Notre Dame football’s season — and its normal schedule — has been placed in jeopardy. On thing is for sure, though: If the Irish have their way, they will play Navy this season.
Perhaps no game has been discusse more for its logistics in Notre Dame history than this season’s game against Navy. Originally set to be played in Dublin, the location and date were changed due to the pandemic, after much debate. Instead, the game will be played in Annapolis for the first time is the history of the rivalry. Obviously, all this has been due to COVID-19.
The sad part of all the debate, is this has the potential to be a great game. It’s a traditional rivalry between two teams coming off 10+ win seasons.
Navy caught a lot of people by surprise in 2019. Coming off a 3-9 season in 2018, it was clear that longtime coach Ken Niumatalolo needed to shake something up. Given the difficulty in bringing in highly rated talent, or transfers, that shake up came on the coaching staff and style.
Niumatalolo and longtime offensive coordinator, Ivin Jasper, recognized that they needed to change on the offensive side of the ball. Teams could put ten men in the box, and shut down the triple option with ease in 2018. So, they tapped into Niumatalolo’s Hawaiian roots, and brought the run and shoot to Navy.
Yes, they were still a triple option offense. Quarterback Malcolm Perry did run the ball 209 times more than he threw the ball, but the point is they brought in the ability to throw the ball. This opened up the field, leaving gaps to successfully run the triple option.
On the defensive side, Navy is always at an athletic disadvantage. So, they hired Brian Newberry, and earned a strategic advantage. Bringing in a 4-2-5 scheme, Newberry’s aggressive defense created havoc all season long. You knew Navy was bringing pressure, but you never knew where it was coming from. It was a masterfully disguised blitz scheme.
Of course, the Navy offense doesn’t run without a quarterback, and they finally saw Malcolm Perry as the talent he was. His emergence was the main factor, and replacing him will be the Midshipmen’s biggest x-factor in 2020.
Figuring out who replaces Perry will be the most important thing for Navy to figure out before they can replicate 2019’s success. The odds on favorite would be Perry Olsen, as he acted as Perry’s back-up last season. Olsen is built more like former quarterback Zach Abey, but with higher upside. Still, Olsen’s passing will need to take a step forward, as he was only 2/8 passing, in limited action.
As always, Navy will be cut blocking for the fullbacks, who act as headliner. Jamale Carothers is their top fullback, and he’ll spend the season punishing linebackers up the middle. He had 6.6 yards per carry, and 14 touchdowns last season.
The defense will still be aggressive, and headlined by linebacker Diego Fagot, who is on the Chuck Bednarik and Bronko Nagurski watch lists. Last season, Fagot had over 52 tackles and 5.5 sacks. There’s no reason for his numbers to do anything but improve going forward.
All in all, 6 wins is more likely than 10 in 2020 for Navy.
Navy always presents unique challenges, and will be more than a little excited to get Notre Dame in Annapolis, instead of South Bend or a neutral site. Still, they’ve got a quarterback situation up in the air, and Notre Dame has worlds more talent. The Irish win 34-20.