Happy Thursday, you guys! It’s once again time to prepare ourselves for this weekend’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish football game, as your favorite Irish squad now sits at 7-1 on the season after its 44-34 victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels last Saturday night.
Now, after being ranked 10th in the initial CFP rankings of the season, the Irish play host to the Navy Midshipmen. Navy is in the middle of another rough season, currently 2-6 after going 3-7 in 2020. Despite that tough record, though, the Midshipmen have come scarily close to defeating numerous good teams, so I knew I had to reach out to Gavin Jernigan from Against All Enemies to get the scuttlebutt on Ken Niumtalolo’s team.
Jernigan not only writes for AAE, but is also actually a former punter for the Naval Academy, playing for the Midshipmen from 2012 to 2015. So, it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about this team and program — even if some of our questions to him went a little off-topic by asking about Christmas movies, colors, goats, and more.
Let’s get after it and see what Gavin had to say about this match-up.
1. I doubt anyone is ready to start increasing the heat of Ken Niumatalolo’s seat quite yet, but it’s been a rough couple of years for the Midshipmen, going 3-7 during the COVID season and currently sitting at 2-6. What have been the major drivers of that dip in success, and do you see it as anything long-term to worry about, or more so just a natural regression from losing key players on a 2019 team that went 11-2?
Gavin Jernigan: Personnel issues are a major factor in the explanation for the down years. There have been a significant number of extremely talented Navy players that have left the school as well for other D1 programs.
The two most prevalent players that have left Navy recently are outside linebacker Jacob Springer, and B-Back (fullback) Jamale Carothers. Springer now plays at Ole Miss and Carothers plays at Western Kentucky.
Furthermore, a lack of an identified and fully developed quarterback is another huge issue for the Midshipmen.
From my perspective, having played on the Navy team and followed them closely after my glory (hardly) years, I am confident that there is not much to worry about the long-term. I will say that the AAC is still improving as a conference and that also contributes to less successful seasons. But, I know Power 5 folk like to deny any G5 strength…kidding…sort of.
2. Despite the rough end-results, Navy has been competitive against a number of good teams this season (Cincinnati, SMU, Houston). What has enabled the Midshipmen to hang around with those guys, and can it work again this weekend?
Gavin Jernigan: Naturally, the grit and culture of the Navy Football team explains why the Midshipmen can compete with pretty much anyone. The team also made a change in the offensive coaching staff roles, which has translated to more points on the board. Special teams have cleaned up its act a bit too.
I think there lies a solid potential that this weekend’s game is competitive. Of course, some years are more competitive than others. Undoubtedly, Notre Dame coming off strong wins, especially with the offense playing so well, will make it harder for the Midshipmen to stay in the game.
3. Per usual, Navy’s got a bunch of different ball carriers who rotate in for their rushing attack — I count 6 guys over 100 yards on the season, 7 with double-digit carries, and 11 with at least 7 rushing attempts. Talk us through the names to know there, including whom to expect under center this weekend and what they bring to the table as the straw that stirs the triple-option drink.
Also, how’s the offensive line been so far, and do you think they’ll hold up against an Irish front seven that’s not perfect but is one of the strengths of this ND team?
Gavin Jernigan: I would expect sophomore quarterback, Tai Lavatai, to be leading the offense from under center. He has emerged as the consistent starter for Navy this year and appears to be the best option (get it?)* to run (get it?)* the offense. Other impact ball carriers include B-Back Isaac Ruoss and A-Back (running back) Chance Warren. Warren is extremely explosive and a great athlete.
*Pat Rick Note: love this.
The offensive line is decent. As previously mentioned, they have recently been finding their groove, minimizing penalties, and starting to make their presence known upon opposing defenses. As is true with most Navy front lines, pass protection is true. So, I would expect almost a run-only offense. This will simplify things for Notre Dame’s defense.
4. Where is the Navy defense strongest, and what are its biggest weaknesses that the Irish offense could exploit on Saturday? Do the Midshipmen have the ability to slow down Kyren “Bellyman” Williams, Michael Mayer, etc.?
Gavin Jernigan: Nope. The Navy defense will succeed if the Irish hurt themselves.
Turnovers and penalties are going to be needed for Navy to get the ball back into their offense’s hands in a quick manner.
5. FAN QUESTION:
When will we get a college football game on an aircraft carrier?— Isaac Harrington (@isaach10) November 1, 2021
Gavin Jernigan: Impossible! Based on the dimensions and security (for man-overboard preventative measures), a full-sized football field isn’t practical. Look up some videos of an E-2 Hawkeye or an F/A-18 Super Hornet landing on a carrier. It’s a tight squeeze!
Pat Rick Follow-Up Question: besides an aircraft carrier, are there any other new/unusual/unique/cool locations you’d like to see a college football game played?
Gavin Jernigan: Dude! Think about bringing Virginia Tech and Penn State to any other country in the world (say Wembley Stadium in London) and letting all of Europe see what college football fans are all about. “Enter Sandman”? Penn State white out?
I guess what I’m trying to say, soccer fans are crazy. But most of the world has never experienced an Ohio State pregame tailgate or any SEC fan base.
6. FAN QUESTION:
Is Navy their favorite shade of blue?— Philip G OFD (@Philip__G) November 1, 2021
Gavin Jernigan: That…or the Ocean Blue for those on ships….or sky blue for us aviators (I’m an aviator in the Marine Corps).
7. FAN QUESTION:
If you were in our position asking you questions what would you ask yourself and what would your answer to said question be?— Hayden Adams (@HaydenAdamsZ) November 1, 2021
Gavin Jernigan: I guess you’ll have to read our article! I’m sure the link will be shared!
8. Mascot Question: Are there any really good stories/fun facts that we should know about Bill the Goat? Please drop some fun knowledge about that legendary mascot.
Gavin Jernigan: Oh man there are so many! Army constantly tries to steal our goat! #animalcruelty.
Other than the actual goat (in live animal form), current Midshipmen audition/tryout for the mascot version. The goats live at farms just outside of Annapolis and live very high quality of lives for a goat. Just like other animal mascots, they are well-loved.
9. Festive Question: It’s officially November, which means it’s officially time for the time-honored tradition of the way-too-early playing of Christmas/holiday music. What are your 5 favorite Christmas/holiday songs, and if you had to pick a Navy player to best represent each of your 5 choices (or just the player who is the best choice to perform it at karaoke), whom would you choose for each?
Gavin Jernigan: Unfortunately, I’m not a big Christmas/holiday song guy. I bet my list surprises you.
5) Mariah Carey – “All I Want for Christmas Is You”
4) Michael Buble - “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”…dude has a great voice
3) Elvis Presley – “Blue Christmas”
2) Hollywood Undead – “Christmas in Hollywood”
1) Adam Sandler - “The Chanukah Song”
10. Alright, let’s get down to it: who wins, what’s the final score, and why?
Gavin Jernigan: 39-37 Navy wins. Crazy game!
Alrighty, I want to give a big ole shout-out to Gavin for offering up his time and talent to answer our questions this week, and encourage you all to head over to Against All Enemies to check out all their awesome coverage of the service academies — including a Q&A Gavin did with me!
Furthermore, definitely toss some Twitter follows to the Against All Enemies account as well as to Gavin, as they will be fantastic accounts to check-in on for all your breaking news and commentary on Navy football before, during, and after this game.
That’s all for this week, folks — as always, GO IRISH!!!!