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Way-Too-Early Preview: Irish look to stay dominant against Navy

| Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Notre Dame-Navy rivalry is one of the best in sports, in part because of the great respect that both sides show to each other. Here’s our Way-Too-Early Preview for the 2021 Navy game.

Opponent: Navy Midshipmen

Date: November 6

Time: TBD

Location: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Indiana

History of the Matchup

The Irish first played the Midshipmen in 1927, and up until last year, it had been played every year since. Before last year’s hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the rivalry was the longest uninterrupted intersectional series in college football, as the Notre Dame-USC series was interrupted because of World War II.

One of the reasons this rivalry is so unique is the respect that both teams have for each other. After Pearl Harbor and in the midst of World War II, Notre Dame was struggling financially, but the Navy stepped in to help out the University by creating a training center on campus to keep the University afloat. From that point on, Notre Dame has promised Navy a spot on their schedule every year that they want to play the Irish. 

Another unique aspect of this rivalry began in 2005, with each team standing at the other’s goal post and singing each team’s alma mater, win or lose. This rivalry as a whole embodies the power of college football and coming together in the midst of competition.

In the all-time series, the Irish have dominated the Midshipmen, with the Irish holding a 77-13-1 advantage in the series. In the first ever game of the series in 1927, the Irish won by a score of 19-6. The Irish would remain undefeated in the series until 1933, when the Midshipmen won by a score of 7-0.

Notre Dame’s dominance in the series is evidenced by their run from 1964-2006 where they beat the Midshipmen an unprecedented 43 times in a row. In 2007, the Midshipmen finally broke that streak, beating the Irish 46-44 in a triple overtime game for the ages. Although the Irish won in 2008, the Midshipmen were able to string together victories in 2009 and 2010. The 2010 victory came in Brian Kelly’s first year as Notre Dame head coach by a score of 35-17.

Although the Midshipmen found some success against the Irish in those years, Notre Dame has asserted their dominance as of late, winning eight out of the last nine games. The only loss in that stretch occurred in 2016, where the Irish finished 4-8. The Irish’s most recent victory in 2019 was a statement win, as the Irish beat the 23rd-ranked Midshipmen by a score of 52-20.

2020 Performance

The 2020 season was a big regression for a Navy team that won 11 games just a year earlier in 2019. It was apparent from the opening game of the season that the Midshipmen were going to struggle mightily on the year, as they were blown out by BYU by a score of 55-3 in Annapolis in the opener. While the Midshipmen managed to win three out of their next four games to bring their record to 3-2, they lost their last five games of the year to finish the season 3-7. Their last game of the season was a 15-0 loss to Army.

On the year, the Midshipmen were outscored by their opponents 303-166. They were also out-gained by their opponents in yardage by a difference of 3855-2750. The Midshipmen usually pride themselves on dominating the time of possession with their triple option offense, but that was a struggle for them in 2020 as well, as they had roughly equal time of possessions as their opponents. Kicking was also a big issue for Navy, as they made just six out of ten of the field goals they attempted and missed two extra points on the year as well.

The Midshipmen struggled mightily in the run game in 2020, making their triple option offense ineffective all season. The Midshipmen only averaged 178 rushing yards per game on the year, and the offense averaged only 16.6 points per game, which was good for the fourth worst team in the country in total offense.

Leading the way for the Midshipmen on the ground was Nelson Smith, who had 645 net rushing yards off of 128 attempts. Fullback Jamale Carothers was second in rushing behind Smith with 358 net rushing yards. The Midshipmen also had a slew of other rushers with around 100 yards in their triple option attack.

The quarterback position was handled primarily by Dalen Morris and Tyger Goslin. With the triple option attack, neither quarterback needed to pass the ball much, but Morris was the primary throwing quarterback for the Midshipmen, as he recorded 579 passing yards and three passing touchdowns off of 33 completions. Goslin passed for 333 yards and three touchdowns off of 15 completions.

The defense for the Midshipmen was also a serious issue for the Midshipmen in 2020, as they gave up 37 points or more in four of their ten games. Towards the end of the year, it appeared that the Midshipmen figured something out on defense, holding their opponents to under 20 points in the final three games despite losing all of those games.

2021 Outlook

Including last season, the Midshipmen have only had three losing records during current head coach Ken Niumatalolo’s 13 years with the program. The two other times the team had a losing record, the team was able to turn it around the following year and put together a winning record. In fact, after an abysmal 3-10 record in 2018, Niumatalolo righted the ship in 2019 to lead the Midshipmen to an 11-2 record.

While last year was definitely a disaster, Navy still has the right pieces at the coaching positions to get their triple option attack back on track and be competitive. Although the Midshipmen will lose lead tailback Nelson Smith in 2021, they will likely turn to Jamale Carothers and the other plethora of tailbacks that are capable of fitting into the triple option attack. 

At the quarterback position, Goslin will likely be the starter for the Midshipmen. While his improvement will definitely be important, the improvement of the offensive line will be vital to the Midshipmen’s success in 2021. If Navy can run the football effectively in their triple option attack, avoid third and long situations, and eat up a majority of the game clock, the Midshipmen should find themselves being competitive in almost every game. If the triple option attack improves, this should significantly help the defense as well by virtue of keeping them off the field at the very least.

Before playing the Irish, the Midshipmen will play Marshall, Air Force, Houston, UCF, SMU, Memphis, Cincinnati and Tulsa. While none of these matchups will be sure wins for Navy, they should be competitive in the majority of these games. The Midshipmen will likely be big underdogs, however, against Cincinnati, who is likely to be a top ten team in the country. The matchups against UCF and Tulsa could be challenging too, as both of these teams have had success in recent years.

The Irish will be coming off of likely their hardest stretch of the season where they play Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, USC and UNC in a grueling five-game stretch. The Irish should be heavily favored against Navy in 2021, assuming things play out as planned in 2021.

(Way-Too-Early) Predictions

Nate Moller — Sports Writer

The Irish should have no problem with a Navy team that struggled mightily in the 2020 season, but it seems like Navy is usually able to challenge the Irish and stay in the game even if they are big underdogs. I expect the Midshipmen to hang around through the first half in this one, as the Irish initially struggle to contain the triple offense attack. Despite struggling at first, the offense will fire on all cylinders in the second half, and the defense will do enough to give the Irish a much-needed victory after falling to UNC a week earlier.

Final: Notre Dame 27, Navy 17

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