For the first time since 2014, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will start their football season in the month of August. The opponent will be the Irish’s longtime rival, the Navy Midshipmen, with this clash taking place in Dublin, Ireland. The Irish are hoping for a similar result from their last visit to the Emerald Isle in 2012: a 50-10 rout of the Midshipmen.
One dramatic change for Navy since last season was the dismissal of former head coach Ken Niumatalolo and Brian Newberry’s hiring. Newberry had served as the Midshipmen’s defensive coordinator for the past four seasons. Even though Navy finished 4-8 last season, Newberry’s defense held eight of those opponents to 21 points or less per game.
Navy Offense: Staying the Running Course
The offensive mindset for years when it came to the Midshipmen was run the ball and then run some more. That requires quarterbacks that can move, though who lines up against Notre Dame remains a question mark. Tai Lavatai could be back after a season-ending injury last year, though Teddy Gleaton currently tops the depth chart. Gleaton is untested but has the ability to thrive if Blake Horvath doesn’t supplant him.
Fullback Daba Fofana led Navy in rushing last year, gaining 789 yards on 4.1 yards per carry and scoring six touchdowns, while Amin Hassan currently mans slot back. In the latter department, either Anton Hall or Eli Heidenreich may offer up a challenge to Hassan. Navy quarterbacks called their own number more than 300 times last year, so they’ll also be active on the ground.
Blocking skills are a prized commodity for Navy receivers who don’t see a great deal of action when it comes to catching passes. When the Midshipmen do make a rare foray into the air, Jayden Umbarger is likely to be a target. He’s the top returning receiver for Navy after 16 catches last year, though wideouts like Kroy Myers or Camari Williams and tight end Thomas Scully may cut into that sparse total.
On the front line, starting guards Joshua Pena and Javan Bouton figure to bookend center Lirion Murtezi. Given the need for a potent running game, how well this interior trio does could be vital to any success. At tackle, the Connor McMahon and Sam Glover duo are currently penciled in those slots.
Navy Defense: Maintaining a Level of Success
With Newberry elevated to the top job, new Navy defensive coordinator P.J. Volker will have to try and maintain his predecessor’s efforts from last year. Among the accomplishments from that unit was finishing third in defense against the run among all FBS teams while also leading the AAC in shutting down offenses on third down.
Up front, the two most important players are end Jacob Busic and nose tackle Donald Berniard, while Clay Cromwell will handle the duties at the other end spot. Busic is the top returning player for both sacks and tackles-for-loss and will continue delivering pressure. Meanwhile, Berniard will plug up the middle and knows how to get into opposing backfields.
Junior Colin Ramos is the top returnee at linebacker and finished with 79 tackles from his weak side spot. The other starters will have to try and replace the contributions of John Marshall. The trio that’s currently in line to that consists of Will Harbour in the middle, along with Jordan Sanders at the Raider spot and Xavier McDonald at Striker.
Another solid unit is the secondary, with Mbiti Williams and Andrew Dewhart on the corners, Eaven Gibbons at the Bandit (strong safety) position, and Rayuan Lane at free safety. Williams is the only member of this group to pick up an interception this year, with the junior also knocking down five passes and recovering a fumble.
Navy Special Teams: New Blood Mixed with Experience
Evan Warren will take over the placekicking duties after getting his feet wet last year with two extra points and a field goal. The punting unit will again be helmed by Riley Riethman, who averaged 43.8 yards per kick last year. A key player on the return unit will be Hassan, who averaged 8.8 yards on every punt return and could be used on kickoffs.
The Last Time Notre Dame Played Navy
In last season’s 10th game, the Irish were seemingly in control, holding a 35-13 halftime advantage before Navy nearly pulled off a stunning comeback. A third-quarter field goal, followed by a pair of touchdowns and two-point conversions, chopped the margin to a single field goal with 1:21 left. The Irish managed to hold on for their seventh win of the season.