We have finally reached that point in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football offseason where we can talk about this year’s opponents without thinking about it all as an event still months away. The conference media days are underway (lol conference things) and camp is just right around the corner. So, we’re dedicating each day (other than Chick-fil-A Day) to Notre Dame’s 2021 opponents, and starting off those days with a quick look preview. Join the conversation in the preview and the editorial in their respective comment section, and/or use the FanPost/FanShot feature to share something more in depth.
Game 9 — Notre Dame vs Navy
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Indiana
When: November 6th at 3:30pm ET
How to Watch: NBC
The Navy Midshipmen
As he enters his 14th full season as head coach of the Naval Academy, Ken Niumatalolo is in no way on the hot seat. The seasoned coach has gone 101-67 with 6 bowl victories (and 11 bowl appearances) in his time at the helm of that program, which is incredibly impressive considering how hard it is to coach at a service academy. His 30-17 mark since Navy joined the AAC in 2015 isn’t too bad, either.
However, he’s definitely dealing with a bit of a dip in his team’s level of performance as of late. 2019 was one of his best seasons ever with an 11-2 record, Liberty Bowl win over Kansas State, and finishing ranked 20th in the country, but it was sandwiched between two 3-win campaigns, and he’s just 24-25 from 2017 onward.
Last season was a weird one for many programs and thus it’s hard to draw TOO MUCH from the results, but the Midshipmen went 3-7 and ended the season by losing 5 straight (with a few weeks’ worth of postponements squarely in the middle of that losing streak).
2021 doesn’t necessarily look easier, as Navy looks to replace QB Dalen Morris (579 passing yds, 5 total TD), FB Nelson Smith (645 yds, 5 ypc, 8 TD), WR Ryan Mitchell (5 rec, 156 yds, 1 TD), their top two blockers (guards Peter Nestrowitz and Billy Honaker), and CB Cameron Kinley (26 tackles, 5 PD, 1 INT).
Oh, and FB Jamale Carothers (358 yds, 3.7 ypc, 2 TD), who was expected to step into a more prominent role with Smith’s graduation, was dismissed from the Academy back in May.
Indeed, offense will be the biggest challenge for a Navy team that struggled mightily on that side of the ball a year ago. Sophomore Xavier Arline is expected to take over at quarterback, and considering he was the leading rusher among Midshipmen QBs a year ago (210 yds, 3.6 ypc) and is the leading returning rusher on the team, that might actually be an upgrade under center.
However, classmate Tai Lavatai is listed as an OR underneath Arline on the depth chart, so by the time this game is played, maybe he will have won the job and be leading the Midshipmen offense on excruciatingly long drives.
Meanwhile, guys like Chance Warren, Carlinos Acie, Isaac Ruoss, and converted-QB Tyger Goslin will be expected to help pick up the slack left by Smith and Carothers. That group isn’t super proven, combining for 165 yards rushing and 3 rushing touchdowns a year ago, but Niumatalolo and his staff are hoping at least 2 of those guys step up and provide a much stronger rushing attack than in 2020. They’re hoping that center Pierce Banbury and tackle Bryce Texeira being back will help drive some success there as well.
From a receiver standpoint, Navy actually looks pretty solid, returning their two leading playmakers at the WR position from last year in Mychal Cooper (12 rec, 199 yds, 2 TD) and Mark Walker (13 rec, 175 yds).
Defensively is where Navy has much less to worry about — they return 8 starters from a year ago, led by LB Diego Fagot, a two-time All-AAC selection and potential NFL prospect who accumulated 72 tackles (11 for loss), 3 sacks, 2 passes defended, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery last season. He is the heart and soul of the Navy defense and will be flying all over the field.
Similarly, safety Kevin Brennan (68 tackles, 5 PD) will be a guy to watch, along with LB John Marshall (62 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 PD, 1 INT, 1 FR) and LB Tama Tuitele (52 tackles, 4 FF). Navy also returns their top cover corner in Michael McMorris (38 tackles, 6 PD) as well as solid DB Mitchell West (50 tackles, 1 PD, 1 FF) and DT J’arius Warren, who will anchor the middle on the front line (33 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF).
Notre Dame — Navy All-Time
Not much to discuss here — as we all know thanks to the 43-year winning streak that Charlie Weis’s 2007 team ruined, the Irish hold a commanding lead in this series.
It’s less a rivalry and more just a tradition to play these guys (and a tradition not everyone loves, to be clear).
The Top 3 Players
- Diego Fagot — LB
- Xavier Arline/Tai Lavatai/Chance Warren/Isaac Ruoss/Carlinos Acie — Backfield
- Kevin Brennan — S
As noted above, Diego Fagot is the star of this team and the only current NFL prospect on the Navy roster. He’ll be the guy the Irish offense needs to be aware of at all times. Brennan, an aggressive safety with good instincts, will also be someone flying all over the field and may make a few nice plays throughout this matchup. Brennan and Fagot are both team captains for 2021, along with Warren and Mychal Cooper.
Offensively, I went with a combination of every QB/FB/SB (slotback) who will likely see significant time this season — it won’t be all of them, but at least a couple will separate themselves as the workhorses for Niumatalolo’s triple option offense. If I had to guess, I’d go with a combo of Arline, Warren, and maybe Ruoss, but it’s really hard to say right now.
This one looks to be shaping up to be like most games between these two programs. The Irish’s strength is their defense, especially their front seven. Navy’s obviously a one-dimensional offense focused on running the ball, and they aren’t even proven to do that very well as of late. I don’t see them doing too much damage on that side of the ball, aside from occasional sustained drives just due to the weird nature of the triple option offense.
On the other side, I think Navy has some studs on defense that will allow them to wreak a little havoc for what could either be a very dangerous or very underwhelming offense the Irish are fielding 9 games into the season, but over the course of the game Notre Dame’s superior athletes will just straight-up beat the Midshipmen and build a sizable lead. The Irish will have the backups in with enough time left in the 4th to get some solid reps in, no doubt.
Difficulty 1-10: 3
Early win or loss prediction: Irish win