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  • Irish Try to Right the Ship vs. Navy

    by John Vannie

    Notre Dame will attempt to rebound from last week’s devastating loss in Miami while celebrating Senior Day as the Fighting Irish host the Navy Midshipmen on Saturday. Although the playoffs appear to be out of reach, Notre Dame can still land a berth in a major bowl if they can finish the season in a positive way. A victory over a program that has given them plenty of trouble during the past decade is definitely a must. NBC will provide national television coverage beginning at 3:30 PM Eastern time.

    Palmore The onus will be on Irish defensive Coordinator Mike Elko to slow down the precise and polished Navy option offense. Elko will have to coax a strong performance from a unit that has looked decidedly more fatigued this month than earlier in the season. On the offensive side of the ball, the confidence of quarterback Brandon Wimbush had to have been shaken by his poor performance last week, and the Navy defense may be just what the doctor ordered.

    The Middies have a larger problem at quarterback this week. Starter Zach Abey is banged up with shoulder and hip injuries to the point where Coach Ken Niumatalolo sat him last week and asked star slot back Malcolm Perry to run the attack. Perry performed brilliantly against SMU by rushing for 282 yards and four touchdowns, but a late game ankle injury will sideline him against the Irish. Niumatalolo must now decide whether Abey is ready to return or backup Garret Lewis gives his squad its best chance of victory. This question won’t be answered until just before kickoff.

    As you would expect, Abey wants to reclaim his job despite a damaged right (throwing) shoulder that has been partially dislocated multiple times this season. “I feel better. My health is definitely getting better,” he said. “A week off allowed me to get into the training room more and do some stuff with my hip and my shoulder. I feel really good right now.”

    Wimbush and Josh Adams remain as health concerns for Notre Dame. Adams has not displayed the burst and power during the past two games that he demonstrated earlier this season, while Wimbush has a left hand contusion that seems more serious than is being reported. Although no defensive starters have been ruled out for this game, expect Elko to substitute freely to keep fresh players on the field.

    Prominent names among the Irish seniors to be honored are Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson, Nyles Morgan, Durham Smythe, Greer Martini, Nick Watkins, Drue Tranquill and Andrew Trumbetti. Nelson and Tranquill could potentially return in 2018, although Nelson is almost certainly headed to the NFL.


    Palmore Pass defense has been a problem for Navy of late, but Notre Dame has no reason to repeat the mistakes of the past two weeks by asking Wimbush to chuck the ball all over creation. The weather is expected to be poor and the Irish ground game should be very successful whether Adams is at full steam or not. The pass count for Wimbush should not exceed twenty.

    The Middies run a 3-4 alignment with respectable size up front. Senior end Tyler Sayles is the leader of the group, while D.J. Palmore and Micah Thomas stand out among the four senior linebackers. They have allowed a respectable 165 rush yards per game to date, but have mainly played teams that emphasize the pass. Digging deeper, we see that opponents average a healthy 4.7 yards per rush and 30 points per game. If starting nose tackle Jackson Pittman is ruled out due to a concussion suffered last week, Navy will be even more vulnerable.

    Navy’s embattled secondary will take the field without its best player and leading tackler for the first half of Saturday’s game as safety Sean Williams must sit out after being ejected for an illegal hit against SMU. Cornerbacks Elijah Merchant and Tyris Wooten will attempt to handle Notre Dame’s receivers, but a plan to deploy single coverage while committing extra forces against the run is unlikely to be successful. The 5’10” Merchant in particular has struggled of late.

    This game may be an ideal opportunity for Dexter Williams to shine. He appears to be getting healthier while Adams can be used sparingly until next week at Stanford. The Irish line will create holes up front and the speedy Williams is the ideal back to shoot right through them.


    Perry Navy’s FBS-best 370 yards per game rushing is no surprise given their history and the high level of execution they have demonstrated this season. The passing attack has chipped in with 100 yards and one touchdown per game while averaging only nine attempts. Lewis is the better passer between he and Abey, especially with Abey’s shoulder issue. Perry threw only one pass last week, and it was intercepted.

    A veteran offensive line has paved the way for the ground game and over 33 points per game. The interior is manned by seniors Robert Lindsey and Evan Martin at guard and center Parker Wade. Abey has been the workhorse ball carrier with 1295 yards and more than double the carries of the next man despite sitting out last week. Perry had been Abey’s best weapon in the backfield, but his production will have to be replaced by an assortment of small but fast slot backs such as Darryl Bonner and Josh Brown. Anthony Gargiulo and Chris High are typical hard-nosed Navy fullbacks that share the demands of the position. High has been the starter most of the season but Gargiulo is the healthier of the two right now.

    The Irish interior defense must bottle up the quarterback keeper and fullback dive and force Navy to go wide. Controlling the edge at the line of scrimmage and sound tackling will be required to get off the field. If the Middies can get more than five yards between the tackles on first down with an occasional 20-yard burst, it will not be a good sign for the hosts.

    Should Navy choose to attack through the air, the 6’4” Tyler Carmona is their best receiver. The slot backs are also targeted on screens and in the flat, but again Perry’s injury removes a dangerous weapon in their arsenal.


    Notre Dame’s coverage and return units performed poorly in Miami, allowing the Canes to gain advantages in field position in the punting game and getting stuck deep in their own end of the field. Kicker Justin Yoon did not have a single attempt to score and punter Tyler Newsome misfired on multiple occasions. The coaching staff does not seem interested in driving any improvements.

    The Middies will be without their best return man (Perry) and will have to find another volunteer for the assignment. Freshman Reggie Hayes may be the leading candidate, despite his 5’7” stature and 165-pound frame. The Navy coverage teams have been very good, which is most likely a function of their high effort mentality. There could be an issue at kicker, where incumbent Bennett Moehring is nursing an ankle injury. He was replaced at the end of last week’s game by J.R. Osborne, who came on to kick a short, game-winning field goal as time expired.


    Irish Defense Navy will undoubtedly try to repeat the strategy that has worked in the past, which is to hold the ball for long scoring marches and minimize the number of opportunities for the Irish. They hold a 36-24 minute time of possession advantage in nine games this season, and would like nothing better than to repeat it on Saturday. Perry’s absence hurts the Middies at the slot back position and it also removes their best option at quarterback given Abey’s health issues and Lewis’ comparative skillset. Abey will probably start, which will signal Niumatalolo’s intention to grind out first downs and control the clock. Lewis will be sent in if the Middies fall behind and need to throw it.

    Niumatalolo had this to say about Lewis. “Garret is probably a true spread quarterback. The kind of guy you see playing in a passing offense and throwing the ball. He did a little zone read (in high school), but not a ton. “Garret is a good athlete and can run the ball, but he has a (passing) quarterback mentality. A really smart player, a real competitor and a good leader.”

    Here’s a few questions that will shed light on the outcome:

    Which defense will be able to get off the field on third or even fourth down?

    Can the Irish achieve a 50/50 split in time of possession?

    Will Wimbush bounce back with a confident and effective performance?

    Which team will be gashed for big plays in the running game?

    Can the Midshipmen throw the ball successfully if they are forced to do so?

    Will either defense be able to create turnovers?

    Which team will be most impacted by injuries to its quarterback and top running back?


    Both defenses are likely to tire given the relentless rushing attacks employed by each side and a fast tempo. This should lead to a high scoring game where defensive stops are critical and turnovers carry a high cost. A healthy Abey with Perry alongside him in the backfield would make this a more difficult proposition for the Irish, but they have enough advantages in size and talent to maintain control.

    NOTRE DAME 45 NAVY 31*

    Note*: The Navy score assumes Abey will be healthy enough to start. If both he and Perry sit out the game, subtract 14 points.

    17 Responses to “Irish Try to Right the Ship vs. Navy”

    1. JVAN,

      Great write up as always… And yes, not only is our D fatigued, but going back to the WF game
      our tackling has been pathetic!!

      Abey is a load to bring down… They have 2 very strong FB who are also a load..

      I saw the Navy/SMU game and Navy will come in confident.. This is Navy’s BCS Bowl Game!!

      I like the Irish (but barely) in this game… But I wouldn’t be surprised if BK blows the game plan
      and causes us to lose!!!

      ND 34
      Navy 32

    2. Lots of challenges for the Lads! Often option teams score on their first possession, and the opposition defense can adjust. Of course, the option team goes to plan B and further adjustments ensue. If the Navy QB is banged up that may be a mixed blessing. In any case, Elko will have a shot to show his stuff and BK can show if version 2 continues. Also, will Irish reserves in the front 7 stand up to the task against the varieties of the triple option.

    3. Glenn Hane says:

      Irish 41 Navy 20

      We need to get back to the running game and throw some deep passes to EQ and Alize for scores too.

    4. irishhawk50 says:

      This is a sub-par year for Navy. I don’t expect the game to be close. I expect Kelly to run up the score to try and re-build Irish confidence going into Stanford next week. 41-21 ND

    5. Irish 45 Navy 10

    6. Bye bye Kelly says:

      Prediction: Irish can’t stop Navy all day. Wimbush makes critical mistakes and Navy ruins a decent season. Kelly will say how tough Navy is and how the game plan was great but they didn’t execute. Navy 35-34

    7. Navy will go up 14-0 early, and then things will start clicking for us. Final score, 38-24.

    8. Austinirish says:

      Run. The. Ball. And if we win the toss, please, please, please defer. Irish 38-24.

    9. With our power running offense being so successful this year, I expect to run over Navy, which we’ve been doing in most recent match-ups. The big question is how well our defense plays. I wonder how our new D-coordinator has done against the option? I know Wake plays Ga Tech each year, so he should have some background from those games.

    10. Christopher GH says:

      Nice writeup.

      Enough emphasis cannot be put on special teams and the lack of the production from that unit.

      I still don’t understand why Finke “returns” punts. Granted that most times no one blocks for him, but even if they did, I don’t think he could return a punt for a TD (unless the opposing team totally whiffed on making a tackle)

      This has been driving me crazy all season, but last Saturday was the worst. I get that Finke is reliable in that he won’t drop a punt, but when he watched the ball roll past him to the 9 yard line instead of running up and making his usual fair catch, I just about lost it. This was at a critical time in the game and with a QB that was struggling, his mistake gave ND horrible field position. I believe Winbush threw an INT on the first play of that drive.

      This is just the punt return situation. I could go on and on with other aspects of the special teams squad that has hurt ND this year.

      I really hope Polian gets a 5 star, out of this world prospect to commit to ND in February, b/c if he can’t excel at recruiting, why the hell is he even a part of the coaching staff?

    11. If we have to worry about Navy then we should take a long look at where the program is in year eight of BK. If we are hoping to win out and make an appearance in a big bowl game then a deciding factor must be …Do we get blown again on national tv or do we sit back again and let this. guy and administration coach another year. Win the rest and a big bowl game or get out now BK! Hope I am not this alone on thinking

    12. Finke is back to receive punts because he does not fumble.

    13. I was at the Navy game last Saturday. They were up 25 on SMU at halftime and won on a field goal at the buzzer. It was Veterans Day and Senior Day. There are 20 huge plaques at the one end zone describing Navy’s engagement in battles. It took me an hour to read them all. The place oozes patriotism. I love that ND plays them every year. We should expect a tough game albeit Navy is beat up. I met Roger Staubach in his suite. As a Notre Dane grad, I’ve had a lot of great days in ND Stadium but this day was one I’ll always remember. Go Irish. Beat Navy.

    14. I think the score prediction is pretty accurate and if ND wins 45-31 it will probably feel closer than that and I wouldn’t be surprised in Navy gashes us for 300 yards rushing. The main thing is to win the final two games however they can and rest up for a good bowl game against a quality team.

      If ND loses at Stanford this will mark the the fifth straight loss at Stanford with Kelly owning four of those five losses. Not good and it shouldn’t be acceptable given that Stanford has even tougher academic standards, but it will be to Swarbrick.

    15. Doc Savage says:

      Its halftime now and the game is tied 10-10. As I sit and watch the hapless Irish being manhandled by the titans of football (Navy) I think to myself, the Irish are not and never again will be an elite team. If the Irish win this game it will not be by much and the days of a great QB (Wimbush) and heisman hopeful (Adams) are over. I perish the thought to think of what Stanford will do to ND next Saturday. Oh well, AFTER THOUGHT Bowl here we come!

    16. Doc Savage says:

      I’m not letting up on my initial comment (see above) because ND should not have waited until the 4th quarter to snatch the game away…just barely! The Irish will not be able to play Stanford like this next week. I feel bad for Navy because those guys played their hearts out, ND did not IMO! I have now decided its time to jump on the “lets get rid of Kelly” band wagon but its doubtful considering the school’s leader is an old, tired priest and its AD a jerk-O ex-lawyer whose more of a politician than an athletic director!