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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Opponent Preview | Navy

July 3, 2024
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It’s rarely a smooth transition when a new coach comes in at a place where the old coach was there for 16 years. Brian Newberry experienced that at Navy in year one even though he had been on staff as the defensive coordinator for the previous four seasons.

Things went as expected on defense with lots of experience returning and the same scheme. It was the opposite on offense where a new coordinator and some changes didn’t work out so well.

Newberry ended up moving in a different direction on offense in year two by hiring Drew Cronic to run things. He was the head coach at Mercer, which ran another variation of the triple option offense.

Even with the offense finishing 125th in points per drive, they still managed to go 5-7 and almost qualify for a bowl game. Doing that and coming close to competing with a program like Notre Dame is a different story. The Irish dominated Navy to open the season last year and SMU, the only other ranked opponent Navy played in 2023, did the same.

Post-Spring SP+ Ranking

They are 108th in the post-spring SP+ projections. They are 122nd on offense, 61st on defense, and 108th on special teams.

Key losses

DL Jacob Busic (UCLA) was a four-year starter and their best player up front before he was injured last September. He wanted to return for another season, but a rule at the Naval Academy wouldn’t allow for that to happen. He had not choice but to look elsewhere to play and it’s a significant loss.

CB Larry Elias (Colorado State) has started for Navy in the past and was probably going to start again this season if he had stuck around.

LB Will Harbour (second leading tackler), LB Xavier McDonald (nine havoc plays), and DT Clay Cromwell were multi-year starters who are out of eligibility.

QB Xavier Arline and QB Tai Lavatai played the most snaps at quarterback last season. They are both out of eligibility and they’ll rely on two lesser experienced quarterbacks in 2024.

Key additions

They added no one in the transfer portal and it’s rare for a true freshman to make a big contribution on the field at Navy. It’s all about development for them.

If there is one freshman who may find a way on the field this fall, it could be S Austin Stull, who was at one time committed to play for Duke.

Top returners and returning production

They are 50th in returning production (62nd on offense and 37th on defense).

QB Blake Horvath and QB Braxton Woodson are the two quarterbacks vying for the starting job. Woodson is 6-3 215 and is a different kind of runner than they’ve had at the position. He forced 12 missed tackles last season on only 37 carries.

FB Alex Tecza led the team in rushing by a country mile and averaged 6.02 yards per carry. He has some speed if he gets into the open field. FB Daba Fofana is more of a bruiser. He had three touchdowns and runs tough.

SB Eli Heidenreich averaged 20.1 yards per reception and 7.9 yards per carry in his first action in college football. He tied for the team lead in receptions with SB Brandon Chatman (19).

5 offensive lineman that started at least one game return this season, but they didn’t exactly present a cohesive unit up front. Connor McMahon is the best they have. It’s essential that they improve across the board if they want to be better on offense.

LB Colin Ramos was 1st team All-AAC in 2023 with 110 tackles and 15 havoc plays. He’s undersized, but a very effective blitzer.

Luke Pirris had 10 TFLs and together with Justin Reed they formed a solid duo on the edge. Reed had a few dominant games against UAB, East Carolina, and North Texas where he racked up most of his havoc numbers.

S Rayaun Lane was 3rd team All-AAC last season and tied for the team lead in interceptions with four. He’s super aggressive and has been a playmaker for them (17 havoc plays), but Notre Dame exposed him in coverage a few times.

CB Dashaun Peele also had four interceptions and was their best corner. He only allowed a passer rating of 39.3 when targeted in 2023.

The big question

The defense has enough playmakers returning that they can keep them in games against most opponents. Everything hinges on whether or not a new coordinator can fix the issues on offense.

Their strength was their continuity before. Everyone understood the system and everyone knew their job. Even when they didn’t have a great quarterback, they could still execute and make it interesting.

This is now the third offense in three years. Can the players master it?

They were dreadful last season. How dreadful? 128th in OF+, 95th in EPA per rush, 133rd in EPA per dropback. 95th in expected points added per rush for a team that runs the ball all the time is WOOF.

There are no quick fixes in terms of personnel, so we’ll see if the returning players can get things humming on offense this fall. There was a lot of excitement about the changes on offense heading into last season, but it never led to results.

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