Navy Midshipmen vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish Pick 11/16/19
Navy Midshipmen (7-1 SU, 6-2 ATS) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-2 SU, 4-4 ATS)
Date/Time: Saturday, November 16th, 2:30 PM
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, IN
Point Spread: NAVY +7 / ND -7 (Bookmaker)
Over/Under Total: 54
The third longest consecutively played rivalry in college football kicks off again on Saturday in South Bend when Navy meets up for their annual battle with Notre Dame. The Irish hold a pronounced advantage in series history with an all-time lead of 78-13-1 and has also had the upper hand of late, winning seven of the last eight meetings between the teams with an average victory margin of over 20 points per game.
FULL STEAM AHEAD
After finishing 2018 with their worst record in 16 years (3-10), Navy and head coach Ken Niumatalolo have turned the ship around despite being a consensus pick to finish at the bottom of the AAC West and now find themselves with a mark of 7-1 and ranked in the AP poll for the first time since mid -October 2017. Their only loss has come against 8-1 Memphis, and while the Midshipmen are at a disadvantage due to a tiebreaker scenario, they still have a shot at winning their division. The remainder of the schedule isn’t easy, with games against 8-1 SMU, a Houston squad they have only beaten once in the last four years and rival Army. The Black Knights are having an off year but have a current three-game winning streak against Navy, and their matchup is always one where records are nearly irrelevant.
Senior quarterback Malcolm Perry leads a Navy offense that ranks 1st in the NCAA in rushing and 10th in scoring with an average of 40.1 points per game. Perry played running back for seven games last year but was anointed the quarterback before the season started. He has played well since the transition, throwing for 722 yards and five touchdowns while rushing for 1042 yards, a 6.6 yards per carry average and 16 touchdowns on the ground, a mark that has him ranked fourth in the nation.
Perry isn’t the only reason for Navy’s ground success, as two running backs and two receivers have contributed throughout the year. Nelson Smith and Jamal Carothers are the main backs, with Smith rushing for 505 yards and seven touchdowns and Carothers posting a 9.9 yards per carry average with eight touchdowns, six of which have come in the past two weeks. Receivers Tazh Maloy and CJ Williams round out the remaining top options, with both having posted at least 26 rushing attempts along with a combined 422 yards and three scores. Williams is also the second most targeted receiver, which says a lot about the Navy passing offense (128th in NCAA), considering he has just five receptions on the season to go along with 171 yards and two touchdowns. The top threat through the air is Mychal Cooper, who leads the team with nine catches for 241 yards and one score.
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DEFENDING THE SHIP
The Navy defense ranks in the top 18 in total yards allowed per game, rushing, and scoring. Junior linebacker Jacob Springer is tied for fourth in the AAC in sacks with seven while also posting 41 tackles, 11 of them for a loss. Three sophomores highlight the rest of the remaining, including team leader in tackles Diego Fagot along with defensive backs in Kevin Brennan and Michael Morris, whose eight passed defended have him at fifth in the conference.
After back-to-back weeks of lackluster play that included a beat down loss at Michigan and an unimpressive, last-second victory against a Virginia Tech team that they were favored by 17 points to beat, Notre Dame finally got things going in the right direction with a dominant 38-7 win at Duke. This week’s game against Navy should be the last true test of the season, as after this week they will face off against a 5-5 Boston College team before ending the year at Stanford, who has been one of the seasons’ biggest disappointments, currently sitting at a record of 4-5. The BCS Playoffs are no longer an option for the Irish, but if they end their season with three consecutive wins and a couple of other teams ahead of them in the rankings fall, they should still have a chance at a New Year’s Six bowls.
Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book is coming off another up and down outing, breaking his rushing record in a game (139 yards) but also throwing multiple interceptions for the second consecutive week. Book has thrown four of his six interceptions on the season over the last two weeks (his previous two came in their loss against Georgia) and hasn’t completed at least 57% of his passes during the last four games. With injuries to the offensive line, Book will need to step up his game as the pressure increases from opposing defenses, especially considering how the running game has struggled in recent weeks.
ON THE MEND
Injuries haven’t just taken their toll on the Irish offensive line, as their backfield has been plenty affected as well. Expected joint starter Jafar Armstrong has struggled to gain any semblance of consistency as he attempts to work his way back to full strength. He has plenty of room for improvement with an average of just 2.1 yards per carry while being held out of the end zone thus far. All was looking well for lead back Tony Jones Jr. until he injured his ribs a few games back, and he has also had difficulty getting back to 100%, rushing for just 28 yards on 15 carries with zero scores over his last two games. Despite his recent struggles, Jones is still averaged 6.2 yards per carry to go along with four scores on the season. Considering the struggles of not only Armstrong but also backup Jahmir Smith, who hasn’t been able to score since week one, and C’bo Flemister, who is averaging 2.9 yards per carry but has at least offset that with touchdowns in four of five games played this season. The team will hope that he can turn things sooner rather than later.
FINKE OUT OF FUNK
Quarterback Ian Book’s top two targets remain wide receiver Chase Claypool and tight end Cole Kmet, with Claypool leading the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns and Kmet second in each including touchdowns in five of seven games played this season. A big step forward for the Irish passing game has been the recent emergence of Chris Finke, who started the season slowly but now has five catches in each of his past three games and is coming off a week in which he scored two touchdowns. A third reliable and consistent target would be a big help for Book as he attempts to lead an offense with a struggling running game and banged-up offensive line.
THE FINAL DECISION
If you’re a fan of trends, then Navy will be your choice for this one. The Midshipmen are 9-2-1 against the spread in their last twelve matchups, including 4-1-1 in their last six away games. They may not have the advantage in the win column in recent games against the Irish, but they certainly have had the advantage at the books, with an 11-2 mark versus the number in the last thirteen games in the series at South Bend, and also have an additional trend edge being the visitor, as the road team in Navy vs. Notre Dame has covered in 19 of the last 24 matchups. The Irish have also had notable difficulties against ranked teams, having gone just 13-17 straight up in their last 30 games against teams ranked in the top 25. Despite all of what I previously just listed, I am still going to be backing Notre Dame this week. I believe last week was a sign of things to come for the offense and that they will find a way to move the ball and get into the end zone enough to continue their streak of 27 straight wins when scoring more than 20 points and end Saturday with a home win and cover against Navy.
Mike’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Notre Dame -7
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