2018 Notre Dame Opponent Preview: Navy
Judging a football schedule in the preseason cannot be based too much off of what happened the year prior.
All one has to do is look at the roller-coaster tendencies of Notre Dame the past 20-plus years, from 9-3, 5-7, 9-3, 5-6, 10-3 and 5-7 during the six-year span from 1998-2003, to 10-3 and 3-9 in 2006-07, to 10-3, 4-8, 10-3 the past three campaigns.
When evaluating and ranking Notre Dame’s 2018 opponents, the recent history does factor in, but not as much as:
• Overall personnel/talent.
• Returning experience.
• Timing of the game (after a bye week or following a marquee opponent).
• Where the game is played/intangibles.
At No. 7 in our countdown is Navy.
Vs. Navy (in San Diego) — Oct. 27
Series Record: Notre Dame leads, 77-13-1
Most Recent Meeting: Last Nov. 18, the 8-2 Fighting Irish trailed 17-10 against the Midshipmen midway through the third quarter before rallying for a 24-17 victory on 30- and nine-yard touchdown passes from Brandon Wimbush to Kevin Stepherson. Notre Dame clinched the victory when it forced a Navy incomplete pass on fourth-and-five from the Irish 25-yard line with 1:25 remaining.
Navy possessed the ball 42:42 to Notre Dame’s 17:18, which is believed to be a school record for fewest minutes the Irish had the ball in a game. They did amass 327 yards total offense (164 passing, 163 rushing) on those seven series.
Navy’s Rivals Class Rankings 2014-18: Not in top 100 (2014 and 2015), tied for No. 88 (2016), tied for No. 76 (2017), No. 91 (2018)
Notre Dame’s Rivals Class Rankings 2014-18: No. 11 (2014), No. 11 (2015), No. 13 (2016), No. 13 (2017), No. 11 (2018)
2017 Record/Summary: 7-6
Last year’s six defeats marked only the second time since 2003 the Midshipmen had more than five losses (5-7 in 2011 the other). They are 18-6 in the American Athletic Conference since joining in 2015.
Navy began the year 5-0, including a 42-19 opening-game thrashing of Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic team that compiled 11 wins. The Midshipmen then lost six of their next seven, but were consistently competitive in every contest, including the loss at Notre Dame, the 30-27 setback to Memphis, a 31-21 defeat to a Central Florida that finished unbeaten and staked a claim to their own “national title,” and a 14-13 heartbreaker to Army West Point.
We know the drill by now. How many “starters” Navy returns is relatively impertinent because this is a system that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Book it that the Midshipmen will finish among the top 3-5 nationally with about 300 t0 350 yards rushing per game.
Otherwise, based on “star” talent alone, Notre Dame would be at least a four- or five-touchdown favorite every season.
Different packages will be incorporated for the quarterback tandem of Malcolm Perry and Zach Abey. Perry also has played the slot but shined at QB when Abey was injured. Perry’s 1,182 yards averaged 8.6 yards per carry, while Abey amassed 1,413 yards on the ground with 19 touchdowns.
Only four starters return on defense, which finished strong at the end of last season, highlighted by a 49-7 destruction of Virginia in the Military Bowl.
Will Notre Dame Be Favored, The Underdog, Or Is It A Toss-Up?
Remember the days when Navy was the automatic “W” on the schedule and always deemed the least formidable opponent on the Notre Dame slate? Those days have been over more than a decade, with Navy pulling the upsets in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2016, and taking the Irish to the wall in 2008 2013, 2014 and last season.
Yes, there is enormous disparity in NFL talent level between the two teams, but the confounding triple-option Navy scheme keeps it competitive and a tough out for just about everyone. Notre Dame had only six possessions against Navy during its loss in 2016 and seven in its 24-17 victory last year. A team will usually average 12 possession per game (three per quarter).
Nevertheless, Notre Dame’s bye Saturday (Oct. 20) will be the week before facing Navy, which at least provides a little more time to prepare for the “keep away” style that puts pressure on Notre Dame to score on every series it possesses the ball.
It’s a long trip to San Diego, but it will be even longer for Navy.