Having been a part of the Notre Dame football schedule every year since 1927, the Navy Midshipmen will face the Irish at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego in primetime. The annual clash marks the final October game for both teams, with Navy having something of a home field advantage in the matchup, due to the heavy naval presence in that city.[Related: Get ready for the 2018 Notre Dame season with our series on opponent previews]
Midshipmen head coach Ken Niumatalolo is beginning his tenth season at the Academy and will face Notre Dame coming off their bye week. He’s hoping that Navy’s second-half slide, which resulted in a 7-6 final record doesn’t reappear. That marred another strong start that saw Navy begin the year with five consecutive victories.
Navy Offense: Keeping Things Running
In this offense, the notion of a throwing quarterback is largely a mirage, since the plan of attack for years is to run the ball before running some more. The man behind center, Malcolm Perry, will again bring some serious running chops to the field. In 2017, he scored 11 touchdowns and rushed for 1,182 yards, He took over after then-starter Zach Abey was lost to injury, with Abey now being shifted to the receiving corps-except for short-yardage situations.
When a running back’s touch is needed, fullback Anthony Gargiulo is available, having collected 423 yards and scored three touchdowns last year. In addition, the duo of Keoni-Kordell Makekau and Tre Walker will look to contribute more in 2018. While both only combined for 25 carries, each of those runs was good for average of just under seven yards, with Makekau closing out his freshman season strong.
The offensive line has been depleted due to graduation, with just two starters back. Both of them handle the tackle slots, with Andrew Wood set to begin his third season at right tackle. On the other side, Jake Hawk started all but one game last season .After that, raw talent is what’s available, with the duo of Ford Higgins and David Forney being given the best chance at finding a starting role.
Navy Defense: Staying Consistent a Key
Last season, this side of the ball saw an average of five fewer points and 64 opposing yards per game being allowed, with none of the six losses from 2017 by more than 10 points. A midseason dip saw opponents score 180 points over a five-game stretch.
Up front, the Midshipmen has Jarvis Polu at one of the ends, with the middle still held down by Jackson Pittman. The problem here is the gaping holes left at linebacker that have forced the team’s defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson to shift Nizaire Cromartie to outside linebacker, after he thrived as an effective pass rusher in short stints last season.
Joining Cromartie will be another linebacker who managed to make an impact while playing only half a season. That was Hudson Sullivan, who brought down 40 ballcarriers, a number that will undoubtedly rise when he’s in the lineup over the course of a full season.
Issues in the secondary could be directly tied to a weak pass rush, though this unit is also vulnerable to getting burned by the big play. Some of the midseason stumbles might be attributed to a shift from the team’s traditional zone defense, so it seems like a return to that more comfortable coverage is pending.
Navy Special Teams: Cause for Concern
The kicking game is a bit shaky with Brandon Moehring’s limited range and relative inconsistency likely to cause some sweaty palms this season. More pleasant is the fact that punter Owen White, who was also used on some extra points, averaged just over 40 yards per boot. Perry is likely going to be a bit too busy to continue returning kickoffs, so Zack Fraade figures to see more activity here, while a new punt returner is needed.
The Last Time Notre Dame Played Navy
Last year’s date with Navy on the Notre Dame football schedule took place in South Bend, with the Irish using two scoring passes to Kevin Stepherson to emerge with a 24-17 comeback win. This back-and-forth battle was deadlocked at 10 when intermission arrived, with the Midshipmen’s ball-control offense keeping possession for 43 minutes.