Duranko’s Digest: What Did We See Against Navy?

Tarean Folston- Notre Dame v. Navy
Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Tarean Folston (25) runs the ball as Navy Midshipmen safety Parrish Gaines (2) pursues in the fourth quarter at FedEx Field. Notre Dame won 49-39. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Fighting Irish squeaked past Navy 49-39 in a weird affair that more closely resembled a Halloween House of Horrors than a first rate triumph by an outstanding team. The Irish led 7-0 after 52 seconds. The Irish led 28-7 after 23 minutes. At that point the total yardage was Notre Dame 304-Navy 89. Then, either hobgoblins descended from the Landover mist, or, more precisely, the Irish demonstrated, as they had against Purdue, Syracuse and North Carolina, that they lack the killer instinct and fail to kick the opponents when they are down. That must be fixed.


Brian Van Gorder, in addition to pressure, brings another tactic imported from the NFL. He does not run the same defense in every game. For Navy, he dusted off the 3-4 and dialed up key roles for Justin Utopu and Greer Martini (the kid can play, he was the leading tackler for the Irish.) After allowing 75 yards on Navy’s first drive, the Irish scheme and its players settled in and held Navy to 14 yards in the next two series. With an Irish offense that could not be stopped by Navy, but only by its own misdeeds, it appeared as if the rout was on. But Navy adjusted and responded with a touchdown drive to close the gap to 28-14. It appeared that the Irish were righting that wrong when the offense drove to the Navy 33, enroute to a putative 35-14 lead at intermission. But Golson, instead, threw an inexplicable and inexcusable interception on first down. It would be 28-24 before the Irish touched the ball again, and Joe Schmidt would be out of the game. Navy was now emboldened and kept in the game, quite gamely before succumbing by the final 49-39, a margin compressed by the two missed field goals.

Playing against the most athletically challenged defense the Irish will see until UMASS arrives on September 26, 2015, the Irish offense moved virtually at will. The increasingly explosive Notre Dame offense gashed Navy early and often as if they were Viet Cong guerrillas ambushing a Navy patrol boat on the Mekong River. The Notre Dame ground game set up the Notre Dame passing game. The Notre Dame passing game set up the Notre Dame rushing game. The offense had 11 drives, 7 touchdowns, 2 missed field goals, the macabre Golson interception and just one punt. In Kelly’s five years, Notre Dame has punted just 5 times against Navy in five games. The line, as expected, moved Navy defenders at will, creating gaping holes for Golson and Folston.

But the defense, despite the tweaks, had the mid game siesta, and life got complicated when Joe Schmidt was injured and left the field.


Well, players get injured in college football. This is the world we live in, these are the hands we are given. The Irish had a “communicator” injury early in the year, 48 hours before the Rice game, when Captain Austin Collinsworth went down. And those crafty Owls took advantage of the bumfuzzled Shumate and Redfield. BUT THAT’S WHY WE HIRE GOOD COACHES AND PAY THEM! Kelly and Van Gorder said they’d fix it and they did. Shumate and Redfield stepped up and have become quite the pair of safeties. Nyles Morgan, your time has come to shine, all your dreams are on their way.

Remember, Kelly noted several times that Morgan is a student of the game, albeit with three years of “study” fewer than Joe Schmidt. Too bad! Eager young Nyles, who moves and tackles with no shame in his game, will have plenty of tutoring from Messrs. Van Gorder and Elliott. First, we don’t play an explosive offense until we see Southern Cal. Arizona State averages 29 ppg in conference, Northwestern a paltry 16 ppg in conference, and Louisville, even with Petrino, 22 ppg in conference. Then there is Jaylon Smith. He has deferred to Schmidt’s skill in recognition, calling defenses and communication. Not any more. He will have to, regardless of his position, offload some or much of the responsibility from Morgan. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth after Collinsworth went down, and there will be now about the estimable Joe Schmidt. But Nyles Morgan is no gimmee, and the guy next to him will have Nyles’ back. And there’s another guy next to Morgan:


Less than a year ago, Onwualu was learning the craft of being a wide receiver as a true freshman. He progressed in leaps and bound after being moved to linebacker in the Spring and pre-Fall, but started slowly in September. He hesitates less, plants his foot and attacks swiftly and decisively. He is starting to figure it out, and he is quick, strong and an outstanding tackler. He now adjusts from being carried by Schmidt to helping carry Nyles Morgan. It’s a battlefield promotion, but sometimes those work.


First 5 games: 12 points per game
Last 3 games: 37.6 points per game

Excuses are for losers. And trends are trends. At a minimum, overconfidence should not be a problem for the defensive players, and sometimes the Irish close ranks better in a crisis than in good times. Here there is a double dose: the increase in points per game allowed and the loss of Schmidt. “Count on me” had better be a code, not a platitude. Kelly is 14-3 in November at Notre Dame. For him to reach 18-3 the defense will have to improve. Kelly knows that. Van Gorder knows that. This year the Irish have handled challenges better than the good times. Against Michigan, Stanford and FSU they met the challenges and played with guts and vigor. The must rise to the occasion yet again..


(1) A repeat opponent. Last year, the Irish defense had stopped Taylor Kelly in his tracks and were physically dominating the Sun Devils so completely that they had a comfy 24-13 lead and the ball as the fourth quarter began. Then, the game turned weird. An inexplicable and gratuitous pick-6 interception thrown by the then incumbent Notre Dame quarterback tightened the score to 24-20 and it reinvigorated the Sun Devils. Notre Dame still controlled and won 37-34 after a late, and insignificant touchdown by ASU made the game seem closer than the final score. ASU did not almost win the game, but Notre Dame nearly deigned to lose it.

(2) A one loss team, with wins over Stanford when the Cardinal took a mulligan and USC when the Sun Devils scored on two bombs in the last three minutes, including a “walk-off” TD when Hayes Pullard made a Three Stooges play on the game ending and non-perfunctory Hail Mary.

(3) ‘Splain to me, Todd Graham how you managed to lose to UCLA by 62-21? Let me help, Todd. You gave up five plays of 80 yards or more. Yep, Five. Two 80 yard TD passes, one to Eldridge Massington, one to Jordan Payton, an 81 yard run by Paul Perkins, a 100 yard kickoff return by Ishmael Adams and a 95 yard interception return by the very same Ishmael Adams, of a pass by Mike Bercovici Kelly’s backup while he was out. Outside of those five plays, however….

(4) Jaelen Strong-the eponymous wide receiver may be the best in the Pac XII, and with apologies to Amari Cooper, may be the best in the country.

(5) Offensive lines and defensive lines at ASU that may have some difficultly with their Irish counterparts. Last year the Irish out rushed the Sun Devils, even with Marion Grice, 145-65. The Irish generated 6 sacks to none by the Sun Devils. Last year, ASU had the more mobile quarterback. That script has been flipped.

(6) The last one loss team the Irish will play in the regular season. All other opponents have at least three losses.

(7) A Taylor Kelly who has some mobility, which did not hurt the Irish last year. Kelly, against a much less nimble 2013 defense, which lost its ‘starting middle linebacker in mid-game, had 51 yards rushing, but lost 45 in 6 sacks for a net of 6 yards. He is not Marquise Williams, he is not Jameis Winston and he is not Keenan Reynolds. Playing straight up against the base Irish defense has not worked very well.

There is much at stake in Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday afternoon. This Irish team has risen to challenges this year. Can they do it again? Go Irish!

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  1. I’d like to see some of the SEC teams schedule Navy instead of these Southern North Carolina type teams that they like to beat up on for most of their non-conference teams.

    1. Sorry guys I don’t see Alabama struggling with Navy. Also, there are several SEC teams that have played tough non-conference games this year. Auburn/KState, LSU/Wisconsin, GA/Clemson. Also Alabama opens with USC in 2016.

  2. Speaking of Navy, should we ask them how they did rushing against the Irish defense? I don’t feel ASU should have jumped that high and above us, but they may have done us a favor if we beat them. It is the most important game because it is the next game? Well it is now because ASU is #9!




    Arizona State is going to have a very, very, difficult time rushing the ball against the Fighting Irish.

    Ask Stanford and FSU how well they did rushing the ball against the Notre Dame defense.

    The more you put ASU under the microscope the more their blemishes and weaknesses are revealed.

    1. My only concern is our historically poor record the week after Navy. It seems playing them is physically and mentally draining. Combined with a trip out west, might make it tougher than it would be otherwise.

      1. Historically poor records:

        In 2014, teams are just 2-6 in the following game after playing Navy.

        Also in 2014, teams are only 1-6 in their following games after playing Utah.

        Looking at Utah’s style of play, there is little question of the physical toll they extract on their opponents.

        As far as the mental side goes, we have all seen what can happen to a team after they win a tough, emotionally charged game… in overtime.

        Like ASU did last week.

        Let’s hope ND comes ready to play and jumps on ASU from the get go.

  4. Woody, one thing about Schmidt’s absence. Kelly, Van Gorder and Elliott will sell, and sell hard and persuasively, that the whole defense, especially the front seven, must compensate for Schmidt’s absence and offload playcalling and alignment pressure from Morgan. This is precisely the kind of challenge that Notre Dame players usually meet.

    Woody, you may remember about 48 years ago this month, the Irish took a famous train ride from South Bend to Michigan State to play the mighty Spartans of Duffy, Bubba and George Webster. The platform was icy when they debarked, and Nick Eddy slipped and injured himself out of the game.

    Then during the game Bubba Smith took Hanratty out on a vicious but CLEARN and FOOTBALL-PURE hit. Then the fiery center, George Goeddeke, was injured out of the game.

    Here’s what Larry Conjar said to Rocky Bleier before the game:

    “Before the game, he’d (meaning Conjar, and Notre Dame men like Bleier are generally great at football, combat and punctuation) said to me:
    ‘Nick Eddy isn’t going to play. The responsibility is on your shoulder. You can’t let us down.'”

    Bleier didn’t Bob Gladieux didn’t and Coley O’Brien didn’t.

    Now Woody, I generally try to avoid going all Colonel William Barrett Travis at the Alamo here, but I’m making a ruling and drawing a line in the dirt:

    Over on my side are Ara, Bleier, Conjar, Goeddeke, Eddy, O’brien, Gladieux, Schmidt, Van Gorder, Morgan, Elliott, Jaylon Smith, Onwualu
    and some others.

    Now, Woody, are you coming to OUR side of the line or not???

    I gots ta Know!!

  5. I am concerned about losing our Defensive play caller, Joe Schmidt. I hope Duranko is correct that we will compensate for that loss.

    One thing I did notice is that Nyles Morgan is big, fast, strong and mean. He is a hitting machine.

    Looking forward to seeing him unload on some Sun Devils.

    Go IRISH,

    1. Really Woody, it’s not play calling. Wha the does is adjust the D Linemen in response to th reads of the linebackers. This is why Kelly called out Day as a guy that would have to step it up. In the push/pull LB play that BVG is employing, the DL’s have to know where to go. Someone hase to call gap and technique…but, if your physical enough up front, and your LB’s are athletic and aggressive enough, it can be forgiving. We’ll see what Trumbetti, Onwualu, Hill and Martini can really do as youngins this week. I hope they all show the flash and promise that they’ve shown so far.

  6. A good analysis Duranko, as usual (though straighter than I like your writing), but I’ll take issue with a few of your points:

    First, a ten point victory isn’t a squeeker. A one point win, a last second feild goal…sure. But, a ten point advantage is a clear and obvious win. I know we were all drum tight when it looked like they might let Navy back into it, but ultimately the better team closed appropriately.

    Second, your notion that BVG or Schmidt might have anything to do with the success or failure of the defense against Navy is suspect. Defending a traditional or triple option isn’t any mystery. It isn’t even anything that a DC would “scheme”. Everyone knows how to defeat the offense. It’s getting players to react accordingly, regardless of their instincts, that creates difficulty. All that’s required is discipline and experience…two things in short supply on an astonishingly talented defense that in the 21st century, may never have played against an old school option offense before – ever. Take that level of inexperience, and the frustration that the option causes; add a dash of spread motivated misdirection? It equals Navy tacking 39 points on you…but, not much reason for concern.

    The offenses we face for the remainder of the season are familiar, and ones that we should be successful with, though up-tempo and Louisville could be challenges. Schmidt is a huge loss, (And before I write this, I’ll say that I’m not a member of “the leading tackler on the team, and captain of the defence, lacks the athletic prowess to play” clan. They’re stupid.) But, though the experience of the D takes a blow, the ferocity certainly doesn’t. Morgan demonstrated Jaylon Smith caliber talent. His closing speed is comparable, and his lust for violence is surpassing. He attacks runners with the notion that every ball carrier should know his number. The thought of the wreckage that these two could do in a BVG defence is nearly sexually exciting…in a Victoria’s Secret does Braveheart sort of way.

    On the down side, Golson continues the pattern of simulteneaously elevating and sabotaging his team. Brian Kelly took the blame because he knows that his quarterback has a pattern of exponentially increasing his mental errors when criticism becomes severe. It’s a noble coaching decision, but nonetheless, has to be frustrating for Kelly, who would prefer to have a QB that was optimal for his system. As many times as he’s tried to run a zone option; he can’t. Golson never keeps the ball, which amounts to a painfully slow and predictable running game. As amazing as Golson’s elusive running ability may be, he still misses obvious opportunities, and flushes a pocket at inappropriate times. All of which isn’t meant to pound on a kid that when he’s comfortable, is among the best in the game, and may well have the deadliest arm; but still, has half a football staff not only scheming for an upcoming defence, but also disigning around the decision making ability of a quarterback with a history of losing won games in every quarter but the fourth. Golson knows this, as does everybody in the locker room. Kelly, et al, do a good job of building a weekly playbook suited for him. And when it clicks, it’s obvious, because he’s nearly unstoppable. When it doesn’t, or Kelly wants to rely upon binary QB play (give/keep, pass/run), everything goes to hell until Golson and offensive strategy can be corrected.

    We’ll see where it goes Saturday. My bet is that the ND defense plunders the ASU running game, and smashes around Taylor Kelly enough that outside of the occasional good series and big play, the Devils stay below 24. ND will succeed intermittently with every aspect of the game offensively. ASU will try their best to force Golson into positions that compromise his confidence. If they succeed we’ll rely on Folston (I love McDaniel too, but c’mon now), until he can regain composure…Run Everett Run! Still, the Irish put up near or over 40. This will set up a run that will challenge the bias of the “committee”, when it becomes clear that every team above Notre Dame will have to lose a game, with the exception of Florida State, for the Irish to make it into the 4.

  7. regarding ASU, it is the most important game because it is the next game.

    But ASU is neither the best team we have faced so far, nor are they the best team we are yet to face.

    Were the Fighting Irish to clone the performance put on by both the offensive and defensive units against Florida State, Irish eyes will be smiling. IF.

    If this team has shown a pattern, it has risen to the occasion when a challenge was imminent, as against Michigan, Stanford and FSU. And the dark side of the pattern is yawning to victory over foes like Purdue, Syracuse and North Carolina.

    Big game indeed on Saturday. Pattern suggests that the Irish will be ready.

  8. Reading the above post lets move on. Biggest game of the year coming up. Arizona St moved ahead of us. Lets beat them then talk, debate and criticize.

  9. westcoastirish, you may have a good argument here, or possibly not.

    As an overall rule, I like the concept of adjusting for certain games.

    Jim Tressel, a pillar of competence from my view, was excellent at doing that, but more often on the offensive side of the ball.

    And, going into a bowl or playoff game, I like breaking tendencies, particularly because you will have more time to practice and prepare.
    Saban pointed out the predictability of Diaco’s defense, particularly
    in reacting to certain sets, as a key factor in Bama’s early romp.

    What’s confounding is that Navy, after the initial TD drive, had two successive three and outs.

    You may be right, but I’d want to see a bigger sample size, including when we have players with a little more maturity. Trumbetti, Tranquill, Martini, Morgan and Hill are true frosh. I’d be shocked if five defensive frosh doff the redshirt in 2015.

    1. Welcome. One could certainly argue that he still shouldn’t have thrown the pass, but apparently the lead receiver was NOT where he should have been as a result of the miscommunication. Cheers and GO IRISH

  10. This is good analysis Duranko, but I think the adjectives you use to describe EG’s interception may be too strong. I’m not sure it was really all his fault. Kelly said in his press conference that it was really on him (i.e. Kelly) due to a miscommunication between himself and the 2 receivers on the play.

    1. The interception should not have mattered if only the defense had done its job. On that Navy drive ND went away from the penetrating aggressive play that had stooped Navy up to that point. I was more nonplussed by Kelly’s play calling in the fourth with two opportunities inside the Navy forty and he goes conservative ending with two failed field goals from long distance. You stop the option with smart penetration not reading and reacting. With far better athletes ND should have been better coached on defense. You always study your opponents’ losses.

  11. I like BVG, but I’m starting to think he has the “I’m the smartest person in the room” disease that seems to afflict ND coaches from time-to-time. Playing Navy and its triple option is not the time to try to get exotic.

    Navy, frankly, doesn’t care what you run. They are going to option off of the first two men outside the guard, run the occasional pass and counter and hope you fall behind only to watch them run down the clock. It was a poor effort and defensive design, and I hope we can just chalk it up BVG getting back into the college game.

    1. I will say this in defense of BVG, he hasn’t seen the triple option since the early 2000’s. He devised a defense which did not work. He will review the game film and better prepare for next year.

      As far as BVG being a defensive genius, he’s an very good coordinator. Teams now have film on his defense and are making adjustments to combat his pressure. If you look at what teams are doing they are getting the ball out of their hands quicker and that is nullifying the pass rush. Expect the same and see if ND presses with their corners.

      It should be another great game.

    2. Navy is ranked #2 in the nation in rushing for a reason.

      They have run the ball a whopping 510 times so far this year for 3150 yards, for an average of 350 yards per game.

      Year in and year out Navy always ranks in the top 5 in the nation in rushing.

      It’s what they do.

      And year in and year out the finest defensive minds in all of college football have failed to devise a way to effectively shut it down.

      And while VanGorder didn’t devise a scheme to completely shut it down, he did find a way to stop it when the team needed it the most.

    1. I would do what should have been done in the second half against FSU. On suspected pass plays drop the middle linebacker in the middle to shut down that passing lane. The front four with one backer on a delayed blitz stunt up the middle should be effective.

      1. That’s it, you’ve figured out the secret to great defense. Please get over to S Bend immediately and have a chat with the coaches.

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