NOTRE DAME WON A GAME LAST WEEKEND!
I was as surprised as you all, believe me. Now, though, the Fighting Irish have some strong momentum after a super-convincing three-point win in a near-devastating choke of a 20-point lead against Miami.
Hoping to build on that one-game win streak, ND heads to Jacksonville to take on the Navy Midshipmen, who have looked strong this year but also just dropped one to South Florida last weekend, 52-45.
To find out some more information about Navy, I reached out to Underdog Dynasty, the SB Nation site that covers many of the mid-major contenders in the FBS. Unfortunately, they do not have anyone who writes specifically about Navy from week-to-week, but managing editor Kayla Chance and AAC writer Bubba Rosenbaum combined their talents to answer my questions, both the football-centric serious ones and the ridiculous and irrelevant ones.
So, without any further build-up, here’s that Q&A to help arm you with knowledge for Saturday’s game!
1. After a strong 5-1 start that included wins over Houston and Memphis, Navy dropped a close one this past weekend to South Florida. What did South Florida do to take Navy out of their game and win that one?
Kayla: Navy vs. USF was definitely a tough loss for the Midshipmen, especially after several key wins earlier in the season.
The USF offense scored 24 unanswered points in the first quarter alone and I think Navy clearly wasn't prepared to come back from that large of a deficit. It was just one bad game for Navy, and I don't expect another loss this week.
2. Navy's triple option causes problems for a lot of teams because it's so different from a normal spread or pro-style offense. Who are the key Navy offensive players Notre Dame needs to watch out for, and how do you think the Navy option attack matches up with an ND defense that's finally starting to show a little improvement but hasn't yet faced the option this season?
3. Who are the X-factors on each side of the ball for Navy that Irish fans need to watch out for? Anyone on special teams?
Bubba: Facing Navy's triple option attack is certainly a unique and challenging task. As you mentioned, it is an offense that only a few teams run - you primarily think of Navy and Georgia Tech when you think of a flexbone triple option attack - so you really have to devote a lot of attention to detail when preparing to face it.
Therefore, if a team knows it is going to have a traditional option team on its schedule, it will devote practice time in the spring, fall camp and/or its open week, exposing its players to the intricacies of how to defend it.
When defending the triple option, you're focused on three key elements: fullback, quarterback and pitch. They'll run a variety of option-based plays with a variety of blocking schemes and frequently cut block - both on the interior and perimeter - which is something that isn't seen as often with other offensive attacks. It's a look that's very difficult to replicate for a scout or "show" team and you often see a quick and shifty defensive back, wide receiver or running back play scout team quarterback to provide the best possible look. Most teams will practice without a football to ensure that defenders are playing their responsibilities rather than watching the football, as certain players are designated to play fullback, quarterback and pitch.
Meanwhile, the passing game - although typically not used much - is one that often produces big plays via play-action passes. When getting cut block on run plays, perimeter defenders look at the blocker, but this leads to big plays in the passing game when they're attempting to shed the block and the slot back blows by them instead.
Senior quarterback Will Worth, who entered the season as Tago Smith's back-up and with virtually no experience, has been the starting signal-caller in Navy's triple option attack since Smith was injured in the opener against Fordham. Worth leads the team in rushing yards (618) and rushing touchdowns (13). He's averaging 3.8 yards per carry and has a long of just 31 yards. Thus, he's been steady, but doesn't bring the explosiveness that long-time starter Keenan Reynolds did the last few seasons.
At fullback, Chris High (6'0", 224) is a load and yields nearly seven yards per carry. He is second on the club with 445 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Romine, Gulley and Bonner are among those who share the load at slot back. They all produce over eight yards per attempt.
Worth's top target in the passing game is big Jamir Tillman (6'4", 212). The senior has caught 23 balls and averages nearly 16 yards per catch.
The Fighting Irish have certainly had their defensive struggles this season, as reflected by Brian Kelly dismissing former coordinator Brian VanGorder following Notre Dame's defeat against Duke.
Improvement has been seen under new DC Greg Hudson and his unit allowed just 18 rushing yards in its victory over Miami last week, but with the unique nature of their task it's not a reason to necessarily expect that to continue versus Navy.
The bottomline is, will the Irish be able to play disciplined football where they carry out their assignment on a consistent basis? Navy has run for at least 235 yards in every game but their loss at Air Force. So, odds are that the Middies will get their yards, but will the Irish be able to limit the big plays? Notre Dame will need to win first down and put the run-heavy offense behind schedule where they have to go to the air more than they like. Ken Niumatalolo's team threw it 58 times in their two losses (Air Force and USF) while attempting just 33 passes in their other five games combined.
These teams meet annually and the Irish have taken five straight in the series, but the Middies have had their share of success in those defeats and ran for 318 yards a year ago.
4. The Midshipmen defense has not been strong this season, ranking 91st in overall defense, 89th in pass defense, 83rd in rush defense, and 75th in scoring defense. The unit will certainly be giving up a lot of size to the ND offensive line and have probably not faced a QB as talented as DeShone Kizer. How do you see the Navy defense attacking the ND offense?
Kayla: Well stats don't lie, and the Navy defense is clearly not top notch this season by any means. It boils down to the depth charts and the Navy defense lacks size and speed.
To hold a strong ND offense, they are going to have be even faster than they were against Houston or Memphis. Unfortunately, speed isn't something you can teach in a week, so it's going to be a challenging four quarters for the Midshipmen.
5. With all of his recent success, do you think Ken Niumatalolo is destined for a bigger head coaching role in the near future, similar to how Paul Johnson was able to score the Georgia Tech job?
Kayla: What's great about college football is that one season can change everything, especially when it comes to the "win or you’re fired" mantra surrounding coaching. I'm an SEC girl, so the drama surrounding the LSU, Tennessee, and Auburn coaching situations is like watching an Oscar-nominated movie. I can't get enough.
If Ken Niumatalolo keeps winning football games and possibly the AAC, then I see better offers in his future. Navy was clearly scared to lose him last year to BYU so they offered him a nice raise in his new contract. Depending on how he finishes this season and next, who's to say other schools won't be knocking on his door?
6. If Brian Kelly and Ken Niumatalolo were to have a dance-off, what songs would each of them dance to and who would ultimately win?
Kayla: Envisioning Brian Kelly and Ken Niumatalolo dancing is making me think of my dad dancing and that is not a pretty sight.
The soundtrack to this battle would definitely include Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" and maybe even some AC/DC so we could turn it into an air guitar battle.
I could totally see Ken winning, as he just seems like a fun guy and he might even know some cool Hawaiian dance moves, while Brian seems a little serious.
7. Navy's mascot is Bill the Goat. Please give me the link to your favorite goat-related YouTube video and explain why you love it.
Kayla: I have a crazy obsession with goat videos so this question was easy. If only Bill the Goat could do baaaack flips. Get it?!
I want to give a big-time shout out to Kayla and Bubba for piecing together these answers to help us all understand Navy football a little better (and to Kayla for the dynamite goat joke). Be sure to check them and their writing team out on Twitter and at Underdog Dynasty for any and all updates leading up to Saturday’s game!