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Post-Spring Update: Navy

Jun 17, 2014, 11:37 AM EDT

Keenan Reynolds Raynard Felton Keenan Reynolds Raynard Felton

In a traditional rivalry that’s been far more spirited than Notre Dame fans would like lately, the Naval Academy and the Irish meet once again in 2014, playing in the nation’s capital at FedEx Field. After pushing the Irish to the max last year in Notre Dame Stadium, Ken Niumatalolo’s squad will be looking to avenge a tough loss.

Doing so won’t be outside the realm of possibility. The Midshipmen have veteran depth on both sides of the ball. They also have quarterback Keenan Reynolds, a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate. Reynolds was impressive in South Bend, the start of a statistical tear that turned him into one of college football’s most prolific scorers.

To get us up to speed on how spring practice went for the Midshipmen, and just how dangerous they might be next year (the answer: very), is Bill Wagner of the Capital Gazette.


After a down 2012, Navy is coming off a 9-4 season that ended with another Commander-In-Chief Trophy and a victory in the Armed Forces Bowl. It might be too early to tell, but heading out of spring, does this feel like one of Ken Niumatalolo’s better teams?

Yes, Navy should be very solid this season as there are a slew of returning letterman on both sides of the ball. Navy is stacked on offense with four of five starting offensive lineman back along with numerous skill position players. Obviously, having a third-year starting quarterback who is a big-time playmaker is a great start. Navy returns its top three fullbacks, all of whom earned starts in 2013. Navy also has a slew of quality slotbacks led by Geoffrey Whiteside, DeBrandon Sanders and Demond Brown. Navy graduated both starting wide receivers, but the coaching staff is very high on sophomore Jamir Tillman (6-2, 205), the son of former NFL wide receiver Cedric Tillman and winner of the Admiral Mack Award as Most Improved Player during spring camp.

Defensively, Navy returns an outstanding nose guard in Bernie Sarra and a very good defensive end in Paul Quessenberry. Safety Parrish Gaines and cornerback Brendon Clement lead a secondary with experienced players at every position. Lone question marks come at inside linebacker as Navy graduated both starters and its top two leading tacklers in Cody Peterson and D.J. Sargenti. There was enough concern about the potential replacements that Jordan Drake, who started every game last season at outside linebacker, was shifted inside toward the end of spring drills. Punter Pablo Beltran and placekicker Nick Sloan also return. Navy should have no trouble securing the six wins necessary to qualify for the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego.


Junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds gave Notre Dame all it could handle last year in South Bend, kicking off a near-historic month of football that had him racking up insane stat-lines down the stretch. Is it fair to call him a Heisman contender? Just how good can Reynolds be?

Reynolds is going to graduate as the most accomplished quarterback in Navy history behind Roger Staubach. He is already on the verge of breaking several school records. Reynolds just keeps getting better and better and the sky is the limit. He is an outstanding runner and a very solid passer. He is smart, a great leader and outstanding at reading defenses and making decisions in the option game. Having a QB of that caliber is huge in Navy’s system and almost guarantees good offensive production.


Navy’s option attack will always be difficult to stop, but with seven starters returning, how does Buddy Green’s defense look?

See first response. There are plenty of proven performers along the defensive line and in the secondary. Question marks come at inside linebacker as those two players make the majority of tackles in Navy’s 3-4 alignment.


The season starts off against Ohio State and Urban Meyer. After coming close to springing the upset a few years ago, is that a game circled on the calendar?

Obviously, getting Ohio State on a near home field in Baltimore is a coup for Navy and a major upset is slightly possible, although likely improbable. Navy almost beat Ohio State on its home field a few years ago so that provides some hope. Obviously, the fact it is the opener for both teams is good for Navy as Ohio State may not be clicking on all cylinders. Of course, the Midshipmen need to hope the Buckeyes struggle against the triple-option.


Notre Dame has committed to keeping Navy as part of its annual schedule. How will the Midshipmen’s schedule transform after it enters the AAC?

Navy must play eight American Athletic Conference games, which leaves four open dates. Three of those are locked in stone – Air Force, Army and Notre Dame. So basically, Navy has one open date and will no doubt schedule a very beatable opponent. Navy will NEVER stop playing Notre Dame.


Special thanks to Bill for taking the time out of his schedule to answer these. Find more of his coverage of the Naval Academy at the Capital Gazette’s Navy Sports blog or on Twitter @BWagner_CapGaz.

  1. domer77blowsgoats - Jun 17, 2014 at 1:07 PM

    Boy am I relieved with all the recent defensive recruiting wins as we continue to build our depth to beat NAVY!!!

    • bernhtp - Jun 17, 2014 at 1:28 PM

      You’re making us almost regret asking for posts that don’t include references to Nude.

  2. irishwilliamsport - Jun 17, 2014 at 1:34 PM

    I’m fairly certain our “scheme” will be different this year for Navy and we won’t be at such a disadvantage from a schematic standpoint.

  3. sjb198 - Jun 17, 2014 at 1:38 PM

    I watched the Army-Navy game last year and could not believe that Navy couldn’t move the ball against Army’s puny defense until the second half. Really had me questioning Diaco’s scheme.

    • johngaltisspeaking - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:41 PM

      Diaco was called out against Alabama. All last year every team just picked us apart. I am one to be happy with Diacos Departure.

  4. johngaltisspeaking - Jun 17, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    I am hearing that Mike Heuerman is transferring. It seems that we take two steps forward and 3 back. When you look at all of these transfers and Arrests our Recruiting ranking is way over estimated.

    • iamgolden4life - Jun 17, 2014 at 2:59 PM

      Why don’t you go back over to the big 10 board you troll.

      • irishwilliamsport - Jun 18, 2014 at 1:52 PM


        Do you have any more recruiting news ? You seem to be dialed in to things.

    • goirishgo - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:48 PM

      It happens everywhere. ND is no different than any other school when it comes to transfers and players getting in trouble.

  5. mediocrebob - Jun 17, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    If Heuerman is leaving, it’s likely because he’s buried in the depth chart that is TE University. He probably doesn’t see much playing time and looks at a place like OSU where he could likely walk in and contribute.

  6. onward2victory - Jun 17, 2014 at 3:17 PM

    Schematically, I don’t see how you stop Navy’s offense, especially with a QB that can pass. They are happy to cut block your line and pick up 3-4 yards up the middle all day long. If you load the box to stop that, they option to the outside. If you bring the corners up to stop the option, they pass. It’s not easy. Go Navy, beat OSU.

    • johngaltisspeaking - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:04 PM

      If we can’t stop Navy Notre Dame has no hope whatsoever. The other thing I find so funny is if Notre Dame cant beat their style offense why aren’t we running the navy triple option. I really don’t understand why more teams don’t run this type of offense.

  7. irishwilliamsport - Jun 17, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    Come on, Western Kentucky beat them 19 – 7, Kentucky held them to 7 points, and we give up 34 last year. Van Gorder knows what he’s doing and will scheme correctly.

    • johngaltisspeaking - Jun 17, 2014 at 9:44 PM

      onward2victory is a pie in the sky fan. He is so far removed from reality. If you watch football every saturday from early in the morning with those fools on ESPN to the late night Hawaii game you will see that college football has radically changed and Academic Schools will struggle against the SEC Powerhouse. There is no doubt about it. Notre Dames Glory days are well behind them. Who knows they might win a big bowl game some day but as far as a NC you can bet from here on out it will be SEC VS X. SEC winning 98 percent of the time.

      • onward2victory - Jun 17, 2014 at 10:17 PM

        Yah you’re absolutely right. Got me. How could I even begin to counter such well supported claims?

  8. mediocrebob - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:00 PM

    It’s pretty simple. In 2012, the Irish had a great defense. They dominated Navy as well as most teams on their schedule. Last year the defense was very mediocre and we all saw what happened. Everyone always wants to point fingers at one person or thing. There was not a whole lot of execution last year. Poor tackling. BVG won’t be out there covering wideouts and tackling just like Diaco wasn’t.

    • johngaltisspeaking - Jun 17, 2014 at 10:40 PM

      That is why I am not so worried about Nix and Tuitt leaving. Both of these guys were way over weight and Diaco stuck to the same bend don’t break High School Defense. If you want to win a NC you need to get creative. What makes Saban and these other coaches so good is that they make adjustments and usually its enough to beat the other team. Diaco’s inability to disguise blitzes was a huge problem. Can Mustache man make it happen ? No clue but I think its going to take at least 2 or 3 years with this new defense to get up to speed. I see the same record as last year – 8 wins MAX.

      • mediocrebob - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:43 AM

        I understand what you’re thinking. However neither you nor I could possibly have any idea what this years defense will look like and predicting a win total in June is about as useless as it gets. Maybe you’re correct with your shot in the dark prediction, but nobody knows what’s in store. Not even BK or his staff.

        If they stay healthy, which last year was obviously a huge issue, there’s no doubt this team could make some noise. But I’ll hold judgement until we have something in front of us to judge.

  9. oleolehey - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:01 PM

    Losing a few backups to free up spots for big fast defensive linemen is not moving backwards/

  10. idratherbeinsouthbend - Jun 17, 2014 at 6:58 PM

    You can call me crazy if you want, but Navy has the potential to be a BCS buster this year. (I realize that the BCS doesn’t exist in the same form, but the sentiment is the same).

    I just looked at their schedule and they will be favored in every game except their opener vs. Ohio State and Notre Dame. If they should happen to beat Ohio State in the opener, they have a great chance at coming to Notre Dame 8-0

    Granted, their schedule isn’t tough, but their offense is so rare in this day and age, they could pose a threat to Ohio State, and obviously, they give us fits.

  11. tampabayirish - Jun 17, 2014 at 8:24 PM

    I have made the trip twice to Baltimore (and once to Orlando) for past Navy-Notre Dame games. I would love to see Navy move their November 5, 2016 home game with the Irish out of the northeast to somewhere like San Diego. San Diego is a great Navy town…main home of the U.S. Pacific fleet. I am sure that Notre Dame would love to play another game in Southern California. Hawaii would be great too.

  12. golfboy66 - Jun 17, 2014 at 8:57 PM

    I have all the respect in the world for Navy football, for all the service academies. They are tough, smart, well coached and very disciplined. We get their best every time we play them. But if Notre Dame wants to consider itself an elite program and a perennial contender for the championship playoffs the Navy game can’t be a game we worry about winning. They should be respected, certainly, and taken seriously as an opponent, but a threat to our national championship aspirations? Never. During the Holtz era ND beat Navy every year by an average of over four touchdowns a game. You’ll find similar margins of victory during the Parseghian years. Navy rarely cracks the top hundred in recruiting rankings (last year Rivals had them ranked 122nd, second to last in the country). Their O- and D-lines give up about 50 lbs. a player to Notre Dame. If they beat us, it’s lack of preparation or poor coaching. That’s the sad truth. God bless Navy athletics and all they stand for, now let’s go out and kick their gritty little asses.

    • ndgoldandblue - Jun 18, 2014 at 11:01 AM

      I like BK, and I think the Irish should hold on to him (who better is available?), but he’s not Lou Holtz. He’s definitely not Ara Parseghian.

  13. newmexicoirish - Jun 18, 2014 at 12:09 AM

    The reason more teams don’t employ an triple option offense is because of the beating the quarterback has to take. Almost all D-1 schools are not going to subject their quarterback to that kind of risk. It is one of the great flaws of an other wise extremely effective offense. The service academies run the option because in many respects it negates the size disadvantage against their opponents in general, and Notre Dame in particular. The naval academy has size restrictions for admittance, which really hamstrings their football team. They reduce this disadvantage by running the option. Cut block a player at the ankles and I don’t care how big he is he’s going down. The Navy executes this technique to perfection. Additionally, the Irish defense has to be extremely disciplined in order to defeat the option. You want option offenses to throw, mostly because they are not very good at it – their too ground oriented. That’s what makes Keenan Reynolds so dangerous. He’s the exception to the rule – he’s a very good thrower. Add in the fact that Notre Dame will see this type offense once or maybe twice (Air Force or Army) in a season and now Navy has done what they can to level the playing field.
    Make no mistake about it guys, this is going to be a tough game. Still, I’d much rather be us than them!

    Go Irish!

  14. shaunodame - Jun 18, 2014 at 12:09 AM

    Bob Diaco’s defense was an almost entirely REactive scheme, with it’s heavy base sets, heavy Zone defense and value of size over speed. Against teams like Navy, wishbone triple option offenses, being reactive and not aggressive means that you are playing right into their hand. In 2012, with our experience and flat out ability we were a much more agressive downhill flowing team. How many of you can picture Manti Teo exploding through the OLine untouched and making tackles in the backfield? I know I can.

    If anything Brian VanGorders aggressive style is way better suited to counterattack this Navy triple option attack. No more trying to 2 gap with our stuffy lineman, now were going to be exploding upfield and taking a lot of Navy’s options away from them. And no more soft Zone coverage on the outsides and no more 2 High Safeties! Now we can man them up and shut down their less talented receivers. Who knows how it will turn out, but I think Van Gorder’s scheme should be a favorable matchup against this Navy scheme, especially compared do Diaco’s efforts as a whole.

  15. ndgoldandblue - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:22 AM

    “There are plenty of proven performers along the defensive line and in the secondary.” If what we saw from Navy’s defense last year is evidence of “proven performers”, then I’d like to see it again. The Irish did exactly what they wanted against Navy’s defense last year, and if that’s what constitutes a proven performance, I’ll gladly welcome it. Unfortunately, our defense had quite a bit of trouble stopping them as well, but that’s a different story.

  16. rocket1988 - Jun 18, 2014 at 7:45 PM

    Overweight Tuitt beat SC by himself.

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