For the 90th straight season, Notre Dame and Navy unite on the football field, the longest-running intersectional rivalry in the country. And for what feels like almost as long, a white-knuckle football weekend is upon Irish fans.
Because with Ken Niumatalolo in charge of the Midshipmen, the Naval Academy has taken their football program to uncharted waters. And as a part of the American Athletic Conference, Navy has only enhanced their reputation—division co-champions last season, splitting their division with Houston and this year sitting atop the West Division even with an entirely rebuilt offense.
Gone is the service academy that the college football world viewed as a cupcake. This is a team you’d much rather avoid.
But the Irish won’t do that. Not with the historical significance of the rivalry, the mutual respect between the programs and the standing annual date on the calendar.
So to get us ready for this weekend’s action, the Washington Post’s Gene Wang joins me. Gene took some time out of his insanely busy schedule to get us ready for the Midshipmen.
Navy’s succession plans at quarterback after Keenan Reynolds lasted exactly one week, when Tago Smith went down with an ACL injury. But in short order, Will Worth has picked things up and kept the train rolling. What has Worth brought to the offense? Is there anything you’re seeing more of with Worth at the position than in year’s past?
After a slow start, Worth has really come into his own over the last three games. He set a school record with 428 total yards of offense in Saturday’s 52-45 loss to South Florida one week after rushing for 201 yards.
At 215 pounds, Worth is bigger than Reynolds, and he make the same deep throws in the passing games. Coaches love his toughness, which makes up for a lack of foot speed, at least comparatively to Reynolds.
Staying on the offense, is the job that Ivin Jasper is doing as impressive up close as it is from afar. The offensive line is rebuilt, so is essentially the two-deep at quarterback, fullback and slot back, yet scoring is down less than a field goal from last year. How are they doing it?
Jasper is doing another masterful job, as he has done year after year with new quarterbacks. He knows how to get the most out whoever is playing quarterback, regardless of how much in-game experience that player does or doesn’t have.
The fact that Navy basically hasn’t missed a beat with a new quarterback and a rebuilt offensive line is truly a testament to Jasper getting his players familiar and confident running the triple option.
Defensively, the Midshipmen struggled early against USF and seem to have some problems that come along with the territory. But Amos Mason has been difficult to contain up front and D.J. Palmore and Micah Thomas have filled the stat sheet. This defense doesn’t make a ton of negative plays, so what’s the key to slowing down the Irish offense?
The defense needs to apply pressure on DeShone Kizer. Navy generally has had issues getting to the quarterback, and the back end just doesn’t have the athletes to cover one-on-one for long stretches. If the Midshipmen can’t make Kizer at least somewhat uncomfortable, it’ll be a long day for the defense.
Notre Dame spent a ton of time last offseason working on slowing down the option, with both Georgia Tech and Navy on the schedule. That move paid off with two key wins. This year the Irish will play Navy and Army, though will do so with a ton of new personnel. What’s more important to slowing this offense down? Proper coaching scheme or experience playing against it?
Gap integrity is the most important component in slowing the triple option. And even then, Navy runs it so well that it may not even matter. Also, defenses that have been able to limit the triple option by in large make it a top priority to take away the fullback dive.
Ken Niumatalolo was candid about the BYU job last offseason and how it was different than the other openings that sometimes checked on his availability. Back for his ninth season at the Naval Academy, what makes him such a good fit in Annapolis?
He is a leader of men, and that is a quality, at least to me, you can’t teach. He has a way to get players to believe in his system 100 percent. Plus he recruits athletes who have a chip on their shoulder, often because Power 5 programs have overlooked them.
This game always seems to come down to a few key stats: Mostly turnovers and red zone success. Anything you see from your vantage point that’ll likely determine the winner or loser?
For Navy, it’s preventing the big play on defense and hitting some long pass plays on offense to keep the Notre Dame front seven honest. The Midshipmen gave up far too many explosive plays against South Florida and paid dearly for it. The offense, meantime, didn’t get cranked up until the second half, and by then Navy was trailing, 42-14.