Navy, under new head coach Brian Newberry returns 17 starters off a a team that put a serious scare into the Irish last year before they fell short after a furious second half comeback, 35-32. That is the good news for Navy, because overall what led to the firing of their long-time head Coach Ken Niumatalolo was a dreadful 4-8 record in 2022 and their third straight losing season.
Newberry was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach, so figuring out what Navy will do defensively is a little easier to guess than offensively for the season opener. Navy returns 9 defensive starters and last year ranked high in many national categories, including #2 overall in rushing defense. Gone is their leading tackler linebacker John Marshall, but returning intact is the defensive line, both interior linebackers and the secondary.
On offense it is a little harder to figure out, but the Midshipmen will continue to be primarily a triple option team. Newberry has brought in Kennesaw State coordinator Grant Chestnut who is a product of triple option guru Paul Johnson’s coaching tree. The word out of Navy however is that Chestnut will indeed open things up a bit in the passing game. That may not mean much however. In 2022 Navy averaged just 10 passes per-game. Fullback Daba Fofana returns after a breakout 2022 season in which he rushed for 769 yards and 6 TDs.
Navy returns some experience at quarterback in Tai Lavatai and Xavier Arline but expect to see action out of Sophomore Teddy Gleaton who is said to be the best passer in the group.
Last year Navy nearly pulled off the upset comeback by going into an all out every down blitz package (“cover 0”) in the second half. That strategy handcuffed a slow to react Drew Pyne and shut the Irish down. That same strategy will be available once again to Navy this year. However, Sam Hartman is much more adept at making quick decisions in the passing game should be able to exploit a high-pressure approach if it comes again this year.
On the other side of the ball the Irish have a veteran linebacking corps that has significant experience against the option. Additionally, the Irish have had the advantage of extra time to prepare for the option in the weeks leading up to a season opener as opposed to the typical 3 days of prep that would be available in mid-season.
Picking season openers is always tricky. Simply put, until you see it on the field, you just don’t know what you have. This year’s opener is even tougher to prognosticate because Navy has a new coach and you have to throw in the trip to Ireland as well. All that said, the Irish are a better team at virtually every position and, for the Irish, it is Sam Hartman time.
Notre Dame is a 20 point favorite and the over under is 50.5.
The Fighting Irish Preview Pick: ND 38 Navy 14