Irish Cruise Past Navy

Kevin Austin caught a 70-yard scoring pass just before halftime and the Notre Dame defense smothered the Midshipmen triple option throughout the day as the Fighting Irish eased to a 34-6 victory on Saturday. Kyren Williams pitched in with two touchdown runs and finished with 95 rushing yards. Equally impressive was freshman tailback Logan Diggs, who ran for 59 yards and a score on eight carries. Defensively, nose tackle Kurt Hinish was a disruptive force all day and led the effort to keep Navy out of the end zone.

Notre Dame started slowly as the Middies dropped eight men into coverage and frustrated the Irish passing attack. Their first foray into Navy territory ended with a sack of Jack Coan on a fourth down play. Meanwhile, Navy drew first blood with a 49-yard field goal by Bijan Nichols late in the first period. The Irish finally answered with Jonathan Doerer’s short three pointer twenty minutes into the contest.

Notre Dame then forced a three and out. Coach Brian Kelly finally heard me screaming into the television and inserted Tyler Buchner at quarterback. The freshman engineered a 66-yard march that culminated in a short scoring plunge by Williams. Now leading 10-3 with 2:46 left in the half, the Irish stopped Navy again and sent quarterback Tai Lavatai to the sidelines with a crushing hit.

Navy quarterback Tai Lavatai was crunched by the Irish defense

Punter Riley Riethman booted one to the Notre Dame five yard line with under two minutes remaining. Two productive runs by Williams gave the Irish room to maneuver, and Coan found Austin in single coverage deep down the left sideline. Cornerback Jamal Glenn whiffed on the tackle for Navy and Austin streaked into the end zone for a 70-yard score.

The Midshipmen made a few offensive adjustments coming out of the locker room. Trailing 17-3, they kept the ball for nearly ten minutes with backup Xavier Arline at quarterback before stalling in the red zone. Nichols came on to make it 17-6. but that was as close as the Middies would get.

The defenses dominated for the remainder of the third quarter. Irish punter Jay Bramblett broke the stalemate by pinning Navy at its own one yard line as Jack Kiser made a good play to down the ball. Penetration by Hinish on the ensuing series led to a safety when a pitch by Arline landed on the end zone turf. The game moved into the fourth quarter as Notre Dame took the ensuing kickoff and quickly scored. Williams capped the drive with his second touchdown of the day. After a two-point conversion reception by Braden Lenzy, the Irish led by 27-6.

Unfortunately, slot receiver and captain Avery Davis suffered a knee injury on the scoring run by Williams. The first reports suggested it was serious, but further test results will be available on Sunday or Monday. If Davis is lost for the season, it would be a tough blow for the Irish offense.

Kelly began to empty his bench and fans were able to see the likes of Prince Kollie and Xavier Watts on defense. After Arline provided the only pass completion of the game for Navy, the drive quickly fizzled when a fourth down pass fell incomplete. The Irish offense returned for a curtain call featuring hard running by Diggs. The freshman did most of the work including a run covering the final eight yards as Notre Dame extended its lead to 34-6.

The Midshipmen could not mount a threat in the last three minutes against the Irish third string defense, and the game ended without further drama. Notre Dame moved to 8-1 on the season and will finally hit the road next week for the first time since October 9.

Michael Mayer was effective but underutilized on Saturday

Let’s review the answers to our pregame questions for additional insight.

Can the Irish defense bottle up the fullback dive play? Yes. Hinish led the charge along with Howard Cross and Riley Mills to clog the middle all day.

Will Buchner get enough snaps to make a significant contribution? He should have been utilized more in this game, but Buchner jump-started the offense by leading the first Irish scoring drive when he finally got a chance to play.

Can the Irish get off to a fast start and play the game with the lead? Notre Dame was unable to solve Navy’s defensive plan in the early going. The Irish made up for it with two scores in the final three minutes of the first half.

Which team will have more success with its red zone offense? Both were futile in the early going as quarterback sacks stopped drives by each team. The Irish ultimately found the right formula and were not denied in the final 33 minutes. When Navy’s long march to open the second half ran out of gas, the Midshipmen were demoralized.

Can Notre Dame’s special teams contribute valuable yards and field position? The punt by Bramblett and Kiser’s play to down the ball at the one yard line led to a quick ten points by Notre Dame and iced the game.

Will the Irish defenders silence the complaints about their tackling ability? Yes, at least for the moment. The linebackers were solid and the secondary had no major malfunctions in getting Navy ball carriers to the ground. The deployment of Kiser at the free safety spot was a good move by Defensive Coordinator Marcus Freeman.

Can Notre Dame force any turnovers without Hamilton in the lineup? There were no turnovers by either side but the two errant pitches by Navy killed a drive and resulted in a safety.

Will Michael Mayer run roughshod over Navy’s Lilliputian secondary? Mayer was not utilized enough in this contest despite my attempts at telepathy with Offensive Coordinator Tom Rees and the pleadings of commentator Drew Brees. He did catch four passes but could have easily doubled that total.

The Irish were well prepared for Navy due in large part to the excellence of the scout team led by quarterback Chase Ketterer. The walk-on was given a chance to get on the field late in the game and made a tackle on special teams. The final stats showed the hosts held Navy to 184 total yards while they recorded 430.

Notre Dame’s path through November now appears to be relatively clear. An 11-1 Irish team is still a long way from the playoffs given their unimpressive September, but teams in front of them face more difficult schedules and have continued to stumble. I don’t believe this Notre Dame team is playoff-worthy, but the question that must be answered is which four teams will clearly be better once the dust clears?

33 thoughts on “Irish Cruise Past Navy

  1. This was my exact prediction of the final score. I didn’t post it, but as I was talking to my wife, I initially said 40-0. But, considering ND hasn’t shut anyone out under Freeman, I gave Navy 6 points and said, “34-6, babe.” 🙂 One time in a long time I was right on the money ? ?

    Great game! Have a great weekend, Vannie!!

  2. Irish tackled much better but since didn’t have to worry about the pass that made a difference even Kelly noted that post game. A better test will be against Virginia next week to see if the progress is real.

    Sorry to see Avery Davis go down, a real team player.

    • Sorry, I’ve been away at my son’s birthday dinner party. The rest of the postgame article is now published.

      I do appreciate your comments and (most of) the others.

  3. Caroline’s Dad says:

    Three things I was thinking about during today’s game:

    (1) I have been critical at times of DC Freeman this year, but today his past experience playing Navy in conference every year really helped him in his first game scheming up against them for the IRISH.

    (2) I am so excited to see Buchner with Diggs, Styles and Kolzie in future seasons. Really have been impressed with how prepared they have all appeared to be this season as freshmen.

    (3) How crazy am I that I want to hold out hope for the CFP with other teams ahead in the rankings struggling today/tonight? Somebody needs to help me out before I get myself hopes sky high—only to see them inevitably be tossed to the ground, lit on fire and then stomped on repeatedly….

    • Irish in the South says:

      This game was really no test for the Irish. Being favored by 3 TDs and covering easily against the much smaller, less skilled Middies. Next week v. Virginia will be a good test. Are we a CFP caliber team? Probably not at this point in time.. However, what I see with this team is progress being made to some extent with each game, even with the injuries that would plague any team. Our freshmen are stepping up in a big way. Teams we beat (Purdue, NC) are beating high ranked teams. So….If we win out, ND could get serious consideration by the CFP committee.
      Question: Do we want to see our Irish go to the playoffs as serious underdogs, with a good chance of being humiliated as before by teams like Alabama, Georgia, etc., or play in a play in a New Years Day bowl that we have a good chance to win? I am on the fence with this one.

  4. Way to go ND!!!! Very impressed with the defense and the tackling was much better!! Great to see many freshmen get more playing time!! Heading down to see the ND/Virginia game next week. Go Irish beat Cavaliers!!!!!

  5. Nice to see solid defense for a change! Congrats to Freeman!
    I trust he’ll be prepared for Virginia air raid.
    Offense looking better. However, for the life of me, I can’t understand why Buchner isn’t getting more reps.
    If for no other reason, he needs more experience before facing OSU 9/22 in the horeshoe.
    Coan is playing better as O line is more protective. However, Buchner has more upside.
    I, too don’t think this is a playoff team. Perhaps, 2021 is a chance for BK to finally win a NY6 bowl.

  6. Great game. Defensively, the only fault I saw was a couple of runs where our defender let the runner get outside rather forcing him inside. Offensively, I was bothered that a blizer from the outside just blew in free on at least two occassions. Otherwise satisfied.

  7. A good win but I don’t understand why they underutilized Mike Mayer given the mismatches with the Naby secondary. That might have opened things up earlier in the game but young Tommy knows best.

    Right now I think only 5-6 of ND’s twelve opponents have a winning record at this point in the season and only two of those teams are currently ranked and ND lost to one of them. So while 8-1 is a great place to be I don’t think ND is a playoff caliber team and I don’t want them to get sneak in and get embarrassed and outclassed in the first round.

    • Irish in the South says:

      Still possible ND could “sneak in”. Teams we beat like Purdue, Wisconsin and North Carolina are now winning and winning by defeating ranked teams. Our strength of schedule is looking better. If we win out at 11 and 1, we would have to be in the conversation.

  8. Fred A Karam Jr says:

    I would like to think we are capable of making the playoffs, however I agree with the others that we are better off in a New Years six bowl game. Our linebackers are thin with injuries and the status of Kyle Hamilton is still undecided. I do like the fight in this team, no pun intended, I also agree that this is Kelly’s finest job coaching with so many obstacles, injuries, inexperienced offensive line and tough schedule. If we are ranked below Michigan or MSU there is a serious problem with ND bias. Lets see we beat Purdue, Wisconsin some of the better teams in the Big Ten. MSU got dominated by Purdue, and Harbaugh can’t win a big game, lets see how the committee sees that this week.

  9. Tommy Rees is a terrible play caller. Running to the short side of the field is his trademark,if it wasn’t for the backs breaking tackles we would have no running game at all. How many times was Mayer targeted yesterday?

  10. John, I am so relieved that I was not the only one screaming for Buchner to get more PT. I totally agree with you that this is not a playoff caliber team but if by some miracle we did get in, our only chance to win a game would be with Buchner at QB.

  11. The touchdown just before halftime was huge, and a sigh of relief as Navy would receive to start the third. But, our shutdown of the fullback run was by far the essence of the victory. Navy was determined to make this work even when behind by two possessions. It would have been pure misery to watch had they been successful. As an aside, what’s with the Texas Longhorns? I watched their game against Iowa St., and they looked absolutely pitiful. How long will Sarkisian last?

    • William – this is postings for ND related comments, please take the Texas commentary to their message boards.

      51-9 in our last 60 games, hard to complain about an 85% win record. We all want the title, we will get there, keep the faith.

      Go Irish!

  12. I really enjoy your weekly column, John Vannie! It’s great to calibrate my reaction to the Irish every Saturday against a more astute student of the game.

  13. good to see ND win as they should have in a blowout against an overmatched but highly respected Navy team. I am still worried about the dismal red zone offense and T Rees as OC. We scored on some big plays but the red zone is still a disaster. Buchner gives us the best opportunity in the red zone.

  14. Really good defensive performance. Offense was pretty bad. First handful of drives reminded everyone of Coan’s limitations and the impact it has on the running game. I don’t want to beat the team up as they are 8-1 and deserve credit for finding ways to win. Kelly has instilled a grittiness in them and an overall culture of winning. As a fan of some losing organizations, it’s apparent this team expects to win and has done a commendable job since the 2016 disaster.

    A few observations and one big prediction for the balance of the year:
    – Feels like Hamilton isn’t going to play again. Money seems to be ruling the day and you can tell Kelly is annoyed but hiding it.
    – Diggs is better then Tyree and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up transferring.
    – Styles, Colzie, and Austin will make next seasons the most dangerous since Tate and Floyd.
    – Kyren Williams should be in everyone’s top 5 for Heisman but doesn’t appear to be getting talked about at all.
    – An 11-1 Irish team will be watching the SEC title game needing an Alabama loss to sneak in as the 4 seed.

    Vannie- I’d love to hear your thoughts on those observations.

    • Quick responses…

      – Agree on Hamilton and Kelly’s posture on the situation. He might come back if ND makes the playoffs, but not for a non-playoff bowl game.
      – Diggs and Tyree have different skillsets and there is certainly room for two backs in this offense. Talk of a transfer here is premature.
      – Styles and Colzie are more natural wide receivers than Lenzy, who is a track guy wearing a football uniform. The future here looks bright. We also have some outstanding freshmen WRs coming in next year.
      – Kyren’s slow start to the season from a statistical standpoint (hardly his fault) really hurt his chances. He deserves strong Heisman consideration.
      – I don’t see ND getting in as the #4 seed unless teams like Oklahoma, Ohio State and even Cincinnati have a bad loss. Oregon already has survived it’s inexplicable loss to Stanford and will stay ahead of ND if they win out. I think the Committee would keep an undefeated Cincy team ahead of us and I would not be surprised if they placed a two-loss Alabama team ahead of ND if they have a narrow loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship game.

      ND with its crappy schedule had one game to win this year and it was at home. They lost badly. Timing was also a factor in that ND is better now and Cincy is clearly running on fumes. They don’t have the depth that top Power 5 programs enjoy and they are wearing down. I wish ND could play them now instead of in September. The other negative factor for ND’s playoff chances is they don’t have another opportunity on the schedule for an impressive, eye-catching win over a top program. The November games are all snoozers against weak teams while other playoff contenders are playing high profile games against traditional rivals.

  15. Cincinati wasn’t a bad loss. You can’t beat teams of reasonable stregth when you give them three turnovers that lead to scores. Looks like they went to takling school this week good job!.

    Reeves needs to come up with a plan of attack inside the 20 yard line. His play calling in the re zone is pathetic. When you can’t score from four yards out with four plays, your deservew to be fired.

    Rabid Fan

    • Cincinnati wasn’t a bad loss because ND committed three turnovers, was beaten at the line of scrimmage and generally played like crap at home against a commuter school? That doesn’t sound like a good loss to me, if there is such a thing.

      • Agreed and the loss looks even worse with how mediocre Cincy has been playing. There isn’t one juggernaut team this year. Alabama and Ohio State’s are not quite at their typical levels. Clemson is down and while Georgia is the cream of the crop, they have a suspect offense and lack a winning pedigree which makes them more beatable. Now, it’s also true this is far from ND’s best team under Kelly but sometimes it’s more about timing and unlike many on this board, I’d much rather be in the playoff and get beat up then watch from the sideline.

        • Agree with you; and I’ll add that ND has it all there but it’s yet to fully show. Here’s hoping for the jell factor, with the players sort of taking over the team, now that they have the wisdom and confidence of 9 games under their belt.