Navy Preview

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What’s Their Deal?

The Midshipmen sailed through 2015, notching 11 wins and garnering a #18 final AP ranking, the clear peak in the long and largely successful Ken Niumatalolo era. Then the wins dwindled from 9 to 7 to 3, an unmissable downward trend that suggested Coach Ken might have missed the boat that could have steered him towards a position captaining a more prestigious squadron. But a quick survey of their season to date shows that this group has righted the ship, having lost only once to a good Memphis team (this concludes today’s pun section).

They lead the nation in rush yards per game, averaging 35 (!) more than the closest contender. 36 touchdowns on the ground is tops in the country as well. On the other side of the ball, they rank 45th in SP+, which is certainly respectable but not quite daunting.  Regardless, new coordinator Brian Newberry has invigorated that unit after flagging badly last year. They’re healthy, they boast some very good special teams units, and by no means will be an easy out. What else is new.

One Scary Man: QB Malcolm Perry

As is the case with any signal caller in this system, Perry is a major threat with his legs. He’s already surpassed the century mark, and is among the national leaders in yards per carry (6.6) and rushing scores (16). Worrisome, sure; surprising, no. What remained to be seen prior to this year was if Perry could cement himself as Navy’s quarterback, or if he’d remain a utility athlete that could play under center when duty called (is that another Navy pun? sorry) but was most at home at slotback.

Those concerns are long gone. He’s only thrown 53 passes, sure, but that’s just about double his career total prior to 2019. Yards per attempt, completion percentage, touchdowns thrown, you name it, all trending up. The Irish secondary needs to know this won’t be a light workout, even if Perry will do most of his damage on the ground.

A Few Things I Hate About You

Friends, it’s okay to hate playing Navy! Take it from our resident troop.

What to Expect

Obvious disclaimer that this isn’t predictive of how this Navy team and this Notre Dame team will play each other, but I found myself wondering how the Middies’ offensive performance in the Kelly era compared to their season averages. As it turns out, against the Irish since 2013, their bread and butter rushing game has been remarkably in line with performance elsewhere. Shout out to Notre Dame’s various defensive staffs for the decidedly average work! Please do not allow Navy’s current season average (358) on Saturday. We’ve been noticeably better against the pass, although that aspect of their game is much less reliable, and those numbers show a reversion to the mean over the past few seasons.

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And here’s an interesting and concerning note via FEI:

Navy jumps off the chart at No. 5 in first-half FEI. The Midshipmen are 6-1 against FBS opponents and rank No. 14 in overall FEI. But Navy is undefeated in first-half play — they led Memphis 20-13 at the half before losing 35-23. And of the 16 touchdowns Navy has surrendered this year against FBS opponents, only five were scored in the first half.

So, uh, maybe don’t take the ball to start and go three and out again, Brian? Possessions are exceedingly valuable when your opponent can smother the clock like Navy can, so a fast start will be both arduous and imperative. It’s an interesting test for the Irish offense, which looked great last week but now needs to be thrifty and convert given these limits. And they should! The size and talent advantages over a service academy are self-evident. If Ian Book’s hot hand continues, and if one, just one, running back steps up, things should go smoothly.

It’s also hard not to feel confident in the linebackers, given Drew White’s admirable performance against the option attack last year and given it’s Clark Lea’s second time facing Navy as coordinator and third in the confines of the Irish system. Losing Julian Okwara for the year is downright rotten, but the line has looked good for a couple weeks in a row and should leverage that size advantage nicely if they stay technically sound. (Counterpoint: ND is only 64th in the country against the rush, so we may be approaching the danger zone.) Strenuous long drives are inevitable; backbreaking long plays absolutely cannot happen. At the very least, Alohi Gilman will be impossibly charged up.

Prediction

This is bound to be a frustrating Saturday, simply by virtue of playing a pesky and disciplined triple option team. A win won’t garner the Irish much respect nationally (or, let’s be real, among their own fanbase), but Navy’s ranked for a reason, and that reason is they’re a good football team! In the first ranked matchup between these two programs since 1978, the Irish offense keeps its foot on the gas, and the defense holds true for some crucial stops after a few inevitable slip ups. ND takes a tight one, 31-24.

Play ’em Out

Apologies to Beach House, but we’re plugging my home state’s best new-ish artist. Lush was my favorite record of 2018.

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