Your Notre Dame Fighting Irish had last week off, and yet somehow, some way, they managed to jump up in the rankings and snag the #3 spot in the AP Poll.
Now, the 7-0, 3rd-ranked team in America will take on the Navy Midshipmen out in San Diego, hoping to get past the triple option without too much struggle or strife. The Midshipmen enter the game with a 2-5 record, including a 4-game losing streak they bring to their matchup with the Irish.
Considering this is a less-daunting Navy team than ND has faced in recent years, I made sure to talk to Gavin Jernigan over at SB Nation’s brand-spankin’-new service academies site Against All Enemies. Jernigan, a former punter for the Naval Academy (2012-2015), provided some incredible answers, and even pulled in a former mascot friend to answer my question about Bill the Goat.
So, with all that to read (as well as a halftime interview with my Panel of College Football Fans), let’s dive right in and prepare ourselves for the home stretch of this 2018 season!
1. It’s been a tough season so far for the Midshipmen, what with the 2-5 record and current 4-game losing streak. Was a down year expected in 2018, and what’s gone wrong this year compared to the success Navy had been enjoying the past few years?
Gavin Jernigan: It truly has been a tough season for Navy. Optimists would suggest that a down year was not expected. But those who really know the team had a strong feeling this might have been a rough year.
Coach Ken Niumatalolo has consistently utilized three different quarterbacks in three very different scenarios. Malcolm Perry, Navy’s best offensive athlete, has played under center the majority of the time. Zach Abey, Navy’s primary quarterback last year, has taken quarterback duties in goal line and short yardage situations. And Garret Lewis, who started his first game ever last year in South Bend, has been used in passing situations.
In the past two games, Lewis has been the primary quarterback, while Perry has played A-back (Navy’s running back position). Frankly, it’s a toss-up as to whether we will see Perry or Lewis under center come this Saturday, but I expect to see Lewis.
The Midshipmen defense has been incredibly inconsistent — specifically, the secondary. So, if there was one thing to point to that can explain the poor performance thus far, it would be the struggle to defend the pass.
2. Will Ken Niumatalolo coach at Navy until he’s ready to hang it up, or do you think eventually one of these bigger programs will adopt the triple option and hire him away like Georgia Tech did with Paul Johnson?
Gavin Jernigan: Coach Niumatalolo’s decisions on where he will coach depends on much more than just the prestige and potential at a school. He is the epitome of a family man. So he would leave Navy if it was in the best interest of his family. Two of his children are out of college, and one is currently on the University of Utah football team. He also has a newborn grandchild.
The other factor affecting his decision to stay or go is his faith. Coach Niumatalolo is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So as a committed leader in the Mormon Church he attends in Annapolis, he must consider the effects of him leaving Navy on his faith group.
With all of that said, it is unlikely he will leave Navy. He had other opportunities in the past, yet he still has not left.
3. Tell me about this year’s rushing attack — what makes Malcolm Perry so good, and what other guys have emerged as dangerous runners whom the Irish defense will need to focus on containing?
Gavin Jernigan: Malcolm Perry is fast. Last year, I texted Navy’s head Strength and Conditioning Coach, Bryan Fitzpatrick, and asked “Is Malcolm really that fast?”. His answer to me was simply, “Yes”. As we have seen earlier this year, Perry is quite elusive and incredibly quick. He is a tough runner, despite his size.
One other player that has shown signs of explosiveness is Nelson Smith. Smith shares snaps with offensive captain Anthony Gargiulo at B-Back (Navy’s fullback position). If a hole is opened up in the middle, Nelson Smith will punish you. Gargiulo, on the other hand, will make a hole for himself.
4. How do you think the Navy triple option matches up against a Notre Dame defense that ranks 5th in defensive S&P+ ratings and is 30th in the country in rushing yards allowed per game? Who scares you on the ND defense?
Gavin Jernigan: Don’t even get me started on the S&P+. Defending the triple option is all about preparation and discipline. So, with a bye week prior to the Navy game, the Irish should be more than prepared. It will be upon the Notre Dame players to stick to their assignments, stay with their assigned player, and not get lost with their eyes in the backfield.
Nobody specifically scares me on the Notre Dame defense. Navy just did a fine job isolating Ed Oliver of Houston last week, and he is likely to be the number one draft pick in this year’s draft.
But, I will say that I was fearful of Jaylon Smith back in 2015. He is probably one of the scariest Notre Dame defensive players I’ve personally shared the field with. Manti Te’o is a close second.
5. What are the big strengths and weaknesses of the Midshipmen defense, and how do you expect Ian Book, Dexter Williams, and the rest of the ND offense to perform on Saturday?
Gavin Jernigan: Navy’s only strength on defense is their defensive line. Jarvis Polu and Josh Webb are great athletes who have played many snaps in big games for the Midshipmen. At inside linebacker, Navy has Taylor Heflin and Hudson Sullivan. They are incredibly passionate and tough.
The weaknesses definitely are in the secondary and at outside linebacker. Typically, Navy has great players at outside linebacker. But this year, inexperience has caused issues with both of those positions.
I expect the Notre Dame offense to perform well all game long. Navy is going to try and control the time of possession to limit Ian Book’s time with the ball.
6. Who are the X-factors on offense, defense, and special teams for Navy — the three guys whose great performances are absolutely crucial for Navy to have a chance at the upset? Also, do you think Navy can actually pull it off if those X-factors deliver?
Gavin Jernigan: Who ever is starting a quarterback is going to have to play a perfect game. Whether it is Garret Lewis or Malcolm Perry, they are going to have to create a lot of spark the entire game.
On defense, the entire secondary is going to have to play well. The seniors are safety Sean Williams, and cornerback Jarid Ryan. Both players have demonstrated the ability to create turnovers; however, both have made mistakes at different times throughout the year.
As for special teams, Owen White, the punter for the Midshipmen, will have to do a great job flipping the field to force the Irish to go the length of the field on every possession.
WE INTERRUPT THIS VERY GOOD Q&A FOR SOMETHING INCREDIBLY STUPID: TIME FOR A WORD FROM PAT’S PERSONAL PANEL OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL FANS, AKA SOME BUDDIES OF HIS IN A GROUPME CHAT
Pat Rick: Gentlemen, I am now accepting any and all takes on Navy
Hux: I respect the Naval Academy and their men too much to say anything. God Bless America (flag emoji)
Serglock Holmes: Beat me to it
Serglock Holmes: If you would like our thoughts on Old Navy, however...
Hux: Their graphic T’s are (fire emoji) (fire emoji) (fire emoji)
Hux: You can buy ND gear at Old Navy but you can’t buy Navy gear (thinking emoji)
Serglock Holmes: Currently watching the All-22 on the Gap vs. Old Navy game. Will report back.
Hux: There was honestly nothing worse than right before school started and your mom would drag you to Old Navy to get new uniform pants for the year...
Hux: But I guess the alternative was wearing School Bells like a dweeb so THANK YOU MOM
THANK YOU HUX’S MOM, INDEED!!!
Now, back to our regularly scheduled Q&A...
7. Notre Dame has a freshman running back named C’Borius Flemister. What are the best/funniest/most ridiculous names on the Navy roster?
Gavin Jernigan: Navy offensive lineman Adam Amosa-Tagovailoa is related to Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.* So there is a unique and famous name.
Also, Navy has another lineman named Laurent Njiki, but most people just call him “Jiki,” which is fun to say. He’s also a great young man with an awesome personality.
*Pat Rick Editor’s Note: Adam is also the brother of Notre Dame injured DT Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa (who is cousins with Tua as well, obviously)
8. Brian Kelly vs. Ken Niumatalolo in a karaoke contest - what song(s) does each coach sing, who has the better stage presence/charisma, and who ultimately wins?
Gavin Jernigan: No doubt Coach Niumatalolo would sing “Over the Rainbow.” Honestly, not sure what Coach Kelly would sing but my money is on a Beatles song. He looks like a Beatles fan.
Coach Niumat** is a much larger person than Coach Kelly, and therefore, has more stage presence. Plus, I’m 99% sure he actually knows how to play the ukulele and grew up with the original songwriter in Hawaii.
**Pat Rick Editor’s Note: Not sure if “Niumat” is a nickname for the coach or if this is a typo, but I’m gonna leave it because I like it as a nickname for him for sure
9. Hypothetical: the US has instituted The Purge, where one night per year all crime is legal. Which 3-5 Navy players do you choose for your survival squad, for what reasons, and do you all survive the night?
Gavin Jernigan: Mike Martin, Anthony Gargiulo, and Jarid Ryan.
Mike Martin will sweet talk any woman trying to kill us, so that saves us from half of the population. Side note: If you don’t follow him on twitter, you should.
Anthony Gargiulo is from New Jersey and I’m pretty sure he was one of the bouncers who used to throw out the members of Jersey Shore out of the bar every night.
Jarid Ryan will also distract anybody trying to kill us because he doesn’t ever stop running his mouth.
10. Please make a brief argument for why the Midshipmen mascot, Bill the Goat, is the best mascot in the country.
Gavin Jernigan: “Bill the Goat is the best mascot in the country because he is, in fact, the GOAT. His roots are based on old Midshipmen legend but those legends are now Naval Academy Tradition, and wherever Bill goes a Navy Victory is sure to follow. And speaking of tradition, the Naval Academy is currently on Bill XXXIII. To bring another top college football program for comparison, Georgia’s Uga is only the 10th”
This response comes from Bill the Goat, retired.
11. Anything else ND fans should know about the Navy team, program, fans, traditions, history, etc.?
Gavin Jernigan: Well we love playing you much more than you enjoy playing us. Playing in South Bend is one of the greatest things that I’ve ever accomplished in my lifetime, and I’m sure that is true for the vast majority of Navy players since the Navy-Notre Dame football games have started.
Notre Dame fans should also know that your players consistently have some of the best sportsmanship that Navy plays year after year. Despite Navy being a much smaller team (literally and figuratively) the Irish players show great respect to Navy players on the field and after the game.***
***Pat Rick Editor’s Note: I’m going to cry, love dat sportsmanship
12. Prediction time -- give me a score, who wins, and your reasoning why.
Notre Dame 35, Navy 21
Time of possession will be in Navy’s favor, so the Notre Dame scoring opportunities will be limited. But ultimately, the playoff-bound team will come out on top.
I want to give a HUGE shout-out to Gavin for answering all my questions so thoroughly and thoughtfully, and implore you all to check out the great work the team is doing over at Against All Enemies covering the service academies.
Finally, I want to give a quick shout out to Hux and Sherlock Holmes for their continued service to the Panel of College Football Fans. They’re doing God’s work.
See you in my game preview on Friday! Go Irish!