One of the most storied rivalries in college football is renewed when the Navy Midshipmen come to town for the penultimate home game of the 2019 campaign. This annual clash on the Notre Dame football schedule has been a largely one-sided matchup over the years, with the Irish having won 25 of the last 27 meetings on their home turf.
Continuing to rely on a run-dominated offense, the Midshipmen are looking to bounce back from a miserable 3-10 year, only their second losing season since 2003. The chief downfall for Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo came on the defensive side of the ball as they allowed over 33 points per game.
Note: This year we are going to be doing our opponent previews in order of difficulty – starting with the least difficult opponent of the year. So as we roll these out, know that the order isn’t sequential but rather based on difficulty. Follow along with our countdown!
Navy Offense: Going Back to What Works
For years, the Midshipmen offense has lived and died on the ground, with last season’s average drop of 75 rushing yards per game indicative of why the 2018 Navy squad stumbled to a 3-10 record. That performance saw a number of missed opportunities, including at the outset of the Notre Dame matchup.
The good news is that not only is Malcolm Perry back, but he’s being returned to behind center, where he thrived two years ago, He’s been the main force for the Midshipmen’s offense in both years, but that side of the ball didn’t quite have the impact when he served as simply a running back..
Joining Perry in the backfield will be Tazh Maloy, who was one of 15 different Navy players to rush the ball in 2018. He only finished with 179 yards and could be pushed by C.J. Williams, who actually outgained him by four yards. Serving as a player to pick up the tough yards is Nelson Smith, who collected 411 yards and also crossed the goal line three times.
That strong reliance on the running game doesn’t leave a lot of opportunity to throw the ball, with the Midshipmen only putting the ball up 227 times total over the past two years. Last year, an increase of 29 more tosses obviously didn’t help, but when Navy does go to the air, there are a few candidates to watch besides the backs. Mychal Cooper and Ryan Mitchell only caught a combined nine passes, but the average yardage for each grab was slightly over 20 yards.
Making the effort to open holes will be the job of players like senior center Ford Higgins and junior right guard Peter Netsrowitz. The left side of the line figure to be handled by tackle Kendel Wright and guard David Firney, while the right tackle slot is where junior Billy Honaker will be seen.
Navy Defense: A Definite Need for Improvement
The inability to muster any sort of pass rush proved to be fatal for Navy last year, which had just seven following their opener. Even more embarrassing was the fact that they were at the bottom in Division I with just 37 tackles-for-loss. That’s led to a change in the defense, which will have a 4-2-5 makeup.
On the front line, the key players will be defensive end Jackson Perkins, with Jackson Pittman returning after 35 stops in 2018. While he plays largely at linebacker, senior Nizaire Cromartie has been one of the few Midshipmen threats to reach enemy backfields, despite having a slight frame. It’s possible that sophomore Diego Fagot will up as the team’s leading tackler from his middle linebacker spot after just 16 stops last year.
In the secondary, junior Micah Farrar is the key player and someone who hopes to improve on his one interception, which did result in a 54-yard return. On the other side, Michael McMorris is back after 20 tackles and a pair of fumble recoveries. At safety, Kevin Brennan and Evan Fochtman are expected to be patrolling this area.
Navy Special Teams: A Mix of Old and New
There’ll be a new presence in the kicking game with senior J.R. Osborn the top candidate to replace Bennett Moerhing, who offered a consistent presence. Owen White will handle both the punting duties and kickoffs. For the return game, C.J. Williams and Jacob Springer will handle kickoff returns, while Williams is the man on punt returns.
The Last Time That Notre Dame Played Navy
Last season, the two teams had their first-ever meeting in San Diego, with the Irish using a dominating first half to coast to a 44-22 win. Notre Dame took a 27-0 lead to intermission, shaking off a turnover on the first play of the game to rack up nearly 600 yards of total offense for the contest. While the Midshipmen tried to make things interesting in the final quarter, their vaunted triple-option was largely held in check. That allowed the Notre Dame football schedule to remain unblemished entering the regular season’s final month.