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Navy hopes to continue destination game luck against Irish

| Friday, October 26, 2018

This weekend marks a meeting of one of the most storied series in the NCAA as Notre Dame and Navy will take the field for the 92nd-consecutive time Saturday, this time in San Diego.

The No. 3 Irish (7-0) hold a 75-13-1 lead in the series over the Midshipmen (2-5, 1-3 AAC) and defeated them at home last season on Senior Day. However, the Midshipmen were able to grab a victory the last time the two teams were on the road, when they played in Jacksonville, Florida, in 2016.

With Notre Dame heavily immersed the College Football Playoff picture at the moment, Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo knows that taking down the squad at a neutral site will be a tough task. But he also feels the Midshipmen have been on the up and up in the last few weeks and hopes they will be up to the challenge.

Emma Farnan | The Observer
Irish junior receiver Chase Claypool makes a diving catch in front of his Pittsburgh defender during Notre Dame’s 19-14 win over the Panthers on Oct. 13 at Notre Dame Stadium.

“Well obviously, you always want to win, but I’ve just felt like we’ve played well against two really good team,” Niumatalolo said after practice Wednesday. “Obviously, this isn’t horseshoes so close doesn’t matter, but I thought we played well and did some stuff that gave us a chance to win against Temple and I thought the same thing last week against two really good teams with Houston and then Temple. So, I’m encouraged that our guys are continuing to battle and we’re not into horseshoes and getting things close.”

The Midshipmen are coming off back-to-back close losses to Temple on Oct. 13 and Houston last weekend, but the simple fact of his players being students at the Naval Academy has helped to prepare to rebound from tough losses, Niumatalolo said.

“I love what we’ve seen his week. We’ve got resilient kids,” he said. “We’ve got tough kids that go through a lot and I believe that we’ll bounce back and be ready to go.”

The Midshipmen boast a unique triple-option offense and employ three quarterbacks, two of whom they have play nearly interchangeably this season in senior Garet Lewis and junior Malcolm Perry. Senior Zach Abey has battled injury, but is also expected to be healthy going into the weekend’s matchup. The three quarterbacks all boast efficiency ratings of well over 100, while Perry is also the squad’s leading rusher with 729 yards on the season, averaging 104.1 yards per game.

Navy’s approach to the game will not stray from its typical gameplan, which is cause for concern for Notre Dame and Irish head coach Brian Kelly, and the Midshipmen are masters of controlling the clock and minimizing their opponents’ possessions.

“Our formula is like that [run the clock as much as possible] every week. Not just Notre Dame, we try to do that every week,” Niumatalolo said. “Possess the football, limit possessions. We’ll hopefully score. That’s always been how we try to win and hopefully it works.”

Navy defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson is particularly concerned about going up against Notre Dame’s offensive line, which he noted is made up of future NFL players, year in and year out.

“We just have to match fundamentals with fundamentals. We can’t take lazy steps,” Pehrson said. “We’ve got to keep our pads down. Got to get the linebackers there to get the linemen off of our linemen as quick as we can. We just have to match fundamentally what they did.”

The Midshipmen are well-aware of the unique position they are in to take down one of the top teams in the nation, turn heads across the country and completely disrupt the playoff picture, but Niumatalolo warned against aiming too high, as he would prefer to not be on the receiving end of the complete opposite result either.

“We’ve just got to play better. It’s a great opportunity, but we don’t want to go there and get blown out either,” he said. “We haven’t been playing very well this year and our goal is just to play Navy football, just to give ourselves a chance and see what happens.”

For Kelly, however, the Navy matchup is one that is slightly fear-inducing. Despite the fact that the Irish are coming off a bye week, Kelly cautioned that a team can never feel fully prepared to play the Midshipmen.

“From a defensive standpoint, that attention to detail and everything that you do is at a premium,” he said Tuesday. “We could use two more bye weeks to prepare for Navy in terms of what they present to you.”

The Notre Dame–Navy rivalry is one of the longest-running rivalries in college football history, as the two programs are both respected nationwide. Niumatalolo said he is expecting this high-profile game to bring out the best in his players.

“I hope it brings out the best. They’re a really good team, obviously. A storied program, the tradition of that school,” he said. “It’s a great honor for us to play them. It’s always hard to beat them and they’re really, really good this year. We’ll see what happens.”

Niumatalolo also said he is excited to get out to the West Coast because of the Naval presence in the San Diego region, and joked that it will help the Midshipmen grab a win from the undefeated Irish.

“We’ve played there several times. … It’s always cool to have naval personnel there. We’re going to need everybody though,” he said. “We might need to go to Coronado and get a couple Seals, get a couple tanks, get a couple aircraft carriers. We need some pilots. They’re a really good team. But it’s always good to have naval personnel there. And a lot of our former players are there.”

Kelly reinforced that the most important thing that comes out of the weekend is the continued brotherhood between Notre Dame and Navy.

“They play extremely well against us. We’ll have to be at our best playing a complete football team that plays hard for four quarters,” he said.

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About Elizabeth Greason

Elizabeth is a senior studying civil engineering from New York, NY (yes, the actual city). She is a proud resident assistant in McGlinn Hall and is a die-hard Mets and Giants fan. She is currently serving as assistant managing editor of The Observer and she also has an obsession with golf that is bordering on unhealthy.

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