Ladies and gentlemen, the nearly two-week gap between the Pitt game and tomorrow is nearly past us, so breathe a sigh of relief and crack a Hamm’s Premium. The Bye Week is over.
The Irish come into the game ranked #3 in the country and sporting a flawless 7-0 record despite a number of flawed performances against some less-than-stellar teams. Nevertheless, the Irish’s stout defense and explosive offense have managed to get them within 5 definitely winnable games of an undefeated record and the program’s first College Football Playoff berth. Of course, ND fans would be foolish not to be wary of some sort of late season stumble, but for now, confidence is high with this team, especially coming off a bye week and with various players having gotten some rest/healing to prep for the home stretch.
On the other side of the field will be the 2-5 Midshipmen, suffering a serious down year after being one of the best teams in the AAC over the past few seasons. Navy has lost 4 straight, but considering they run the triple option, it’s always a wildcard of a game in terms of whether or not the Irish will be prepared and disciplined enough to shut them down.
So, considering the trajectories of the two programs heading into this one, let’s take a look at how the teams match up and how this one might play out.
Navy Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense
This is the key matchup for this game, you guys.
The last couple years, the Midshipmen have DOMINATED time of possession against the Irish, refusing to be stopped and forced off the field, instead putting together obnoxiously long drives to shorten the game and keep it close against a much more talented ND team.
Navy, as I hope to God you all know, is a triple option offense, rarely throwing the ball and instead relying on a huge stable of backs and quarterbacks to make reads and decisions to hand off, pitch, or keep it on their way to lots of medium-sized gains. This Midshipmen offense is no different, featuring three different “quarterbacks” depending on the situation and then a bunch of different backs behind them.
The best runner of the group and the guy who takes most of the snaps on running plays is Malcolm Perry, who’s got 729 yards and 7 TD on the year while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. With a ton of speed and great vision and shiftiness, Perry is definitely the most dangerous guy on the Navy offense and is absolutely a threat to break one if the defense doesn’t contain him.
If Navy gets to the goal line, the likely ball carrier will instead be Zach Abey, who has just 42 yards total on the season and a meager 2-yards-per-carry average, but has scored 8 touchdowns. Abey has the strength and the trust of Coach Ken Niumatalolo to get the ball safely across the goal line.
If the Naval Academy decides it’s feeling frisky and chooses to pass, the likely man under center would be Garret Lewis, who leads the team in passing with 346 yards, 2 TD, and 1 INT with a 49% completion rate. He’s still not exactly a dangerous passer, but is usually the Midshipmen’s best option through the air. He’s also a pretty strong runner when he gets the snaps, as he’s accumulated 244 yards and 4 TD on the ground this season.
When Lewis (or Perry, sometimes) throws the ball, he’s got a couple favorite targets that Julian Love and the rest of the ND secondary need to look out for (but probably not worry too much about). Taylor Jackson is Navy’s leading receiver, having snared 11 passes for 198 yards and a TD so far in 2018. CJ Williams has only 6 catches on the season, but is second on the team in receiving yards with 148, averaging nearly 25 yards per catch. Finally Mychal Cooper has had a few nice catches as well, with 4 receptions for 62 yards and a TD. Unless the ND DBs get caught napping and let those guys behind them, it’s unlikely that Love and co. will struggle too much to shut down such a weak passing attack.
With any of those QB guys commanding (great military pun, Pat!!!!) the offense, the key in this one is obviously going to be how disciplined the Notre Dame defense is in executing against the triple option’s ground game. Although Navy has some talented runners back there, the triple option can be shut down if the ND front seven takes care of their individual assignments.
Te’von Coney (56 tackles, 5.5 TFL), Drue Tranquill (46 tackles, 6 TFL), and Asmar Bilal (37 tackles, 3 TFL) will all need to be aggressive while still managing to handle their individual responsibilities, using their size and speed to get to Navy ball carriers before they can get out into space.
Meanwhile, although the defensive line’s pass rush skills will not be on display much in this one, Jerry Tillery’s havoc-wreaking in the middle of the line (21 tackles, 7,5 TFL, 7 sacks, 3 FF) will certainly help blow up some plays, and as long as Khalid Kareem (24 tackles, 8 TFL, 4.5 sacks), Julian Okwara (21 tackles, 6 TFL), and newly-healthy Daelin Hayes keep contain and hit the pitch man, the Irish should be alright.
The Notre Dame defense is 5th in the country in S&P+ ratings, and that’s absolutely driven primarily by the team’s #30 rush defense, which includes pretty sure tackling at every position. Even cornerbacks like Love (27 tackles, 12 PBU), Troy Pride Jr. (33 tackles, 6 PBU, 2 INT), or pleasant surprise from the Pitt game, freshman TaRiq Bracy (11 tackles), will get involved on the outside — especially if and when Navy’s able to get their ball carriers outside the Irish defensive ends, looking to turn the corner.
Furthermore, Notre Dame’s safety play will be crucial tomorrow night, as guys like Alohi Gilman (38 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FF), Jalen Elliott (38 tackles, 5 PBU, 2 INT), and the rest of the safeties need to be strong, swift, and decisive in reading plays and providing run support.
Gilman, having spent a year playing for Navy in 2016, should know well how the triple option offense operates and how to shut it down, so look for him to have a big game tomorrow evening. In fact, one might say that he was the defensive GOAT for Navy in 2016 and will have himself a heckuva game against the Midshipmen.*
*Pat Rick Editor’s Note: this pun is brought to you by loyal reader and commenter bmquig5
If and when Navy’s QBs hand the ball off or pitch it to a back, the guys to watch out for include the long list of Nelson Smith, Anthony Gargiulo, Tre Walker, Tazh Maloy, Myles Felis, Mike Martin, and Keoni-Kordell Makekau. That crew has combined for 1,128 combined yards and 5 TD on the ground this year, led by Smith’s 307 yards and a TD on 5.4 yards per carry.
Overall, Navy’s 3rd-ranked rush offense and 38th offensive S&P+ unit could certainly be used to eat the clock and wear down the ND defense with long, deliberate touchdown drives. But considering this Clark Lea defense’s talent and speed and experience, I don’t think Navy will be very effective in that regard this year — especially with an extra week for the Irish defense and coaches to prep for the triple option.
I think Notre Dame will ultimately end up shutting down Navy’s offense, making it much easier for the offense to step on their throats in the second half (or hopefully earlier).
Offensive Midshipman to Watch
QB Malcolm Perry
If Navy is going to have a chance in this one, they’ll need some consistent chunks of yardage from Perry, and probably a couple home run plays that shift momentum. Perry is absolutely the best guy to provide that, so he will need to bring his A-game when under center.
Defensive Irish to Watch
S Alohi Gilman
Third on the team in tackles, fast and aggressive, and playing his former team? Time for Gilman to GO OFF and make a bunch of tackles at/behind the line of scrimmage.
Halftime Fun Facts!!!!!
Best Names in the Game
1. Navy LB John Stamos
2. Notre Dame RB C’Borius Flemister
3. Navy DE Joshua Van Dunk
4. Notre Dame TE Tommy Tremble
5. Notre Dame LB Ovie Oghoufo
6. Navy DL Timber Berzins
7. Notre Dame LB Asmar Bilal
8. Navy G Steve Satchell
9. Navy PK Cameron Shook
10. Navy TE Keoni-Kordell Makekau
- Navy LB Dallas Jeanty
- Navy LB Pepe Tanuvasa
- Navy DE Anthony Villalobos
- Navy LB Austin Talbert-Loving
- Navy DL Nick Dell’Acqua
- Navy TE Tyreek King-El
- Navy LB Nizaire Cromartie
- Navy DB Caleb Clear
Quick Power Ranking: Goats and Goat-Related Things
1. The “Goats in Trees” calendar that I buy on Amazon every year
2. This news story about a goat on a roof who “only respects one man”
3. This beer-drinking goat named Clay Henry that a Texas town elected as their mayor????
4. Fainting Goats
5. This Remix of Taylor Swift’s “Trouble” with a Goat Screaming
6. “Three Billy Goats Gruff” - instant classic fairy tale
7. Goat Simulator - I downloaded this app on my phone once and you basically just run around as a goat? But I think I also drove a golf cart at one point? I don’t know, seems ridiculous enough to be ranked this high
8. This NSFW moment from 40-Year-Old Virgin
T-9. The term “GOAT” (Greatest Of All Time)
T-9. The goat emoji, which should exclusively be used as a symbol for “GOAT”
11. “If all we need is an ‘escape goat’ ...”
12. Bill the Goat/the live goats Navy has as their mascots
13. This random website I found that gave me ideas for some of the goat items on this list
14. “Delicious looking goops”... “hope y’all like goat.”
15. Aberforth Dumbledore’s patronus, which is a goat
16. Goat Yoga
17. Goatonapole — I don’t know what the hell this is, but sure, why not, let’s include it
18. Another NSFW movie moment — “The Goat” from Waiting
19. Goat cheese and goat milk, I guess
20. Goat-named places in Chicago that I’ve never been to: Girl & the Goat, Billygoat Tavern
21. Goats, a 2001 novel by Mark Jude Poirier — I have never read this, but feel like it merits inclusion because it has a character named “Goat Man” and that’s great
22. The Chicago Cubs’ Billy Goat curse (hilarious curse)
23. The faun in Pan’s Labyrinth (good movie, but that dude is creepy — sorry)
Dead Last. Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (dude sucked, and yes I’m counting a faun as a goat)
This Jon Gruden Virginity-Losing Story Is Barely Related But Deserves Mentioning
Notre Dame Offense vs. Navy Defense
Look, for this half of the matchup, we don’t need to spend a ton of time on it. The Notre Dame offense is far and away better than the Navy defense, both statistically and just in using the eye test.
ND’s numbers are still somewhat pedestrian due to the slow start to the year offensively, but at #41 in offensive S&P+ and 37th in offensive efficiency, it’s clear that the offense under Ian Book is beginning to hum.
Book has thrown for 1,151 yards, 11 TD, and just 3 INT on the season, and has completed 75% of his passes, which leads the Goddamn country. His accuracy and decision-making will serve him well against the #117 defensive S&P+ team, especially with their 107th-ranked pass defense.
Navy DBs like Sean Williams (41 tackles, 4 FF, 1 INT), Juan Hailey (21 tackles, 1 FR), and Jarid Ryan (19 tackles, 4 PBU, 3 INT) have some talent and experience back there, but should be no match for guys who have come on strong like Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool, Chris Finke, and Alizé Mack.
All four have seen noticeable improvements in their game since Book took over at QB, with Boykin truly emerging as the #1 guy. He’s up to 32 catches for 512 yards and 4 TD on the season, and will look to continue to come up with big plays behind the defense with his length and fantastic hands. Claypool (23 rec, 261 yds, 3 TD) and Mack (25 rec, 240 yds, 1 TD) will similarly have size advantages as they run amok in the Midshipmen secondary, and thus should have some big catches on the day as well.
This Notre Dame offense shouldn’t have to throw the ball tooooooo much tomorrow night, though, considering they’ve also got some depth back at running back with Jafar Armstrong returning from a knee infection. Armstrong has been out since just before the Stanford game, but in the first 4 games of the year he was stupendous as a first-time RB, picking up 245 yards at a 5.2 yards-per-carry clip and scoring 5 TDs.
He also has not been healthy in any games featuring Dexter Williams, who just so happens to be the best back ND has. Williams has been fantastic in 2 of the 3 games he’s played in this year, picking up 370 yards total and 4 TDs while gaining 7.3 yards per carry. The home run threat was held in check last week against Pittsburgh, but look for a retooled starting offensive line (Aaron Banks is in at guard and Tommy Kraemer is out as he nurses some injuries) and a small Navy defense that’s not particularly great at stopping the run (75th in rushing defense) to mean big holes for the speedy Williams and Armstrong to explode through. Furthermore, Tony Jones Jr. (314 yards, 5.1 ypc, 3 TD) is no slouch, and should have a good day as well, shedding tacklers as he picks up chunks of yardage.
Navy does have some solid players in the front seven who will look to slow down that rushing attack and maybe even get some pressure on Book, with the key guys being LBs Hudson Sullivan (45 tackles), Taylor Heflin (44 tackles, 4 TFL, 3 sacks), and Nizaire Cromartie (31 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 sacks) and DL Jarvis Polu and Jackson Pittman (38 tackles combined).
However, in looking at this matchup, I don’t see how the Midshipmen defense can do much to stop the ND offense. If the Navy offense is able to win time of possession and limit the number of series for Notre Dame on offense, then maybe they can make a few plays, get a few stops, and win this thing. But I seriously doubt it, considering how balanced the Irish offense is and how potent it can be. I think Notre Dame comes in fresh from the bye and explodes early, then coasts in the second half.
Defensive Midshipman to Watch
DB Jarid Ryan
I honestly believe that if Navy wants to win this game, they not only will need to eat the clock on offense, but they’ll need to force some turnovers on defense. Ryan has a nose for the ball with those broken up passes and the 3 picks, so I think he’s gotta take the ball away once or twice to set up Navy scores and really give them a chance to win.
Offensive Irish to Watch
RB Dexter Williams
The Pitt game was a horrible showing from the offensive line and Dex had a bad game because of that, but after a bye and with a little shake-up, the Irish are poised to open some holes against an undersized opponent. It’s time for the Williams we saw dominating against Stanford and Virginia Tech to return in a BIG way.
Nothing interesting to see here. Navy’s kicker Bennett Moehring is 6/7 for the year on field goals with his lone miss coming from beyond 50 yards. Justin Yoon, meanwhile, is 9/12 on the year, and both kickers are perfect on extra points (will one of them miss their first in this one????).
Unless maybe Chris Finke finally breaks loose for a punt return TD, I don’t see special teams meaning that much in this one, aside from maybe some punting being used to flip the field. Paging Tyler Newsome on that one.
Alright, Let’s Predict the Result of This One
Notre Dame 38, Navy 16
Why: I actually want to predict more points for the Irish, but I can’t in good conscience commit to Navy not milking at least a nice chunk of game time just due to their snail’s pace option offense. Either way, I think Clark Lea’s defense will come out similarly to how Brian VanGorder’s unit (gag) did against Georgia Tech in 2015, but this group won’t give up a bunch of garbage TDs at the end. Book and Williams will flourish, and ND moves on to the Northwestern game with an 8-0 record and gets itself in the top 4 in the inaugural CFP rankings.