Notre Dame – Navy: 5 Things I Liked

Ben Koyack - Notre Dame TE
Ben Koyack (18) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in front of Navy Midshipmen cornerback Brandon Clements (1) and cornerback Parrish Gaines (2) in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. (Photo: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

Notre Dame improved to 7-2 on the season with a much too close for comfortable victory over the Navy Midshipmen.  The Notre Dame defense was carved up for over 300 yards by the Navy ground game, but in the end came up with a stop to hang on for the victory.

There was a lot to be concerned with for Notre Dame’s chances down the stretch, but lost in the mix were several bright spots as well.  We’ll get into the negatives a little later, but for now, here are the 5 things I liked from yesterday’s win.

Notre Dame’s running game led by Tarean Folston

Lost in the angst over how poorly the Notre Dame defense played was how well Notre Dame ran the football yesterday.  The Irish mashed out 264 yards on the ground led by freshman Tarean Folston’s career high 140 yards.  Folston, Cam McDaniel, and George Atkinson all had great games for the Irish yesterday with McDaniel adding 52 yards and Atkinson adding 74 while all three Irish backs found the endzone against the Midshipmen.

The Notre Dame offensive line and tight ends – especially Troy Niklas – played a huge role in the Notre Dame running game having its best game of the season with the Irish line opening huge lanes for the backs even with two backups starting with Christian Lombard lost for the season and Chris Watt being a late scratch.  Freshman Steve Elmer and junior Connor Hanratty filling in admirably.

Folston’s performance should push him to the top of the Notre Dame depth chart for the rest of the season not just because of his stats, but because of the way he ran.  Folston ran with the type of power and authority that no other Irish back has shown this year.  When Folston runs, he always falls forward.  When some other Irish backs run, they fly backwards on contact.  We will be talking more about Tarean Folston this week, but if there was any doubt who the best back on the roster is right now, there shouldn’t be any longer.

The play of Notre Dame’s freshman class

I’ve already mentioned the play of Steve Elmer and Tarean Folston, but they weren’t the only freshmen to play well yesterday.  Isaac Rochell was called upon to play a larger role with the injuries up front.  Cole Luke and Devin Butler have firmly entrenched themselves in the rotation in the secondary.  Max Redfield was a force on special teams.  And Jaylon Smith started his 9th game of the season.

Elmer and Smith will be starters for the rest of the season and unless the coaching wasn’t watching yesterday, Folston should be too.  That’s three impact starters from a freshman class.  You can’t ask for much more than that.  Add in the contributions of Luke, Butler, Rochell, Redfield, James Onwualu, Corey Robinson, and Will Fuller and this freshmen class might just be the best freshmen class to come through Notre Dame in a long, long time.

It might be tough to really appreciate right now since right now the Irish are coming off of a 4 point win over a Navy team that scored 7 points against Duke, but this class has the potential to be very special and fuel another championship run at some point in their careers.

Eliar Hardy  and Ben Councell

The Notre Dame defense had its worst performance since the 2010 Navy debacle in the Meadowlands.  There is no other way to say and no point in sugar coating.  The defense was just atrocious yesterday, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some positives to take from it.  One positive was the play of Ben Councell before his injury and Eliar Hardy – two players many Notre Dame fans had written off at this point.

Councell was passed on the depth chart by Jaylon Smith, but yesterday was one of the best performances we’ve seen out of Councell in his career.  Councell had 5 tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass breakup before suffering what looked like a serious injury.  There isn’t more news on Councell’s injury right now but it looked like when he planted his leg it got caught in the turf and those type of injuries are usually not minor.

Hardy meanwhile saved the game for Notre Dame when he wasn’t fooled by Navy’s inexplicable reverse on 4th down with the game on the line.  If Hardy doesn’t hold contain or allows himself to be blocked there, Navy could have scored on the play and at the very least would have gotten the first down.  Hardy, however, remained disciplined and forced the play wide allowing Jaylon Smith to clean up.

Both players may have been forgotten by Notre Dame fans but both are showing that they are going to be factors for the Irish.

Kona Schwenke, the line bright spot up front

Another bright spot for the defense was the play of Kona Schwenke, who also suffered and injury like Councell.  Before being hurt in the second half, Schwenke picked up 11 tackles and was really the only bright spot for the defensive line yesterday.  Schwenke was the only defensive lineman to get any sort of penetration yesterday.  In fact, Schwenke was the only defensive lineman who wasn’t continually blown back 3-4 yards almost every down.

It was really unfortunate that depth chart problems forced Schwenke into action in both 2010 and 2011 when a redshirt year would have greatly benefited him.  With the way Schwenke is playing right now, having another year of eligibility for him to start next year would just be huge for Notre Dame.  Unfortunately that redshirt had to be burned both years and he won’t have that chance.

Another big game from TJ Jones and Touchdown Koyack

TJ Jones scored a touchdown for the 6th straight game yesterday and racked up over 100 yards receiving in the first half alone before Notre Dame realized it could just run on every down and not be stopped by the Navy defense.  Jones’s big game gave him a career high in receiving yards in a single season with 742 while being just two receptions short of tying his single season personal best as well.  Jones has become an all around receiver for the Irish and has the chance to top 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns this year at his current pace. Jones has scored a touchdown in all but the Temple and Purdue games – the two games in which Davaris Daniels has scored his only touchdowns of the season.

Seeing Ben Koyack have an impact after also being largely overlooked and forgotten by many fans – like Councell and Hardy – was great to see as well.  Koyack only has five catches this season, but three of them have went for touchdowns giving Notre Dame a viable receiving threat in two tight end sets.

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  1. Why does Navy always give ND fits? Why can’t we play assignment football vs Navy? Well a win is a win and Pitt will not be easy.

  2. Remember ND linebacker Brian Smith?

    Pretty decent player.
    Started to gather some NFL intrest his senior year.
    Then had his knee taken out against Navy. Missed the last two games of his final college career. Then his NFL stock plummeted off the charts.

    Some will say we owe Navy. I say that debt has been paid many times over. ND has always put the best interest of their students first, and should continue to do so here.

    I would much rather see ND play teams like Northwestern, Indiana, Duke, Michigan, Vanderbuilt, Rice, Rutgers, Texas Christian, or Boston College instead of Army, Air Force, or Navy.

    Maybe even just a short break is needed.

    As someone previously said, ND has everything to lose in these games and almost nothing to gain. After losing 4 players in two games and only moving from 25th to 23rd in the rankings, it’s hard to argue that point.

    1. I think these are valid points. Of course the Academies are owed respect and gratitude for their service and sacrifices. However, the other 100-some odd football teams in the NCAA don’t “owe” them the right to cut block simply because they are undersized and not as gifted athletically. That is not every other teams’ fault.

      1. There are a lot of teams that could benefit from the use of legal cut blocking in college football.

        But the majority of major programs choose not to.

        That’s because there is a unspoken code amoung colleges and coaches.

        “What goes around comes around”

        “You do it to us and we will do it back to you”

        “You hurt our players and you risk your own in return”

        Except ND doesn’t play that. They put student athletes first. All student athletes. Ours or theirs.

        Everyone knows this.
        Most respect us for it. Others seem to enjoy taking full advantage of the fact.

        Respect, graditude, no problem.

        Honor earned on the football field? … that one I’m not so sure about.

      2. And let’s not forget the loss of Ishaq thanks to a chop-block by Air Force as well. Navy, and Air Force, to a lesser degree, chop-block routinely, and ND careers are at risk, especially along the DL. And who’s to say the “hands-to-the-face” call against Tuitt wasn’t just him protecting his knees from another chop-block assault. There’s a reason chop-blocks are illegal in the NFL.
        With our arrival in the ACC, use that as an excuse to dump the service academies- when we win, it’s ho-hum; when we lose, it’s catastrophic- and we always seem to lose ‘D’ players against them. Protecting your own is a better tradition than exposing them to the cheap-shot academies’ game plan.

  3. Adding one more to the five things I liked:

    The Navy Coach!! What an idiot, haha!! We didn’t stop their normal triple option, where the QB kept it and either had the pitch man or himself to run, all day long. And then that idiot decides to do a little trickery with a reverse. That loss is strictly on him for that play call. I’m not sure if he calls the plays or not, but wow that was the stupidest thing they could have done when destroying us on one play all game long.

    I really hope that in the ‘5 Things You Didn’t Like’ article that there is mention of Bob Diaco’s completely lack of adjustments during the game. That one is all on him, in my opinion. Again, they were killing us on the same thing all day but absolutely no adjustments were made. In the triple option against NAVY, play one on one on the outside (if their receivers beat us, we really suck) and bring your safeties up to make the tackles. Our safeties were nowhere to be found and when you defend triple option, they should be the ones getting lots of tackles near the line of scrimmage, not downfield. Simple stuff. Other coaches would have made adjustments. I think someone said it all when they said Duke held them to 7 points, haha! What a joke this game was for Bob Diaco…

    1. ChrisJ,

      I agree, in hind-sight it appears that Navy outsmarted themselves on their reverse call.

      Navy probably thought they had it set up perfectly.

      All game they ran their standard option game with no end arounds, reverses, counters, or misdirction plays.

      They decided to used the reverse at a time when they thought ND’s pursute would be at it’s greatest, and then they picked out and targeted the freshmen outside linebacker Jaylon Smith as most likely to breakdown, loose contain, and over pursue leaving his flank wide open.

      It probably really wasn’t all that bad of a call… with one exception… Freshmen outside linebacker Jaylon Smith.

      The kid did a pretty good job of staying home, has better than average instincts, but more importantly, his ability to read the play quickly, run it down, and then make a sure tackle was the key.

      Underestimating Smith’s ability was Navy’s real mistake, one I doubt they make again in the coming years.

      1. Agree with Shaz. When that play was developing my initial thought was oh boy that’s a TD. Great play by our D.

  4. Things I didn’t like…

    Navy was called for “ZERO” penalties. ZERO! 4 quarters of football.. ZERO!

    I saw plenty of holding calls on the Midshipmen that weren’t called. I mean, your team runs for well over 300 yards on 70 carries, 70, and not a single holding call anywhere? Not even one?
    Even a total dogshit officiating crew will call at least one holding call on the other team so as not to look too completly obvious or one sided.

    Then I saw a Navy player try to pull off Folston’s Helmet while he was on the ground.(I guess he was tired of trying to tackle him and needed a break)

    By comparison, ND had 5 penalties for 55 yards.

    One was on Tuitt for “hands to the face” which went a long way to Navy’s first score. I watched the replay but just didn’t see it. Am I mistaken here? Did anyone see “hands to the face by Tuitt on this play?
    But I do understand how important it is to protect those Navy offensive linemen, after all ,they do play with such a high level of Honor.

    Then there was the holding on Niklas who absolutely buried his man. A roughing call… Ok, maybe, but holding, no way. As offten as Troy buried this guy I hope he sent flowers.

    Then there was the “targeting” foul called on ND’s #53 who was a good 10 yards away from the actual play, who the ref’s wanted to kick out of the game, until it was revealed that in fact it was ND’s #41(Farley), who actually lead with his shoulder and it was a clean hit in bounds, so they just went with another bogus call in unnecessary roughness so as not to look completely bush league, which they did anyway when they flagged ND for a illegal substitution a few plays later. What a Joke!

    And I’m sure Alabama would have buried NAVY by 50, but then Bama has a whole 7 players on the injury list, unlike the 17 that ND has,
    which can make it awfully hard to practice at full strength and speed, especially when most of those are on your defense, all of which that played on the D-Line in this game did so with their hands off the ground so as to be able to fend off the chop blocks in order to protect themselves.

    And we all know that Alabama would have won by 50 because would use their O-Line to chop block Navy in return, something almost everyone in the college football world knows that ND won’t ever do.

    And finally, something has to be done about the playing surface at ND stadium, it’s getting down right embarrassing.

      1. I say Bama beats Navy by 50 even with their reserves.

        That’s because Saban would have his O-Line cut block the Navy D-Line into oblivion.

        See, the Devil of the SEC has no problem with that. You try to cut block his team and he does it right back only better.
        He doesn’t care how many Navy linemen get carted off, only how many of his linemen might get carted off.
        And he won’t stop until Navy waives the white flag and gives it up.

        That’s why Navy and Alabama never play each other.

        And why it wouldn’t be so good for either team as well as college football as a whole.

      2. Interesting observation, Shaz.

        Paul Johnson at GT runs the exact same O that Navy does. In fact, Ken N. (won’t even try to spell the Navy coach’s last name)learned this system from Johnson. But because GT has legit athletes and big linemen, they block more straight up. You don’t see as much of the cut blocking by GT linemen that you do by Navy. I’d rather play GT’s option than Navy’s even tough the Jackets are a better team.

        At some point ND should re-evaluate its relationship with Navy. Perhaps the university can make some large donation to the Naval Academy and call things even. I don’t want to see ND kill Navy sailors on the field. But enough is enough. Every year ND get 2-3 players hurt against Navy, some for the rest of the season.

    1. Truly Shazam. The calls on Niklas and Farley were horrendous! Navy can cut block all day but we execute text book perfect blocks and hits on those play and get flagged. Yet again the officials “feeling sorry” for Navy’s shortcomings I guess…

  5. Michael,

    Agreed. And 50 would’ve allowed us all to breathe a bit easier. Giving up 34 is way too much, though, I don’t care who’s at QB. The bottom line is that Toledo gave up fewer yards and points than ND did. So did Pitt. I’m sure if we look at the box score of Navy’s games we’ll find that our D gave up more yards and points than far inferior teams did to Navy. Our D scheme was horrible and it was pointed out by everybody from Hines Ward to Lou Holtz.

  6. Gentlemen, I saw a lot of crummy tackling. Farley likes to arm tackle. That doesn’t cut it. I really liked Hardy’s game and Jaylon Smith is just ridiculous!

    When I saw that reverse play start, I thought Navy was going to bust out a BIG gain. Hardy and Smith stuffed it. That was the ball game…one play.

    Thanks for winning Irish. It would have been totally depressing to lose. We should have dropped 50 on Navy.


    1. We would “have dropped 50 on Navy” again, except for the two INTs. A little less passing would have both wore out the Middies and kept their chop-blocking injury- producing offense off the field more. Until Navy proved they could stop the run, why pass?

      Next year, if Reynolds is healthy, take Navy and the points. That guy is as effective an option QB as I’ve seen.

  7. Question for everyone.. at what point do we consider not renewing the service academy games? These games are not slam dunks and for whatever reason.. the option and triple option kicks our as$ every year.. I would just hate in a year or two be in title contention and be sweating out a fourth quarter game against Navy because we cannot defend the pitch on the perimeter.

  8. This years Irish are completely inconsistent game to game. Not sure what’s going on there. How can the same defense that dominated Air Force almost lose it against Navy? Yes, Navy is better than Air Force, but not that much better. Offensively, they did fine. Great running game mixed with some good passing (excepting the 2 interceptions). If EG comes back and is back to form next year, this offense has the potential to do great things next year. Defensively, they should be playing better more consistently though.

    Inconsistency probably comes from coaching. I do think BK is the right man for the job, but they have to work on consistency. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to outthink themselves. Last years defense, absent the Alabama game, was pretty dominant. I’ve always been a believer in doing what works until it stops working.

    A BCS game is still possible, if they can beat Stanford (and win out the rest of the year). But if they have any hopes winning a BCS game, they still have a lot of work to do.

    1. Keeping with the topic: “things I like”:
      1. Redfield (#10) on special teams- with all the missed tackles by the starting DBs, (what’s happened to B.Jackson and Farley? ) isn’t it time for him to appear in the ‘D’ on a regular basis? We sure missed Grace, Nix and Shumate (will he ever return?) to stop the run.
      2. Being done with academy teams this season (and forever as far as I’m concerned)- nothing to gain other than numerous chop-block injuries. If we win, ho-hum; if we lose catastrophic fallout. Jack (above) discussed field-turf; the sod is far less damaging and dangerous than the academies taking out our starters with their incessant cheap albeit legal “chop blocks” that annually decimate too many starting defenders. The Navy coach – if his team doesn’t beat us, they sure strive to take our starting defenders out. Add Kona and Day (and the blow to the head that lead to Councell’s injury) and the two teams all singing together at the game’s end doesn’t quite balance out the annual chop-block damage for me.

      1. I agree. There is no reason in the world to play any more than Navy at the most once a year. with the new ACC contract there should be no more Army or Air Force int he foreseeable future. 2-3 guys go down every damn game.

      2. Honestly, although I respect the academies, I don’t like their style of play at all. I wouldn’t mind Notre Dame just not playing them. I know that won’t happen, but I can dream.

  9. Just a note but I am officially on the band wagon for fields turf. That fields is a mess and its time to make the upgrade. The turf is leading to injuries and the TJ Jones slip for an interception. Enough is enough!

  10. “this freshmen class might just be the best freshmen class to come through Notre Dame in a long, long time.” AMEN!!! Keep up the great recruiting and the future looks bright.

  11. Definitely agree with your points. TF should be the number 1 back period. He ran with authority and the more touches he got, the better he became. He is the future at RB right now. Imagine if Bryant was healthy. Wowza

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