The Midshipmen hit the road this weekend and travel to Indiana to face the Fighting Irish for their annual bout. This matchup isn’t anything like the ones we’ve been watching for the last 40 years. Saturday afternoon will be the first time Navy and Notre Dame have faced off as ranked opponents since 1978. Then No. 15 Notre Dame won convincingly over No. 11 Navy by a score of 27-7 at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. This time the Mids are hoping for a much different result.
Here we are, Week 12 of the 2019 season and Navy Football is 7-1. Even those highest on a bounce-back train for the 2019 season were not predicting the Mids heading to South Bend with one loss and a two consecutive weeks in the College Football Playoff rankings. Making it into the rankings this early in the season gives Navy a real shot at a New Years Six Bowl Game as the representative from the Group of Five. There is still a long road ahead however, as they still need to win the AAC, which still hinges on a little bit of luck in the form of a Memphis loss and their own wins against SMU and Houston. A win Saturday will make for a convincing argument from the Mids to the playoff committee, and at the very least, will sling shot them with massive momentum into the final quarter of the season.
How To Watch:
Time: 2:30 p.m. (EST) on Saturday, 16 Nov 2019
Listen: WNAV; or online here
Location: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
Rankings: Navy enters Week 12 on the Massey Rankings at 19; Notre Dame is at 17
Betting Lines: Notre Dame is favored by 11 points.
The Fighting Irish have won six of their last seven contest and are 7-2 on the season. Their only losses have come at the hands of No. 4 Georgia and No. 15 Michigan, but now they are on a two game win streak including a shellacking of Duke last weekend in Durham.
The Irish are led by quarterback Ian Book who has more than 2,000 yards through the air and another 390 on the ground; he accounts for 25 total touchdowns this season. Running back Troy Jones Jr. is a bruiser who averages more than six yards per carry and has four touchdowns of his own. Notre Dame spreads carries around about as much as Navy, but Jones Jr. is responsible for nearly a third of all totes on the ground. You can expect to see a healthy dose of this back on Saturday. Chase Claypool is clearly Book’s favorite target and has reeled in 42 receptions on the year, averaging more than 15 yards a catch, and has five touchdowns. You can also expect to see a great deal of Cole Kmet, especially down in the red zone. Kmet has five touchdown catches of his own and with a 6-foot-5” 250 pound frame, it’s not hard to anticipate that being exploited against a smaller Navy team.
The Irish are 26 in total defense and 21 in scoring defense. There are four defensive players with more than 50 total tackles on the season including three linebackers: Asmar Bilal (56), Drew White (55), and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramorah (51), and, one Navy fans are undoubtedly familiar with, junior safety Alohi Gilman(52). This squad has 22 sacks, 8 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles, and 10 fumble recoveries on the season. Their sheer size is in itself a problem the Mids must face annually, and Navy will have to extend drives and wear them down in order to have a shot.
The Mids aren’t exactly slouches this year. They have the best rushing offense in the country, and it’s not particularly close as they average more than six yards a carry. Notre Dame isn’t event in the top 50 for rushing defense. Navy is ninth in scoring offense and 15th in scoring defense; 27th in total offense and 17th in total defense. Bottom line is this is the most balanced Navy football team I can remember, and that is due large in part to the brilliant defensive scheming of Coach Newberry.
Navy has a pretty good quarterback of their own, and his name is Malcolm Perry. Perry has over 1,000 yards rushing on the season to go along with 16 touchdowns, and another 700+ yards through the air with five passing touchdowns. Fullbacks Nelson Smith and Jamale Carothers have combined for 860 yards and 15 touchdowns. Additionally, the Midshipmen are full of the traditional stable of stellar slotbacks.
The Navy defense is led by law firm of Fagot, Fochtman, and Springer, who account for more than 130 tackles and 10.5 sacks between them. Juniors Jacob Springer and Evan Fochtman have really come into their own this season, and sophomore Diego Fagot is on track to be an all-time Navy great. The drastic shift in defense can be attributed to a change in mentality, brought on by the new coaching staff and facilitated by outstanding scheming. It’s a kind of Navy defense the Irish have never seen before, and will certainly throw a wrench in Brian Kelly’s game plan.
Keys to Success
Control the Clock. Look, this isn’t rocket science. Most of Navy’s recent victories over Notre Dame have come by limiting the number of Irish possessions. It’s hard to score with your offense standing on the sideline, and Navy’s best bet is keep Book and company outside of the white lines.
Fullback Fiesta. Another key to recent Navy success over Notre Dame has been a healthy dose of fullback. When you have two stud fullbacks, you can send the bruisers to work in steady succession. Carothers and Smith should be names you hear Mike Tirico call a lot on Saturday.
Make no mistake, Notre Dame will always be Notre Dame; a team full of NFL caliber athletes who are competing for a national championship. Navy will always be Navy, mostly normal sized human beings, who will commission in the Navy and Marine Corps in a few years. That’s not an excuse, it’s just the reality of physics. The Fighting Irish are physically imposing and will exploit that advantage all game. They will ground and pound the defense, their huge receivers will run routes designed to catch the football at high points the smaller Navy defensive backs shouldn’t be able to reach. The defense will look to exploit their speed to shut down the triple-option and get behind the line of scrimmage in obvious passing situations. But none of it will be enough on Saturday.
The fullbacks will keep the chains moving in healthy 5-yard carries which will create opportunities for some Perry magic on the outside and ultimately allow for a handful of big passing plays down field. The defense will slow the Irish down just enough to keep it close. Notre Dame will pull ahead late in the game, but leave too much time on the clock for the patented Malcolm “Put the Team on My Back” Perry game winning drive that culminates with a 50-yard field goal from Bijan “Iceman” Nicols for a Navy win.
Final Score: NAVY 30 – NOTRE DAME 28