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.
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.
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?