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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — Navy Midshipmen Week

Please let me know if this day/time doesn’t work for you and I will adjust the invite accordingly...JUST KIDDING, IT’S SEASON OPENER WEEK AND WE CAN’T RESCHEDULE

*my fiancée wakes up and wanders down the hallway to the kitchen to make coffee, audibly and physically jumping at the sight of me awake and sitting on the couch so early, looking incredibly energized for a Monday morning*

Her: “OH MY GOD! You scared the shit out of me. What are you doing? Why are you up and at ‘em so early? You hate mornings.”

Me: “IT’S OFFICIALLY WEEK ZERO, BAYBEEEEEE! I am READY for college football to be back, so I figured I’d get a jump-start on the week with this energy.”

Her: “Please stop shouting at me, and please go up to your desk and go do your job.”

Me: “10-4, let’s waste time at work and bide our time until it’s Saturday like a champion today!!!”

*logs onto laptop, needing no pep talk to psych myself up for a video call — hell, even thinking to myself that I’ll turn on my camera on this fine Monday*

*doesn’t turn on camera*

*Clicks “Join Call” button*

Goooooooood morning everybody!! How’s everyone doing this morning?! How were everyone’s weekends??

Oh wow, that sounds like a blast, Gary. I’m sure the kids were loving the Air & Water Show.

*me thinking to myself about how much I do NOT understand the apparently universal appeal of that darn weekend in Chicago each year*

And Jennifer, how about you — get up to anything fun? Oh yeah, that’s right, you mentioned last week you were just heading to your kid’s travel tournament. Well I’m sure it was a hot one out there, right? Wow yeah, enjoy being back in the A/C!

Anyway y’all, welcome to our kickoff call for Project W.I.N. 3.0, which I’m happy to say is just a better and more streamlined version of the projects we’ve executed on over the last couple years. Strictly a Q3/Q4 initiative to deliver our results for year-end, we’re really just trying to narrow our focus to What’s Important Now, so we can be sure we’re ending the year on a high note and setting ourselves up for success when we think about our long-range plan here.

Ope, just realized I’m not sharing my screen yet. Aaaaaand I’m doing that now...

*voice trails off, hums over microphone to fill the dreaded silence of everyone watching and waiting for something to appear on-screen*

Alrighty, so can you all see my screen?

*7 seconds of pure crickets before someone finally, mercifully, chimes in and says “yes”*

Okay, great. So, Project W.I.N. — Navy Week Kickoff meeting. Let’s jump into it.

I think most of us were on the last couple iterations of Project W.I.N. and thus shouldn’t need too much of a reminder, but just in case, here’s the typical agenda.

We’ll refresh everyone on what Project W.I.N. is all about, review the prior week’s results and key learnings, and hand out some recognition for top performers (because we really value celebrating all our wins here, both big and small).

Then, we’ll dive into the upcoming week, focusing on our competition, everything you need to know about them from their leadership on down, and then ending with “What’s Important Now” for this week, which will typically be 6 key focus areas to drive sustainable, scalable success for this organization.

Sound like a plan? Awesome.

So really quick, here’s that refresher I talked about. First, what do we mean when we say “WIN”?

Honestly, it’s just a three-word acronym (or four if you don’t want to count a contraction as just one word). Very straightforward, and I know you all are very smart and talented folks — that’s why you’re here, after all — so I won’t waste your time on this slide unless anyone has any questions?


Sweet, so moving on here, I added this slide into the deck really just to refresh everyone on that process for each week — somewhat redundant with the agenda I talked through a minute ago, but I just want to drive home that this is a very data-driven exercise focused on reviewing KPIs and project milestones, assessing competitive intelligence and market data, and then double-clicking on the most important points in order to build our year-to-go (YTG) strategy.

Make sense?

Awesome, I see we have a lively bunch on the call today — haha!

Okay then, let’s start off by looking at what will normally be a summary of the prior week’s results, but for today, considering this is our first meeting, we’re going to review the prior instance of this project to understand what’s happened in the market and with our company since then.

As you can see, plenty of both positive and negative things to discuss — and I won’t talk through each and every bullet here, but just want to call out some key ones.

  • I think I speak for all of us when I say that I am SO FREAKING EXCITED to see Sam Hartman slinging the ball around in a gold helmet. Haven’t been this excited about watching an ND QB since DeShone Kizer.
  • It’s incredible to me that cornerback went from being a position that ND struggled to fill with quality to it being one of the strengths of the team. Mike Mickens RULES
  • Big. Dric. Energy.
  • I love that no one is picking ND to be a playoff team or putting them in the Top 10, for the most part. I’d much rather be an underrated team that surprises folks.
  • I didn’t really fully appreciate what ND lost during this off-season until it was all on paper: Offensive Coordinator, Offensive Line Coach, Strength Coach, Special Teams Coach, QB2, RB1A, plus all the usual attrition of graduation/NFL Draft (including the school’s best-ever tight end and all-time sack leader, y’all). Wow.
  • It stinks how unavailable OSU tickets were this year. I logged into the alumni lottery time I had and there wasn’t even a single ticket for purchase. And I don’t think I can afford to splurge and pay $600 for one ticket, which is just ridiculous and what I’m seeing on secondary market sites right now
  • Under Armour for 10 more years!!!

Alrighty, now that we’ve covered that, I want to show you a new section of the project deck I’ve added in as a replacement for the scorecard we used to use. I don’t think we were getting a great ROI on using that scorecard and it was a very manual process to update, so instead, we will use this portion of the deck to review some very visual charts and graphs to call out key analytical insights year-to-date (YTD) that help really tell a story as to what is going on with our business as Notre Dame football fans.

Sound good? Cool cool cool, let’s jump into that, then — I think this will be a way more useful group of slides with more actionable talking points, but please provide feedback in the comments if you have any changes to make or think it can be done better!

Alright, so with the project just kicking off for the year, I’d like to begin by taking a look at Notre Dame’s most impactful transfer in a LONG time, and potentially ever — quarterback Sam Hartman, formerly of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

NCAA Football: Gasparilla Bowl-Wake Forest at Missouri Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Hartman, as you all know, has been absolutely stuffing the stat sheet in Dave Clawson’s offense in Winston-Salem for the better part of a decade, it feels like. Now, he’s come to South Bend to show he can compete in a more traditional offense and at a higher level of competition while giving Marcus Freeman’s 2023 squad a bonafide CFP-level signal caller.

So, just to level-set expectations, I wanted to quickly show a couple slides I made to convey how strong of a career Hartman has already had even before he takes his first official snap in an Irish uniform. Thus, I’ve taken a bunch of his career stats at Wake Forest and have stacked them up against the career stats of every Irish QB who’s started a significant amount of time at ND since the new millennium began. Take a look at this first one.

A lot of these aren’t groundbreaking or too new of information, but I think it’s exciting to compare Hartman to all these names from the last 23 years and realize this could be the best QB the Irish have had under center since the ‘90s, considering where he ranks in career stats compared to guys like Brady Quinn, Jimmy Clausen, Ian Book, and DeShone Kizer.

Yeah, most of these guys didn’t get a free COVID year, but still the fact Hartman already has the most passing yards and passing touchdowns of any of these guys, with one season still to play, is remarkable. Add in that he is 2nd in pass yards per attempt and in passing touchdowns per attempt, with an insane amount of attempts to his name, and it’s super impressive.

Furthermore, here’s just one other view to show his greatness further. Only Brady Quinn is at his level in terms of career passing attempts, and yet Hartman’s got a lower interceptions-per-pass attempt than DeShone Kizer and just barely more than Quinn and Clausen and Everett Golson — for how much he’s thrown the ball, he actually does an awesome job not turning it over. Not like Ian Book or Jack Coan in that regard, but I think we can all agree that Sam’s got a bit more going on in his passing skillset than they did.

Also, I wanted to toss up a couple quick graphs showing career interceptions and interception return touchdowns for ND DBs since 2000.

Benjamin Morrison, as you all know, snagged himself 6 INTs last year and returned one for a TD against Clemson, which was electric.

Look in the chart above as to where he already ranks in career picks — he’s already tied for 13th after just one season. Plus, I took the liberty of using his current rate — 6 picks per year — to estimate his career total, which would be 18, making him not only the top guy in the last 25 years, but the best of all-time for ND, considering Luther Bradley currently holds the record at 17.

Yeah, realistically, opposing QBs will have learned after the first season and will avoid B-Mo, meaning his opportunities for picks will go down. But to that I have two arguments:

  1. Stop being so lame and let’s enjoy this fun hypothetical where QBs keep going after Morrison, it’s awesome.
  2. Cam Hart could force QBs to have to at least occasionally throw it Morrison’s way, which could still mean several INTs for the sophomore in 2023.

The same exercise can be done with Morrison’s career interception return touchdowns.

He’s already managed to secure one in just his first season with the Irish, so if he can do that twice more in 2023 and 2024, he will finish tied with Shane Walton for tops in that stat since this century began. That’s pretty awesome company, y’all — Shane Walton is a GOD in my eyes.

Okay, final little chart/graph — Joe Alt has allowed just 3 sacks in his 2 years playing for the Irish (all 3 came in 2021 as a true frosh, by the way). So, let’s compare that sacks allowed number to some other random numbers, just to understand scale here.

Can’t decide if Joe having allowed 50 fewer sacks than the rest of the OL in 2021 and 2022 is horrifying or hilarious or fun or all of the above, but this dude is just DIFFERENT and we need to cherish this final year we have watching him in South Bend before he goes off to make some poor, unprotected NFL QB very happy for the next decade-plus.

Okay y’all, let’s take a moment, as we start this project for 2023, to set the tone for celebrating our victories by passing out some recognition for accomplishments made by team members since our last project ended...a slide of outstanding “off-season” team members, if you will.

I won’t read all this off to you, as I think it’s pretty evident why this group is being recognized — so let’s just all give a round of applause to Sam, Cam, Joe, J.D., Audric, Jayden, Chris, Benjamin, Jaden, Rico, Jordan, and Gabriel — truly outstanding work this off-season, and we can’t wait to see what you accomplish next! Please check your inboxes after the call for a Dunkin gift card, on us!

Now it’s time to turn to the first big deliverable we have on our plate for this project — beating the Navy Midshipmen in the international market, specifically in Ireland, a country where we have way more of a “right to win” than our competition.

Just for reference, here’s our project timeline so you understand where we currently are...

Now, before we can talk about how to beat them, we first need to review the competitive intelligence we’ve gathered on Navy heading into this “battle” overseas.

To start, here’s a quick overview just to provide you all with a baseline of knowledge on who they are, their leadership and history, etc.

I’ll let you review this offline in your free time, but a few key call-outs from my side:

  • Navy has a new CEO running the whole operation, Brian Newberry. He was the former CEO’s right-hand man and one of the sole bright spots in the last few years for Navy, considering their tough declines since their very strong 2019 earnings. Hence, why their Board decided to tap him to succeed Ken Niumatalolo on his way out of the company. Get to know Newberry and his areas of expertise and experience, as that will inform how we expect his organization to attack our Irish.
  • I discovered, in my tedious Wikipedia research, that most of our competition has an official “motto” listed, and many of them are very funny/meaningless. So, it is with absolute delight that Navy’s is “From Knowledge, Seapower” which is just incredibly on-brand and hilarious and not at all what I was expecting. Love it, and what a great start to including this new tidbit of competitive intelligence in our reports going forward!
  • Navy’s most famous alumni are obviously largely comprised of famous military and political leaders, but there are also some fun ones there too. My favorites include:

1. The founder of Target

2. Montel Williams, whose name I constantly get mixed up in my head with Montell Jordan, leading me to want to embed this tweet despite its irrelevance:

3. Ross Perot, known in my household for being a classic All That parody character

4. Slade D. Cutter, who’s got an incredible name and apparently was really awesome at sinking Japanese battleships

  • The Midshipmen have never beaten Ball State, CHIRP CHIRP BAYBEEEEE

Okay, now let’s dive a bit deeper and really start looking at the most important company metrics for Navy — that is to say, let’s scour their football roster for the 2023 season to find the most incredible names they have to offer.

And BOY do they deliver. Check this out.

I think some of these names were not on the roster I checked when I did my annual off-season review of ND’s competitors’ best names, so there are some fun surprises here.

I cannot get over the fact that the Naval Academy has a guy named “Justice Rider” because that’s a pretty incredible name for someone serving in the military and might end up riding on boats, or in a fighter jet or something. But then add in other absolute BANGERS of names like Fabian France, Kush’i Abraham, Daba Fofana, Tedros Gleaton, Johnny Wise, Job Grant, and Chreign LaFond, and it’s just an incredible roster. The fact a name like Brady Wine or Peter Roll is pushed to somewhere in the 25-36 range just speaks volumes to the depth Navy has at Names this season. Hot damn.

Long story short, military recruitment may be struggling a bit these days, but the quality of names they’re reeling into the Naval Academy, at least, gives me hope that the U.S. will continue to be a major superpower with names like that leading the charge.

Okay, since we’re getting a little pressed for time, I’m going to try to fly through the next slide as quickly as I can — let’s cover some key competitive insights to know about this Navy team, looking at their performance last year, how much talent and experience they’ve been able to retain in their organization, and what the preseason projections are for them on offense and defense in Brian Newberry’s first H2 at the helm.

Again, I won’t be reading all of this off to you guys — but here are some quick-hitting facts for ya so you’ve got a good understanding of what the Irish will be up against come Saturday afternoon (or evening, if you’re going to Ireland).

The Midshipmen are returning a ton of experience and production from last season — Bill Connelly did his best to rank teams by returning production back in February, and although the numbers might have changed slightly with transfers for a lot of teams, I would bet Navy’s was less affected, so their spot as 17th in the country with 75% of their 2022 production returning is probably pretty accurate.*

*Note: for reference, ND was 44th in those rankings, returning 68% of production overall (65% on offense and 72% on defense).

Unfortunately for the Middies, they were also absolutely awful in 2022. Navy finished 4-8 and ranked 89th in the final SP+ ratings, sitting at 107th in offense, 41st in defense, and 116th in special teams. Their preseason SP+ rank has only declined, as well, with Connelly ranking them 97th entering this year (115th offense, 72nd defense). The Irish are 15th (25th offense, 15th defense).

Really, it’s all about the fact Navy was really bad last season in Ken Niumatalolo’s final ride, and then lost a couple really key guys, namely on defense. They lost their leading tackler and a helluva pass rusher in John Marshall (96 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 7 PD, 2 FF in 2022), a versatile LB in Nicholas Straw (55 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 12 PD, 1 INT), DE Eavan Gibbons (53 tackles, 1 sack, 2 FF, 1 FR), and LB Tyler Fletcher (4 sacks, 2 PD, 1 INT). Those losses hurt what was the only functional unit on the Midshipmen squad last year, but they do still return some solid players.

That list begins with LB Colin Ramos, who was 2nd on the team in tackles in 2022 with 79, while also adding 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and an intereption. He’ll get help at linebacker from Jianni Woodson-Brooks (42 tackles, 1 PD, 1 FR) and Will Harbour (30 tackles, 1.5 sacks).

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Navy Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

On the defensive line, DE Jacob Busic may be the most important returnee with John Marshall gone, as he managed 6 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery to go along with 39 total tackles. He will need to be the driver of any sort of pass rush for the Midshipmen, along with Ramos, Harbour, and DT Clay Cromwell (29 tackles, 1.5 sacks). NT Donald Berniard Jr. will provide some help at the point of attack as well.

Meanwhile, the two names to know in the Navy secondary are S Rayuan Lane III (71 tackles, 4 PD, 1 sack, 2 FF, 2 FR) and CB Mbiti Williams Jr. (42 tackles, 5 Pd, 1 INT, 1 FR, 0.5 sacks). Both are capable athletes who can make some plays and help in run support when needed.

Offensively, Navy does return their primary QB from 2022 in Tai Lavatai (309 yards and 5 TDs on the ground, averaging 2.7 YPC; 787 passing yards on 46% completion for 5 TDs and 3 INTs), who is expected to share QB duties with Blake Horvath. The Midshipmen also bring back their leading rusher from 2022, FB Daba Fofana, who ran for 769 yards and 6 touchdowns while averaging a respectable 4.1 yards per carry.

NCAA Football: Navy at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Add in RB Anton Hall Jr. (390 yards, 3 TDs, 4.4 YPC) and they have some experienced ball carriers who can do some damage this year if given the opportunity. In fact, for how bad Navy was last year and is expected to be this year, they still managed to give the Irish a helluva scare last season (falling 35-32 after trailing 35-13 at the half), and thus could do so again if ND doesn’t come to Ireland fully focused.

Daba Fofana ran for 133 yards (8.9 YPC) and a touchdown on just 15 carries in that November 2022 matchup, and Navy somehow passed for two touchdowns on the Irish. Even wilder was what Navy did to ND’s offense — Brian Newberry’s defense held the Irish scoreless in the second half, sacked Drew Pyne 5 times (3 of those coming from guys still on the team this year) and picked him off once, and limited that vaunted Irish running game to 66 yards on 34 carries, i.e. 1.9 YPC.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Navy Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, that stat includes sack yardage, but even taking sacks out, ND ran for just 82 yards on 24 carries, which was just 3.4 YPC on the day against a team they should be able to physically dominate.

So, don’t be surprised if Newberry once again brings lots of heat at the ND QB, plays some keep-away on offense, and tries to finish what they couldn’t in the final minute of that game last year. Of course, Sam Hartman is just a tad more dangerous to throw the kitchen sink at with the blitz, so hopefully the Irish struggle less on Saturday. But it’s definitely something that will give us all anxiety until the game is in-hand/done, no doubt.

Aaaand with all that said, I think we’ve got a great idea of who these guys are and what they’re good at, not good at, etc. So, the next (and really final) question here is What’s Important Now in order for us as a project team to beat the competition here and hold our #1 market share claim in the Irish market?

I’m glad I asked. Here’s what we’ve got.

There are 6 key things I think are most important as we approach this first major test/milestone in our project plan. Here they are at a glance — let me know if you’d like to connect offline to discuss them in more detail:

1. ND has gotta establish their physical dominance over a smaller, less athletic team from the first whistle. You have two NFL tackles, a 5th-year center, promising guard talent (even if unproven), and a stable of great running backs (not to mention a more credible passing threat to keep defenses honest). Bulldoze these suckers and coast to an easy victory in Ireland.

2. With that said, the wide receivers are largely question marks and you’ve got Sam Hartman now. Use him at least a bit, if only to see what you’ve got and see who steps up to make some plays. Plus, the play-action will be there all day once Estime starts trucking folks.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

3. Navy, obviously, runs the triple option — it’s not complicated or super variable, so the key is just playing disciplined defense and tackling ball carriers. If everyone does their job, this shouldn’t be too difficult, and hopefully that will also allow the Irish to get some reserves in for some reps before the game is done.

4. Play flawless special teams. It may not always be a lever to pull in actively winning a game like it was with Brian Mason, but this is the type of opponent where things can go sideways if a kickoff or punt or field goal goes awry. Play that portion of the game cleanly and make Navy beat you straight-up.

5. Navy doesn’t pass much, but when they do it should be a major opportunity for a turnover — either an INT or some sort of sack-fumble situation. Set the tone for the year by forcing a few turnovers in game 1, instead of waiting half the year like we saw the Irish do in 2022.

6. Crush them. I’m so tired of watching the Irish struggle with such an inferior team. Run them out of Ireland like you’re St. Patrick and they’re the snakes, just like the last time ND played Navy in Ireland. This absolutely has no reason it needs to be close.

Hoo boy, that was a lot. And I know we’re basically right at time, but does anyone have any questions?

*the same silence I’ve gotten from the group all call*

Cool, well as always, I will be sending out a link to this deck to everyone to download and review at their leisure, and let me know if anything else comes up between now and next Monday when we meet again.

I hope you all have an excellent week, thank you all for joining our kickoff call, and look forward to another successful Project W.I.N. with you all!

*Clicks “End Call”*

Okay, great. Now what the hell do I do between now and Saturday? Because it sure as hell isn’t “work diligently at my job,” y’all.

Woof, this is gonna be a long 5 days.