Early football preview and predictions: Navy
Observer Sports Staff | Monday, March 23, 2020
Given the recent circumstances that have led the sports world to put all events on hold, The Observer Sports department has been put in a bit of a predicament. That said, what better crutch to lean on than Notre Dame football?
We will be doing two previews per week of Notre Dame’s 12 regular season games with predictions from our staff for how the matchups will turn out. Without further ado, let’s get started.
Date: Aug. 29
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Kickoff: 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, 6 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time
To open the 2020 football season, Notre Dame and Navy are set to continue the longest-running intersectional rivalry in collegiate sports with a special matchup in Dublin, Ireland. ESPN’s College Gameday will be in attendance as the Midshipmen look to get revenge on the Irish for a 52-20 loss they suffered late in the 2019 season.
History of the Matchup
In their last meeting, Notre Dame ran, or rather threw, Navy off the field behind four touchdowns from senior receiver Chase Claypool and four fumbles by the Midshipmen, including three by star quarterback Malcolm Perry.
This will be the 94th all-time meeting between the two teams, with the Irish holding a 77-13-1 advantage. Forty-three straight victories for the Irish from 1964-2006 is an NCAA record for consecutive wins over a single team.
The rivalry between these two teams has never taken place in Navy’s home stadium in Annapolis, Maryland. Whenever the series shifts to Navy’s year, they opt to play near a naval base, hence the exotic location of this matchup.
The Irish and Midshipmen have faced off in Dublin twice before, with Notre Dame winning 54-27 in 1996 and 50-10 in 2012.
The Midshipmen went 11-2 last season with their only losses coming against Notre Dame and Memphis. They also won the annual Army-Navy game 31-7 over the Black Knights.
Navy was far and away the best rushing team in the country last season. Their triple option attack averaged 360.7 yards per game on the ground behind the play of Perry, who rushed for 2,017 total yards and 21 touchdowns. Then sophomore fullback Jamale Carothers and junior fullback Nelson Smith followed with 734 yards for 14 touchdowns and 571 yards for seven touchdowns, respectively.
Perry also completed 48-86 passes on the year (55.8%) for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns. Behind Perry, junior slotback C.J. Williams was the most successful passer going 3-4 for 90 yards and a touchdown. Freshman Perry Olsen was the only other quarterback to see the field last season and went 2-8 for 45 yards, with one of his completions resulting in a touchdown and one of his incompletions resulting in an interception.
(Way Too Early) Predictions
Hayden Adams — Sports Editor
Then-senior quarterback Ian Book went 14-20 for 284 yards and five touchdowns against the Midshipmen in early November last season. Half of those completions were to then senior wide receiver Chase Claypool, with four of those winding up as touchdowns. Two more were to then-sophomore receiver Braden Lenzy, with one being a 70-yard touchdown bomb.
All this to say that it was easy pickings for Book against the overmatched Navy pass defense, but with Claypool gone, this game provides an excellent opportunity for an Irish receiving corps that is deep but largely unproven to share a lot of reps. Likewise, the unproven stable of running backs should produce at least one person who rushes for more than Book’s team-leading 31 yards against the Midshipmen last season. Also, senior defensive ends Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem and Jamir Jones, of whom the latter two caused and recovered separate fumbles, respectively, have departed, but incoming junior Daelin Hayes and incoming graduate student Adetokunbo Ogundeji should fill in nicely at the position.
With the cancellation of spring practices due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it hurts the Irish that they don’t have extra time to develop chemistry. However, assuming fall camp takes place as planned, it should be enough to produce a coherent offense that takes advantage of the talent disparity between these two teams.
FINAL: Notre Dame 52, Navy 27
Ellen Geyer — Sports Writer
Insert here my annual rant about the triple option. Notre Dame always has to prepare differently for the Navy offense given its unique nature, but the silver lining is that this season it appears at the beginning of the year — yes, for the love of all things, let’s get it over with early. On the flip side, I don’t think we’ll really see what the Irish are capable of in this game, given how much they’ll have to adapt to the Midshipmen’s approach.
This game will be fascinating, though. Both Notre Dame and Navy have lost spring practice, but the players on both sides face the same choice — what will they do with their time while away from campus? If guys like Ian Book and incoming junior running back Jafar Armstrong use the time to get better, the Midshipmen are in for a tough matchup. If the Irish are lazy, this game could be a rude awakening. Navy was no joke last year, ending the season with an 11-2 record and a bowl game win over Kansas State. It is worth noting, however, that the last time Notre Dame and Navy met in Ireland, the Irish went on to have that unforgettable 2012 undefeated regular season (but let’s not talk about what came after those 12 wins).
Book has his hands full in that he needs to totally restructure his offense. Without Tony Jones Jr., Chase Claypool, Chris Finke and Cole Kmet, the top Irish rusher and top three Irish receivers are all gone. That means guys who are used to being role players — Jafar Armstrong, Javon McKinley, incoming sophomore Branden Lenzy — are all going to have to step up in a big way. The departure of incoming junior Phil Jurkovec further instills that Book has to be the guy to get it done. There are certainly concerns on the other side of the ball as well with the obvious losses on the line and in the secondary with Khalid Kareem, Julian Okwara, Troy Pride Jr. and Alohi Gilman all departing. Luckily for the Irish, guys like incoming seniors Drew White and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah are returning — and don’t forget about the flashes of brilliance we saw from Kyle Hamilton either. It could take a few minutes to shake the rust off at the beginning of the game, but I think Notre Dame will be able to get its wheels turning it time to take this matchup fairly comfortably. And obviously Navy has to replace Malcolm Perry, which will be no small task.
FINAL: Notre Dame 49, Navy 28
Aidan Thomas — Sports Writer
Death, taxes and Notre Dame winning unconvincingly. This past year, the Irish got off to a slow start against Louisville in their first matchup of the season. The year before that, the Irish won by just one possession over Ball State and Vanderbilt. Taking into account the high expectations at the start of the season, international travel and a generally tough Navy squad, I definitely see this one being a tight contest, as new offensive coordinator Tom Rees works to get assimilated with his new offensive weapons. The defense should be elite as usual, however, and that’s enough for Notre Dame to survive the early-season test.
Final: Notre Dame 23, Navy 20
Nate Moller — Sports Writer
Opening up the season against the triple option scares me a lot. I am very worried that the Irish defense will come out flat and allow the Midshipmen to open up an early lead, which is something that you can not afford to do against a triple option attack. There are definitely some question marks on the defensive side of the ball that will need to be addressed. Unfortunately, with the cancellation of spring practice there is a lot of uncertainty on who might be able to step up. Thankfully the Irish have two solid linebackers in incoming seniors Drew White and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, but someone will need to step up and take Asmar Bilal’s place. There are also multiple secondary and defensive line positions that need to be filled.