obvious is Brendan Dudek #81, a wide receiver, who was a two year all conference quarterback while in high school.
The Midshipmen have run fake punts before, even deep in their own territory when behind. There are many types of punt fakes, but Navy has run my favorite. One of the near backs takes a direct snap from center and acts like he’s passing the ball between his legs like a center to another near back, but he holds on to it as the other back fakes a run. After some hesitation he then takes off with the ball. Navy used it two years and 28 games ago. It might be time for the Middies to dust it off and to do it again. I’d be very interested in seeing what variations off of it they may have as well.
Navy Projected Offensive Starters & Significant Contributors
QB # 12 Keenan Reynolds, 5-11, 185, sophomore, 20 games, 15 starts
SB #29 Geoffrey Whiteside, 5-10, 171, junior, 17 games, 3 starts
SB #20 Darius Staten, 5-6, 190, senior, 19 games, 5 starts
SB #21 DeBrandon Saunders, 5-7, 160, sophomore, 7 games, 3 starts
SB #26 Marcus Thomas, 5-7, 165, senior, 19 games, 4 starts
FB #34 Noah Copeland, 5-10, 214, junior, 20 games, 14 starts
FB #37 Chris Swain, 5-11, 232, sophomore, 11 games, 6 starts
WR #85 Matt Aiken, 6-0, 195, senior, 39 games, 17 starts
WR #88 Casey Bolena, 6-2, 210, senior, 31 games, 10 starts
LT #62 Brian Heap, 6-3, 288, junior, 17 games, 9 starts
LG #57 E. K. Binns, 6-3, 287, sophomore, 10 games, 7 starts
C #75 Tanner Fleming, 6-2, 276, junior, 20 games, 18 starts
RG #64 Jake Zurek, 6-0, 310, junior, 33 games, 20 games
RT #61 Brandon Greene, 6-3, 257, sophomore, 7 games, 4 starts
Quarterback Keenan Reynolds #19 is an athlete in every sense of the word. A four year letter winner in both football and track while in high school he isn’t the greatest runner or the greatest passer Navy has had the past two decades, but he may be the best combination of the two skill sets. Plus, he’s a leader, tough, and a usually makes good reads on the option. Reynolds is only a sophomore, but he has already started fourteen games, and barring injury could become one of the best option quarterbacks Navy has ever had. Sacks aside, he has only lost 12 yards rushing this season. Comparatively George Atkinson III has lost 23 yards on roughly half the number of carries.
Reynolds, a right handed thrower, has managed four 4th quarter comeback wins as a Midshipman. One such win included toughing it out with an ankle injury against Pitt which limited his ability to everything a quarterback needs to do, but exemplified his leadership and toughness qualities. Has a passer he has a strong enough arm and throws well on the run going right or left. He can lock onto one receiver all too often. Reynolds can keep a play alive with his feet, but that advantage can sometimes turn into a disadvantage as he will often force the ball when coverage is there. As a runner he has good vision, quick feet, sheds tackles, and has an affinity for finding the opening in traffic. As a passer he is 39-74-2 for 53%, averages 17.1 yards per completion, has a long of 63 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Eliminating sacks Reynolds is averaging 4.1 yards per rush, has a long of 31 yards, and 11 touchdowns.
The backup had been John Hendrick #10 who has experience in only two games in relief of Reynolds. He runs hard, averaging 4.6 yards per carry, has a long of 20 yards, and 1 touchdown. He’s a strong armed passer whose accuracy isn’t close to his arm strength. On the season, and in his career, he is 6-15-2 for 40%. He has a long of 2 yards, and 0 touchdowns.
The Navy depth chart the last two weeks has listed freshman Tago Smith #18 as the backup. He was, according to a Pitt-Navy announcer, a slotback a few weeks ago. I’d have to assume that was a position change when he came to Annapolis after playing at the Navy prep school. At any rate Smith hasn’t played a down so if Reynolds is hurt it would be interesting to see who comes into the game, Hendricks or Smith. Niumatalolo did say last week at the half if Reynolds couldn’t go then Smith was next man. All I know about Smith is he has an interesting high school athletic resume with letters in football (4), baseball (2), track, in springs and throws (2), and tennis (1).
Fullback Noah Copeland #34 is not the big Navy fullback of the past, but a more nimble type runner who Navy asks more of in their offense. Navy will send him out into the flats for a pass more than past fullbacks would be called upon to do. He has rushed for a 4.3 yard average, a long of 29 yards, and 1 touchdown. As a receiver he has 3 receptions for a 14.3 yard average, a long of 22 yards (on a screen), and 1 touchdown.
The other fullback is Chris Swain #37 who is closer to past fullbacks in terms of size and power. He brings nearly twenty more pounds to the B Back slot than Copeland. He has rushed for a 3.7 yard average, a long of 16 yards, and 3 touchdowns. He has not caught a pass.
The slotbacks at Navy are all basically interchangeable parts and provide great depth. As a group they are all versatile, quick, have good hands, run hard, and block effectively. None of them take a game long pounding like a featured back in other offenses, so they are usually at full strength in their rotation. All the Navy slotbacks are good at seeing a running lane off of the quick seep or the pitch and hitting it at full speed which is why they may use six slotbacks a game.
Their top rusher at slotback is Marcus Thomas #26. He has good speed, runs downhill, and runs with power despite his 165 pounds. He’s Navy’s biggest threat on the speed sweep. Thomas averages 11.6 yards per carry, has a long of 47 yards, and no touchdowns. He has 3 receptions for a 23.0 yard average, a long of 61 yards, and 0 touchdowns.
Geoffrey Whiteside #29 is fast and has a knack for the big play, especially as a receiver. He has rushed for an 8.7 yard average, a long of 31 yards, and 3 touchdowns. As a receiver he has hauled in 3 passes for a 29.7 yard average, a long of 61 yards, and 0 touchdowns.
DeBrandon Sanders #21 has great speed and is the second leading rusher among the slotbacks and the leading receiver for Navy. He has rushed for an average of 8.0 yards, has a long of 27 yards, and 0 touchdowns. As a receiver he has 9 receptions, a 19.6 yard average, a long of 63 yards, and 1 touchdown.
Darius Staten #20 has good speed, runs physically, blocks well, and is the biggest of the slotbacks, in their top four man rotation, at 190 pounds. He has rushed for an average of 9.7 yards, has a long of 18 yards, and 2 touchdowns. As a receiver he has 3 receptions that average 19.0 yards, a long of 26 yards, and 0 touchdowns.
The slotbacks are usually the primary receivers in the Navy offense. Therefore, the receivers at Navy are primarily recruited for or developed for two skills, blocking and good hands. Like slotbacks Navy receivers all very similar in their skill sets.
Senior Matt Aiken #85 has more games under his belt than any Navy player. He’s a dependable receiver with good hands, but his biggest value is his blocking ability. Aiken has only 4 receptions this season for a 14.0 yard average, a long of 17 yards, and 0 touchdowns.
Junior Casey Bolena #88 is the second leading receiver for the Middies. He has 8 receptions for an average of 12.1 yards per catch, a long of 47 yards, and 0 touchdowns.
Shawn Lynch #87 is a veteran receiver with good athletic ability and good speed. He’s dangerous after the catch with the skill set that goes with being Navy’s punt returner. Lynch has 3 receptions for an average of 15.3 yards, a long of 29 yards, and 1 touchdown.
Brendan Dudeck #81 is another former high school quarterback making the transition to receiver in college. He only has 3 receptions for an average of 9.7 yards, a long of 12 yards, and 0 touchdowns. He has rushed the ball 2 times on reverses for an average of 5.0 yards and a long of 13 yards with 0 touchdowns. One of those rushes came from an attempted pass where he pulled it down and ran.
The Navy offensive line has more size than their Air Force counterparts averaging 22 more pounds per man than the Falcons. They even have a 310 pounder.
Left tackle Bradyn Heap #62 gets to the second level quickly, runs under control, and uses his hands well, especially down field. Biggest weakness would appear to be a good sped rush on pass plays which is surprising considering how quick his feet are. Then again how many opportunities does an opponent have to speed rush against Navy?
Left guard E. K. Binns #57 also does a good job getting to the second level and makes life tough on linebackers. He has good size, strength, and quick feet. Binns pulls well, but has trouble maintaining blocks that must be maintained on wide plays more to a lack of experience than effort.
Center Tanner Fleming #75 is in his second year as the starting center is an athletic lineman who earned ten letters in four sports in high school. A worker in the weight room he is one of Navy’s strongest players. Fleming has good feet and good balance. He also gets to the second level well and cuts linebackers like a scythe cuts wheat. Bull rushes tend to cause him to lose his good foot movement as he tries to muscle the opponent and loses him.
Right guard Jake Zurek #64 is a wide body at 6-0, 310 pounds. He moves surprisingly well getting a reach block on the opponent aligned to his outside. Good on the pull he’s a smart player who does a solid job at the second level.
Right tackle Brandon Greene # 61 uses good leverage, cuts very well, and is a good drive blocker. The former wrestler entered the fall as the second team center, but was shifted to tackle and has started there the last four games. He gets out and engages the defensive lineman on the quick sweep very well and maintains the block a long time. Greene is an adequate pass blocker for his size, but he is susceptible to the inside move of a defender.
The Navy defense is a much better defense that what the Irish faced last week at Air Force. The Midshipmen have not allowed a touchdown in the first quarter all season, giving up just three field goals. The strength of the Navy defense is in its last line of defense, the secondary, and that’s due in part to the scheme the Middies employ…zone coverage with deep safeties and big cushions by the corners to keep everything in front of the defense. I doubt Navy will play Irish receivers tight in man coverage like Air Force did very often.
The Midshipmen are ranked 61st in total defense at 392 yards per game, 89th in rushing allowing 188 yards per game, and 21st in passing defense allowing 204 yards per game. They are 54th in scoring defense allowing 25 points per game. In turnovers the Middies are ranked tied for 79th with 11 turnover, 4 fumbles, and 7 interceptions.
Navy is ranked 118th in third down defense allowing opponents to convert 50 out of 100 third downs. Fifty percent is not a good ratio. That can’t be argued, but it beats Air Force’s 62%. Also, Navy, due to their time of possession has faced fewer third down situations on defense per game than Michigan State this season.
In the Red Zone the Midshipmen are ranked 64th allowing opponents to score on 19 of 23 attempts inside their twenty. This breaks down into 8 rushing touchdowns, 9 passing touchdowns, and 2 field goals.
Navy Projected Defensive Starters & Significant Contributors
LE #45 Paul Quessenberry, 6-2, 251, junior, 20 games, 7 starts
NG #77 Bernard Sarra, 6-1, 303, sophomore, 20 games, 7 starts
RE #58 Evan Palelei, 6-3, 247, senior, 22 games, 21 starts
OLB Chris Johnson #46, 6-1, 207, junior, 7 games, 7 starts
OLB #13 Jordan Drake, 6-4, 220, junior, 31 games, 29 starts
ILB #53 Cody Peterson, 6-3, 228, senior, 24 games, 15 starts
ILB #52 D. J. Sargenti, 6-1, 216, senior, 19 games, 7 starts
LCB #17 Kwazel Bertrand, 5-10, 186, sophomore, 16 games, 11 starts
RCB #1 Brandon Clements, 5-10, 185, freshman, 7 games, 4 starts
FS #23 Chris Ferguson, 6-2, 195, junior, 26 games, 20 starts
SS #2 Parris Gaines, 6-2, 196, junior, 27 games, 25 starts
The Navy three man defensive line is heavier than Air Force’s at the nose tackle position by nearly sixty pounds, but the Middies are lighter at the defensive ends by close to fifteen pounds per man. Most times the Middies take on opponents head on and I don’t get the reason why they do so except to just occupy blockers. I would think they’d take a page out of Air Force’s defense and do more slanting, stemming, and stunting. They are best as pass rushers when they stunt, particularly in a double stunt which incorporates a linebacker to make it a four man front.
The best defensive lineman for Navy is defensive end Paul Quessenberry #45. The son of a Naval Academy graduate, Quessenberry is the most athletic defensive Midshipman lineman and he seldom comes off the field. He’s real quick, faster than some Navy linebackers, and a player that should always be blocked because he has great desire, pursues well, and has tremendous backside pursuit. His motor is always revving and he’s also Navy’s best pass rusher. I can’t say enough about this kid who will get pushed around at times due to his size, but his opponent can never relax until the whistle as he battles the whole play. He may not be a factor in this game because of his size, but he’s one you have to be a fan of if you love football. Quessenberry has 20 tackles, 10 solos, 2 for losses, 3 quarterback hurries, and 1 fumble recovery.
Nose tackle Bernard Sarra #77 is 303 pounds and is the least agile Navy defensive line man. He has had a weight problem and shed fifty pounds since last year’s bowl game. IMO he’s there for the size factor more than anything. Sarra was handled well by Air Force’s center in their game. He relies on his upper body too much and goes down too easy, almost like a tree being toppled, indicating bad balance and lack of leg movement. Sarra plays with his pads too high, particularly in short yardage. He may be moved to the outside to defensive end if the opposition is succeeding with a running game. Defending the run is supposedly his best skill, but he gets pushed back too often and he has practically no wheels. Sarra has 13 tackles, 5 solos, and 2 quarterback hurries.
Defensive end Evan Palelei #58 has good blood lines as the son of former NFL player Lonnie Palelei. He’s the lightest of the Middie front three and a converted outside linebacker. The second year starter appears strong, but he doesn’t always use his strength to his advantage enough as he gets off blocks just as the backs get to him all too often as opposed to getting off the blocks before the backs get to him. He does a decent job getting a hand up on the pass rush. When Navy wants to go big he’s the lineman that is replaced. Paleli has 13 tackles, 10 solos, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble.
Travis Bridges #72 isn’t a starter, but he’s part of the big front that Navy employs if they are getting gouged by the run. He comes in at nose tackle and Sarra moves to defensive end. Bridges has 10 tackles, 7 solos, and 1 forced fumble.
Will Anthony #90 and Aaron Davis #91 are backups who bring a lot of hustle to the Navy defensive line. I wouldn’t be surprise to see these two kids get more playing time against the Irish. They both have great motors, just not the weight and height.
This group is the most experienced over all the defensive units and has the most quality depth. The top three tacklers for Navy are linebackers with the inside linebackers going one-two in the totals. It also has the most interceptions of any unit of the Navy defense.
Outside linebacker Drake Jordan #13 is a three year starter. He has good speed, he’s good off the edge, and can easily bring down backs from the backside on slow developing plays if left unblocked. He will often get the assignment on a back on a wheel route, a tough cover for a linebacker. Drake has 22 tackles, 10 solos, 1 quarterback hurry, and 1 forced fumble.
The other outside linebacker is Chris Johnson #46 in his first year as a starter. He excels in pass coverage to the point he leads the Middies with 3 interceptions. He does a good job pouncing a back coming out into the flats. Johnson has 48 tackles, 30 solos, 2.5 for losses, 3 interceptions, and 2 passes defended.
Inside linebacker Cody Peterson #53 is the Navy’s leading tackler. He’s not the fastest kid playing inside linebacker, but he’s tough tackle to tackle. Peterson fills his gap strongly and is a good run blitzer as well. He doesn’t play nearly as well from sideline to sideline. As a pass defender he knows his drop area and patrols it well. Peterson has 72 tackles, 50 solos, 3.5 for losses, 1 sack, and 1 quarterback hurry.
His fellow inside backer is D J Dargenti #52 a converted quarterback. He hustles to the ball and he’s a hard hitting linebacker for 216 pounds. Sargenti has 55 tackles, 38 solos, 3.5 for losses, 1 sack, 1 interception, 1 pass defended, 3 quarterback hurries, and 1forced fumble.
This unit has been in flux all season, but still seems to be the best unit of the Midshipmen’s defense as long as they stay in zone coverage.
Cornerback Kwazel Bertrand #17 started the last seven games in Navy’s 2012 season. He missed the first three games this year due to injury, but has started every game since Air Force. An athletic corner, who won eleven letters in high school in football, basketball, and track, Bertrand usually gives a big cushion and then comes up fast to tackle or cut the receiver. Bertrand has 19 tackles, 11 solos, 1 for loss, and 1 pass defended.
The free safety is Parrish Gaines #2 who has a year and a half experience as a starter at cornerback. He’s not a physical tackler, and is in there more for his ball and coverage skills as opposed to stopping the run. Last year he picked off one against Everett Golson. Gaines has 34 tackles, 24 solos, 2 for losses, 1 interception, and 2 passes defended.
Strong safety or Rover, Chris Ferguson #23, is lucky to be alive and is an inspiring story. In elementary school, second through fifth grade, he suffered from a rare neurological disorder,Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which took away his ability to walk, his memory, and nearly killed him. Obviously, he overcame this and is the best hitter in the Middie secondary. Ferguson reads and reacts well to the run though I suspect he’s a candidate for a good play action fake. He’s a good tackler in the open field. He does tend to take bad angles from time to time versus the run. Ferguson has 29 tackles, 19 solos, and 1 for loss.
The other corner is true freshman Brendon Clements #1 who moved into the starting slot after the move of Gaines to free safety. Clements started the season at corner and lost out to the move of Gaines to cornerback, but he kept at it and when Gaines went to safety he seems to have taken advantage of his second chance. He’s definitely an athlete, another one of those 4 year lettermen in football and track, as well as a 2 year letterman in wrestling, and in the last start he came to play. He’s a good tackler and comes up fast in run support. Clements has 27 tackles, 23 solos, 1 for loss, 1 interception, and 3 passes defended.
Navy Special Teams
Place kicker Nick Sloan #6 is coming off a redemption game where he kicked the game winning field goal as time expired over Pittsburgh. The week before Sloan had been the goat as he missed an extra point in overtime in Navy’s loss to Toledo. On the season he is 5 of 8 in field goals with a long of 40 yards, his longest attempt of the season. He has misses from 32, 29, and 38 yards. On extra points he is 25 of 27.
Kickoffs for Navy are done by Austin Grebe #4. In his 36 kickoffs Grebe has kicked 12 touchbacks. His coverage team is ranked 51st allowing 20.6 yards per return.
Kick returns are usually done by Marcus Thomas #26. He has returned 11 kickoffs for a 20.8 yard average and a long of 30 yards. Two other deep kick returners have only 1 return a piece.
The Navy punter is Pablo Beltran #11. Beltran has punted 24 times for an average of 42.7 yards with a long of 62 yards. He has had 6 fair caught, 3 for touchbacks, and 8 inside the twenty. His coverage team is ranked 69th allowing 6 punts to be returned for an average of 8.5 yards with a long of 33 yards.
Shawn Lynch #87 is the Middies’ punt returner having returned 7 punts for a 5.3 yard average with a long of 16 yards.
Navy has outscored their opponents in the first quarter 38 to 9.
The Midshipmen are 4-0 at home and 0-3 on the road.
Some of these Midshipmen have been on the field when Navy has defeated Notre Dame. The bashing they’ve had at the hands of the Irish the past two seasons has to be festering.
The Midshipmen run the triple option out of the Flexbone. They have a wrinkle here and there, but they don’t dabble in other offenses like the Air Force does. What Notre Dame gets this week is a better, faster, and more physical triple option offense than they got last week.
Navy keeps its collective head and can come back late in the game following their normal offensive scheme and not going bonkers in the air. They’ve done it four times under Reynolds.
Navy has the number one FBS spot in two areas. They have the fewest penalties per game in the with a 3.1 average per game and the lowest average total of 26.4 penalty yards per game.
Keys to the Game
Take Reynolds out of the game as a runner. Every Navy loss has come from Reynolds having sub-par rushing outputs. Even an injured Reynolds gutted out 86 yards in the second half against Pitt.
Stop the fullback as the success of the fullback leads to everything else in the triple option success.
No wheel route cheapies or double seam route success for Navy by their slotbacks.
Notre Dame needs to deal with the Navy’s speed in running the triple option and have the discipline to stay with assignment football.
Patience on offense by Coach Kelly, Coach Martin, and Tommy Rees to stay with the running game and take the underneath routes that Navy will give them.
If Navy is successful scoring in this game then every offensive series for Notre Dame it is essential to put points on the board.
No turnovers, no three and outs. The Irish cannot waste possessions.
No bombs on first down for Notre Dame. Throw high percentage passes so you aren’t 2nd and 10. Doing so makes it easier for Navy’s defense.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Navy Defense - Advantage Notre Dame
Passing against Navy won’t be like passing against Air Force. Their safeties are deep and their corners give a lot of cushion. Navy has moved cornerback Gaines to free safety to get better coverage and ball skills. That being said Pitt ran a lot of under routes with Devin Street which were a large part of his nine reception day. I see a big day for T. J. Jones and Troy Niklas.
Notre Dame is bigger and bigger means better, right? Well, Pitt’s offensive line averaged 315 pounds and they lost to Navy. Notre Dame’s average is 311 pounds. In short, size over Navy doesn’t guarantee a win.
Since the Navy defense’s weakness is against the run the Irish should bang away at the Middies and force their secondary to come up sooner on run support.
Pitt only had 10 possessions last week, three 3 and outs, two 10+ play drives, and one two play QB sneak series at the Pitt 1 yard line to end the first half. That could doom any team playing Navy. The Irish need to use all their possessions effectively.
Navy had a couple of long touchdown runs scored against them by Toledo who has a good physical back with speed, patience, and good moves. I can see Notre Dame’s Tarean Folston being capable of doing the same if he’s given enough carries.
Notre Dame Defense vs. Navy Offense - Advantage Notre Dame
Someone needs to be hitting Reynolds every play, especially in short yardage or near the goal line.
Tackling, tackling, tackling by all three units is a must.
Disciplined assignment football wins the game.
In obvious passing situations the Midshipmen’s offensive line has trouble with stunts, even when the opposition only rushes three men. I think that the Irish would be better off dropping eight and only blitzing occasionally in obvious passing situations. Doing so might result in a pick.
In the past two years the Irish have held Navy to 116 yards and 130 yards below their season average in rushing. They need to do it again.
The Irish secondary can’t fall for the wheel route or let a wide out behind them.
Notre Dame Special Teams vs. Navy Special Teams – Advantage Notre Dame
I have to begin this section with some praise for Notre Dame’s Kyle Brindza. As a punter Brindza isn’t even ranked in the top fifty. The same can be said with his place kicking. In kicking off he has 28 touchbacks on 45 kickoffs and I know there are better numbers out there in that department. He’s even had a punt and a field goal blocked. Yet, Brindza has been a big cog in Irish success this season by rising to the occasion as a punter, a field goal kicker, and a kickoff man. Not once has his play cost the Irish a game and his best efforts seem to come at the neediest times.
The Irish have the advantage in all special team areas no matter what the rankings are. Tougher schedule and hopefully the Irish coverage teams have their lane difficulties solved.
Someone I know has called me twice this week and both times asked me what my prediction would be. I wasn’t sure about it because I can’t equate Air Force’s offense with Navy’s. It’s like Air Force’s offense goes to a buffet and flits around from section to section trying this or that. Navy runs right to the prime rib and gorges itself on that and that alone.
I think of that difference, Navy being much more confident in the triple option and more committed to it than Air Force. I also think of Reynolds being better than the quarterback the Irish have faced the previous two years.
Then I think that no one has had 40 and 42 point victory margins over Navy the last two years except Notre Dame. I see something similar continuing, even with the defensive line being banged up.
Notre Dame 41, Navy 21