ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo expressed confidence Tuesday his team’s season-opening game against Notre Dame will be held as scheduled.
“If there’s any game that I feel good about playing, it’s probably the first one because I know who we’re playing in our opponent and what they’re going to do,” Niumatalolo said. “I know what we’re doing. I know the precautions that are taking place at the (Naval) Academy. If there’s any game I feel good about, it’s the first one.”
The game was originally supposed to be played Aug. 29 in Dublin, Ireland, but it was moved to Labor Day weekend — either Sept. 5 or 6 — at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on the Navy campus. It will be the first time Navy hosts the Fighting Irish in a football game in the rivalry’s 92-year history.
“I think it’s pretty sweet,” said Niumatalolo. “To be able to play Notre Dame here would be a great honor for us. We’re excited about it.”
Niumatalolo is confident the game with Notre Dame will happen because of the systems put in place by both schools to handle the return to practices amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“I definitely know they’re doing everything. They’ve got a great plan,” Niumatalolo said. “Having played against (Notre Dame) Coach (Brian) Kelly all these years, the guy’s as detailed a coach that’s out there in our profession. I know that there’s been no stone unturned in their preparation and their detail. Being Notre Dame, they have access to all the tests that are available to make sure their kids are safe.”
Kelly has been outspoken in his confidence a season will be played, telling ESPN, “We’re going to play football, and I say that with the confidence based upon how well and how determined and how disciplined our players are.”
The status of how many games Notre Dame will play this year is unknown after games against Wisconsin, Stanford and USC were canceled because of coronavirus concerns.
Niumatalolo mentioned preparations are underway at Navy should fans be allowed to attend games in person this fall.
“All the things Chet Gladchuk, our athletic director, everything he’s doing — they’ve been working on it for months, a game plan, to keep people safe,” Niumatalolo said. “The amount of people that can be here — he’s told me some of the details of it. … Obviously, we’ve still got to pass through government officials. We’ll see where we’re at by that point.”
Last year’s contest between the schools was supposed to be a tight battle, with the No. 23 Midshipmen visiting South Bend to take on the 15th-ranked Irish. Navy was no match for Notre Dame’s speed, though, as the home team ran away with a 52-20 victory.
Notre Dame leads the rivalry 77-13-1 overall. The teams have played every year since 1927, making it the third-longest uninterrupted rivalry in college football. Notre Dame has won the last three meetings, with Navy’s last victory coming in 2016.
While Niumatalolo is excited to potentially host the Irish for the first time this fall, the memories of last year’s contest are still with him.
“We’re really excited about playing them — until you watch last year’s tape … we went up there, and they spanked us pretty good. They got after us pretty good,” Niumatalolo said. “We’re excited. It’s a new year. We’re a different team. Obviously, they’re a different team — a really, really good football team. In all the things that you read, a lot of them are projecting them to be a final four team if there is a playoff. We know it’s going to be a really good team.”