The Notre Dame football team begins its second half push for the College Football Playoff as they travel to San Diego to take on the Navy Midshipmen, one of their oldest rivals.
For Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame football team, not only is Saturday the first game in a series of games that will define the playoff outlook for the Irish, but it is the first game in a series of games that features an extensive amount of travel.
Navy is 2-5 on the year with wins against Memphis and Lehigh. The matchup between Notre Dame and Navy often provides the chance for an upset because of the rivalry element. However, this seems unlikely this year as the Midshipmen are struggling more than usual under coach Ken Niumatalolo. But even amidst these struggles, there are certainly Navy players who have the ability to challenge the Notre Dame squad.
Malcolm Perry, Quarterback/Slotback
The quarterback position is up in the air for Navy right now. Coach Niumatalolo has not been shy about discussing the necessity to reevaluate every position on the field, especially during a losing skid. Perry started at the quarterback position every game except for the last two against Temple and Houston. Regardless of where he plays Saturday, he is one of Navy’s most effective offensive weapons. He leads the teams in rush attempts (127) and rushing yards (729), and is second in touchdowns (7). As we all know by now, Navy likes to play keep away as they ascribe to the triple option. This is at the center of their offensive philosophy as they average roughly ten minutes more than their opponents in time of possession. Navy will continue to use Perry’s skill set to aid them in executing their offensive scheme so predicated on keeping the ball.
Taylor Heflin, Linebacker
Heflin is tied for the team lead in total tackles (44) and sacks (3). He exclusively leads the team in tackles for loss with four. The Navy defense has struggled with its pass defense since joining the American Athletic Conference. This makes Heflin’s job all the more important as he must attempt to disrupt Ian Book enough for him to force mistakes. We saw Book look a bit more human against Pitt, especially when he was under any kind of pressure. Look for Heflin to try to pick up where Pitt left off in order to stymie the Notre Dame offense and take the pressure off Navy’s pass defenders.
Nizaire Cromartie, Linebacker
Cromartie is second on the team in tackles for loss (3) and is tied with Heflin for the team lead in sacks (3). He has also forced a fumble this year, putting him up there with Heflin in terms of being defensively disruptive. Like Heflin, Cromartie must play an integral role in Navy’s attempt to disrupt Ian Book and the Notre Dame offense if Navy wants to have any chance at all to keep this game close.
Jarid Ryan, Cornerback
Although the Navy secondary has a myriad of issues, Ryan is a player who seems to be a bright spot. He is one of the players who seems to have the best understanding of the defense and marries this understanding with good defensive instincts. He leads the team and the conference in interceptions with three. While Book’s completion percentage has proven to be atop the charts, he has been more prone to throw interceptions as of late. If he does this against Navy, don’t be surprised if Ryan is somewhere around the ball.
Sean Williams, Safety
Williams joins Ryan as one of the brighter spots of the Navy secondary. Williams is the defensive captain for the Midshipmen, and he has certainly taken on this role full force. He is second on the team in total tackles (41) and he leads the team in forced fumbles with four while also adding one interception on the year. Not only does Williams lead the team in forced fumbles, but he is tied for the lead nationally. All this this being said, Williams certainly has knack for knocking the ball loose. Notre Dame has protected the ball quite well this year as they are tied for firth nationally in fumbles per game. It will be interesting to see how the top fumble-forcer in the nation fares against one of the top teams in terms of protecting the football.