The Navy Midshipmen are once again back on the Notre Dame football schedule and are set to face the Fighting Irish on November 6. Last season’s COVID-based cancellation was marked by two different scheduling efforts in Ireland and Annapolis that ended up falling by the wayside. That absence on the schedule marked the first time since the series began in 1927 that the two schools had not faced each other.
Midshipmen head coach Ken Niumatalolo has been in charge of the Navy program since taking over late in the 2007 season. In 2020, he endured his second rough year in the past three campaigns, ending the chaotic schedule with a 3-7 mark.
Navy Offense: Run with a Touch of Pass
One constant in recent years has been Navy relying almost exclusively on their running game, a factor that may be tweaked in 2021. Xavier Arline figures to be the standard running signal-caller for the Midshipmen, but without improvement from him, Navy is going nowhere. For passing plays, Tai Lavatai’s arm figures to be put to use.
The Midshipmen’s running back situation sustained a hit in May when Jamale Crothers was dismissed from school because of an honor code violation. What’s left is a mix of uncertainty and untested talents such as Chance Warren, Isaac Ruoss, Daniel Jones and Tyger Goslin. At present, there’s no indication of which player might emerge as the leading ballcarrier/
Though their usage may depend on the state of the Navy running game, the trio of Mychal Cooper, Mark Walker and slotback Carlinos Acie will serve as the team’s chief receiving options.
On the front line, some changes have been undertaken for the Midshipmen, though center Pierce Banbury and tackle Bryce Texeira will be the leaders of this group. The left side of the offensive line is an area that could help determine Navy’s fortunes for 2021. Two players to watch are Jake Cossavella and Joshua Pena, both of whom established themselves during the Midshipmen’s spring practices.
Navy Defense: A More Positive Vision?
Some adjustments for the Midshipmen’s final three games seemed to offer hope that the late-season defensive improvement wasn’t a mirage. Those latter games saw opposing teams have more problems when it came to gaining yardage and put points on the board.
One reason for Navy’s early struggles came from the nonexistent pass rush that contributed just six sacks and lack of size. Deondrae Williams hoping to come through during his final season with a switch from end to tackle. Meanwhile, who lines up at defensive end will be a guessing game until the season starts.
The Midshipmen’s top player on defense, linebacker Diego Fagot is back for one more season after a team-high 72 tackles. Fagot also excels at stopping runners before they hit the line of scrimmage and will be an interested observer for the training camp battle between Tama Tuitele and Johnny Hodges. John Marshall and Nicholas Straw should round out this quartet.
Another player who got the attention of the coaching staff late in the 2020 campaign was cornerback Jamal Glenn, who can hit hard and battle for 50-50 balls. He’s part of an experienced, senior-led unit that includes Michael McMorris at the other corner and the safety duo of Kevin Brennan and Mitchell West.
Navy Special Teams: Uncertain Talents
Ben Fee only served as the Midshipmen’s punter late in the year in 2020 and didn’t really get a chance to show off his strong leg that will be used again on kickoffs this season. Though Bijan Nichols didn’t get to display his cool temperament in crucial situations much last year, he gives Navy a potent leg that can drill some lengthy field goals, That may not be enough to handle the likes of Notre Dame, but could make for some drama if the Midshipmen manage to stay close. Warren will handle kickoff returns unless he’s put to greater use in the backfield, while Walker will serve as the Midshipmen’s chief punt returner.
The Last Time Notre Dame Faced Navy
Taking care of business early made for an easy afternoon of football for the Fighting Irish as they coasted to a 52-20 home win over the Midshipmen on November 16, 2019. Two touchdowns in the first quarter, followed by a 24-point explosion during the second period gave Notre Dame a commanding 38-3 lead at halftime. The Irish’s ability to force turnovers was one of the keys to the win, with four Navy fumbles being converted into 24 points. Offensively, wide receiver Chase Claypool led the way with seven receptions for 117 yards, with four of those catches resulting in touchdowns.