It wasn’t pretty. Heck, it was actually downright ugly, but Notre Dame improved to 9-2 on the season on Saturday with a 24-17 win over Navy. The Irish struggled in all three phases of the game at different times and to varying degrees, but in the end they managed to send the seniors off with a win and unlike last year, didn’t lose to Navy so there’s that. Now let’s crack open this post game 6-pack and dive into what went right and wrong.
1. Brandon Wimbush rebounded nicely in the second half, but still started slow
Coming off the worst game of his career, we talked all week about how this game would give us insight into the mental makeup of Brandon Wimbush. Early on the results did not look good at all. Wimbush missed several early throws that either killed drives or took points off the board by missing touchdowns. The worst example was when Wimbush sailed the shortest pass he may ever throw to Alize Mack in the 1st quarter near the endzone.
On the last drive of the 1st half and in the 2nd half, however, Wimbush started to settle in a little bit once Notre Dame went with a little tempo. He ended the game 9 of 18 for 164 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Kevin Stepherson. Notre Dame has to do something to get Wimbush settled in earlier in games though as this has happened a few times now (more on that in a bit).
For anyone expecting a big bounce back game – myself included – that didn’t come this weekend. Wimbush is still missing a lot of throws that he has the ability to make but he just isn’t making them. Eleven games into the season it’s safe to ask if he’ll
2. Play calling did not help Wimbush or the offense
While Wimbush is missing throws he should be making, the Notre Dame offensive staff isn’t doing him any favors with their game planning or play calling. In poor weather conditions against a team that they should have been able to physically impose their will on, Chip Long started the game with three straight pass plays. Really? You’re playing Navy. Run the ball like you had all season long until last week and make them stop you. If the Navy coaches could have requested a way for Notre Dame to start the game offensively, it would have been exactly the way they did.
Now, let’s fast forward to the 4th quarter. Notre Dame is facing a third and two with the lead and a chance to ice the game. Chip Long called a pass play. Against Navy. Wimbush got pressured, rushed the throw a bit, and was just a bit off target to Alize Mack who dropped the football. Now you can argue that if Mack just makes the catch this isn’t an issue. But why in the heck are you throwing on 3rd and 2 against Navy when you’re strength is your offensive line and running back?
The problem I have with Long’s play calling the last couple weeks is he is calling plays for the kind of quarterback that he doesn’t have. He isn’t calling the game to Wimbush’s strengths. For instance, Wimbush seems to always settle in better after busting a long run, but Wimbush’s running abilities have not been utilized the last couple weeks.
3. Notre Dame’s defense wasn’t bad, but it was far from good
For the most part, Notre Dame’s defense kept Navy from completely gashing them with long runs and they held them well under their yearly averages but should that surprise us? Navy doesn’t exactly play tough competition most weeks so I would expect a Notre Dame defense to play them tougher than the normal opponents.
The problem today with the defense was that while they didn’t let Navy run wild, it was almost death by a thousand cuts. Navy converted 4 of 6 fourth down conversions and they held the ball for nearly 43 minutes. While the offense had a few short drives Navy’s time of possession total was mainly a result of the defense not being able to get off the field.
Case in point was the first drive of the second half. It looked like Notre Dame had Navy right where it wanted in 3rd and 16 with thirteen and a half minutes to go. A couple missed tackles later and Navy converted with a simple fullback run. They went on to march down the field, convert two fourth downs, and score a touchdown while ripping over nearly 8 minutes off the clock.
The other area Notre Dame struggled was with tackling fundamentals. The defense was so strong all year in this department, but against Navy there was way too much shoulder tackling and not enough wrapping up. Navy ball carriers were routinely bouncing off of Notre Dame defenders as a result and falling forward for an extra yard or two instead of getting stopped in their tracks. That has to be cleaned up to beat Stanford next weekend.
3. Where in the world is Dexter Williams?
Dexter Williams was supposedly healthy again this week but mysteriously not involved in the game plan. He was on the field for Kevin Stepherson’s first touchdown after Josh Adams got banged up a bit momentarily, but he didn’t register a single carry or get the ball thrown his way once. Williams started off the season so well for the second year in a row and for the second year in a row, he’s been hardly heard from in the second half of the season.
Josh Adams topped 100 yards with 106 on 18 carries but he didn’t look like quite his full self again this week so the lack of carries for Williams was even more curious. Even a bit banged up, Adams topped 3,000 career yards and now has the 4th highest single season rushing total in Notre Dame history at 1,337. He needs 101 yards next weekend in Palo Alto to break the record. As a freshman in 2015, he ran for 168 yards against the Cardinal.
4. Kevin Stepherson gave a glimpse of his potential
Speaking of Kevin Stepherson, he showed us a glimpse of what he can do for this offense on Saturday. After losing both Equanimeous St. Brown and Chase Claypool, Kevin Stepherson was suddenly Brandon Wimbush’s got to target. He responded with five catches for a career high 105 yards and two touchdowns. He’s got the speed to get behind a lot of defenses and if he and Wimbush can start developing more chemistry, he could put up some ridiculous numbers in this offense in the future.
It’s been quite the interesting season for Stepherson, but he picked a good time for the best game of his young career today. Notre Dame needed someone to step up and make a play and Stepherson answered the call. Notre Dame is going to need him to get behind the Stanford defense next weekend as well if they want to get that 10th win of the year.
5. Notre Dame will miss these seniors
The seniors on this year’s team deserve a lot of credit for the turnaround that took place at Notre Dame this year following last year’s 4-8 disaster. Notre Dame will miss these seniors – especially the ones on the left side of the offensive line. Quenton Nelson in particular will be near impossible to replace. He is such a monster at left guard and while Notre Dame has recruited well along the OL, he is simply one of those players that comes around every 10 or so years. Notre Dame has just been lucky to have Nelson follow so closely to Zack Martin who was also one of those players not too long ago.
Some of these seniors will be back for 5th years, but there might be some recruiting needed from Kelly and staff. There were rumblings on Twitter that Drue Traquill might not return for a 5th year. That would be a huge blow for the 2018 Fighting Irish.
6. Brian Kelly continues to struggle against Navy
After posting back to back blowouts of Navy in 2011 and 2012, Brian Kelly has struggled against the Midshipmen. Including today, he has only lost once to them in that time (last year’s 27-28 defeat), but since 2012 the largest margin of victory for Kelly over Navy was 17 points in 2015. In 2013 the Irish won by just 4, in 2014 the final margin was 10 after Navy came storming back in FedEx Field, and now today the Irish won by just seven points after being favored by 19.5.
Kelly has done a lot well since last year, but beings as he likely won’t be completely overhauling the program again this offseason, he would be wise to spend a lot of time figuring out a way to make these games with Navy more like those 2011 and 2012 outcomes instead of the ones we’ve had the last five years now.
I would like to add that I am sick of ND acting like Navy is our friend. They are not. They are out to kick our rear ends. They are doing a fine job at that.
I have a friend who’s two sons went to Naval Academy. He HATES ND. He loves it when they beat us.
Kelly needs to stop telling our players that these guys are our pals. Stop helping them up. Knock em down and leave them there. They are our enemies when we compete. End of story!!!
You could have played Apollo Creed’s trainer. In 1976.
“He don’t know it’s a damn show! He thinks it’s a damn fight!”
I saw a lot of YUUUUGE hits by ND defense! Trumbetti absolutely hammered a Midshipman. I saw Nyles Morgan lay some heavy lumber, too….as did a majority of our defenders. I felt a lot of energy from ND D.
Offensively, we should have run all over them. Glad BW and KS really got going in second half. I think the weather must have improved for that to happen. I wasn’t there to know if that was the case.
Honestly, I think we will slam Stanford next week.
Hey gobshite d-bomb, go out west and you can start a west coast “Kelly’s a fraud” one dummy group. No dummy, not Stanford, try UCLAN ville.
Another ‘Hall of Fame’ insight. Bravo.
I think the thing we take for granted and maybe undervalue is that it’s hard to win football games every week. Every week you see a top 25 and more recently a top 10 team get knocked off by some low tier team. Just ask Auburn, Oklahoma, Clemson, Ohio State (and the list goes on). Winning each week ugly or not gets the job done. Look at Miami – they played sub level teams and hung on to win. Thats what matters. Winning dirty is still winning – and we’re still on the path to a new year’s six bowl.
Navy is one of (maybe) two games on NDs schedule each year that should, on paper, run up 24+ points by halftime and give the back-ups some playing time. At least on the offense, if not both sides of the ball.
Wimbush is just a downright choke as a passer. Dayne Crist redux.
Hell, the Navy QB could do it when called upon, but not Wimbush.
And because he couldn’t point some points up, nobody down the depth chart got any snaps…except as the replacements for receivers Wimbush nearly got killed.
Another “QB success” story for B. Kelly, future spokesman for Zoloft.
And 3 and out to start the Navy game? On 3 GD passes? That’s Charlie Weis game-planning arrogance & stupidity right there.
Why can’t you enjoy a win. Was it ugly? Yep. But, we won and are 9-2 and in the top ten. Maybe you should stop watching the Irish.
I am sure you will respond with your usual venom
You know who gets shi+? Arseholes.
Don’t be one.
Too late Dave, you are the king of being one
Agree with Paddy Irish. Go lock yourself in a closet David.
If you have every played the position (which I have not), you would know that weather, especially rain, makes the passing game very difficult.
A win is a win – great job ND!!!
David, if Wimbush called the plays, I’d agree, but he doesn’t. Why Chip Long asked him to start the game with three passes in a heavy rain is as much as mystery as where is Dexter Williams. Wimbush is a work in progress, but has still had a very good year. Most of the ND fans would have taken 8-2 at this point in the schedule if you polled them at the beginning of the season. Let’s enjoy the moment.
Acceptance. The final stage.
I see one thing in all the comments…no disagreement with the content of my post, just completely irrational anger that I posted it.
The truth hurts.
Do you like ND football? Do you like talking to other ND fans? If yes to either question, then why are you so wretched? Maybe that is the truth you should be looking into.
Actually, I don’t care. This is my last, “feed David the troll,” post.
I could pretend to be offended or even disappointed by this comment.
But what actually disappoints me is that I know you’re lying.
And you do, too.
I’m your huckleberry…meaning I’ll disagree with you.
Did Wimbush miss on some throws? Yes. Have the WRs dropped some catchable balls this season that would make his overall completion percentage look better? Also, yes.
The Navy QB completed some passes against our defense because it was oriented to stopping the option, as that is Navy’s standard offense. How many overall passes were completed against DBs by Navy QBs? Not against ND’s LBs.
This is not usually a depth chart game, at least for the offense as they aren’t on the field for more than 20 minutes due to Navy’s ball control option offense. This is not Wimbush’s fault, if the ND defense provided the stops and then the offense couldn’t score then you would have an argument. This is the weakest part of your straw man argument against Wimbush.
Not going to disagree on Wimbush’s ball placement, as he is laying WRs out to dry or the play calling from Chip Long to start the game.
I will finish by saying that I think Wimbush needs a lot of work to be the starter next year, but that is a topic for another day.
I tend to agree with Bo Duke. Wimbush knows he can be a great runner. By giving him the opportunity to show that he can make some passes, that would have been a real confidence booster had he succeeded. He needs to gain confidence in his passing skills and in that sense, I thought the playbook for the opening drive was just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.
This is a consistent problem I’ve noticed with BK. What you said in an odd sort of way pointed that out. He tries to force the team to do things they are not comfortable doing. This is a run first team. We had success much of the year running the football. Most of your elite teams basically play to their strength until someone forces them to change.
If someone like Nick Saban were coaching yesterday and he knew our number 1 strength was running the ball, that’s what he would have done. He would have pounded the ball down their throats until he had control of the game.
Then, once the team was in a rhythm and imposing it’s will, then you can start working on other things that need work. You don’t start on things that need improvement first.
To answer your question you let Brandon throw the ball against a team like Navy to help with his development. He’s a struggling first year starter and you’re playing a team you know you can pound the ball against and still come out with a win. Perfect opportunity to let him gain some confidence and get more comfortable. Josh will be gone next year, the oline won’t be nearly as good and Brandon is going to have to carry the offense. He’s going to need to be a lot better.
Wouldn’t moving the ball on the ground and getting a couple of first downs do more for building that confidence instead of putting it all on Wimbush early in bad weather conditions? I get the argument of letting him throw more against a team like Navy but he wasn’t put in a situation to succeed early on. Run the ball, get Navy on it’s heels, get their offense out of their comfort zone by having to play from behind.
I agree. Once you have the game in hand, that’s the time to start experimenting and practicing different things, not at the beginning of the game.
I actually think Frank was spot on with his article. It comes down to ND did just enough to win. If this is the way they play against Stanford they will lose. Sure, the offense and defense did just enough to notch a win. But this was Navy, you can play like that against Navy and get the win. I just didn’t come away from this game satisfied with much, except that they got the win.
Defense made the stops when it counted most. But they allowed too many 3rd and 4th down conversions. I had the same thought about the 3 and 16 conversion. The defense has to make that stop every single time. And I saw ghosts of defenses past as well with the missed tackling and allowing Navy runners to bounce off our defense.
Offense was up and down, they did pick it up in the 2nd half, and yes, ND has started a number of games this year slow before finding their rhythm. I had hoped by now they would be able to start strong. I’m curious what Frank’s final thought on Wimbush was, he seemed to have trailed off.
I’m started to wonder about Long. He had some strong games and some weak games. Elko I’m a little more patient on because our defense was in shambles under BVG. He had a lot of problems to fix and it may have been too much to ask for a complete 180 in a year.
I also wonder is it Long or Elko, or is just their boss dragging them down. The disappearance of Williams is a case in point. I remember an article earlier this year about BK having a personnel problem. I thought we moved passed that but I guess it’s reared it’s head again. I guess Dexter gave BK another dirty look before the game, that’s the only reason I can think of for his mysterious benching. I would argue Dexter hasn’t been used enough all year.
Juliet may, after all/ have been correct, and perhaps Miss Capulet would understand the significance of yesterday’s FINAL result.
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet; ”
Smells sweet to me………..
Duranko, I don’t know about you, but I like throwing short to a TE, especially near the goal line.
Tackling was sometimes poor, but it was also sometimes great, especially late in the game. Navy did not score in the second half after their first possession.
This is not Frank’s best writing…but he is right about senior losses to graduation, especially in the “O” line.
BGC ’77 ’82
He literally tried to throw short to a TE near the goal line. He may have been 3 feet away and he shot put it over his head.
Ron – I was making no references to the pass nor to the catch attempt. Holtz used to throw short to a TE, usually a clear out delay, or a pop pass…near or into the endzone.
Looking ahead: beyond the departures of Nelson and McGlinchey, and Morgan and Martini,
Adams, Tranquil, Mustipher, Coney, E.Q., and Tillery might also be gone.
All have been key to whatever success ND has had. ‘Next-man-in’ will be critical next season, especially in the OL and at LB.
On the bright side, more carries for Dexter Williams.
NDs return to double-digit wins might come down to how much Wimbush develops as a passer, and the improvement of their receivers and TEs.
Well, Bruce, just search your memory bank and think of how many times, watching college football, NFL football or the Mishawaka freakin’ Caavemen, you’ve been shocked by how wide open a TE or fullback is in a goal line situation.
On passing to open the game, one of history’s greatest dynasties used to do it all the time. Pete Carroll’s SC teams, with all that running talent even after Lendale and Reggie left., often used to start out passing. It did three things:
(1 it erased early running tendencies
(2) It challenged the D to leave the safety in coverage rather than in the box
(3) and, tada!! it wore out the opposition’s defensive linemen. Pass rushing is more exhausting than playing the run./
If you pass a lot early, the DLS get leg weary, and then you can really POUND them in the third and fourth quarters.
And SC was a dynasty under Carroll even if they only won 1.5 NCS.
Make no mistake about it ND Nation, this was an amazing win!!!! As feared by all of us, the weather was a factor (Note: I love the weather updates on the preview article. It helps me get insight into the game conditions as well as I may confess helps me to prepare my wardrobe for the week) Nobody likes to run around in a rain storm except those pesky sailors from Maryland. The mighty winds and rain of the seas are what they live for! For Pete’s sake they are sailors 😉 Just when we thought our hopes were SAILING AWAY, Brandon and the boys dug those oars into the seas and pulled this one out 🙂 🙂 🙂 Let’s also remember that this young man is in his first year as a QB at Notre Dame. He has had some growing moments, but I say ND Nation have some patience as this fine young man will rewrite the history books before all is said and done!!!!!! Guess what people?????? ND is 9 and 2 🙂 🙂 🙂 GO IRISH!!!!
Amazing win because of the weather? Sorry, not buying that offering. This was a win yes but in the not very impressive column. NDs much better talent should have resulted in a more dominating win. Regardless, the Irish are 9-2 with a reasonable chance of 10 regular season wins, something I would not have made book on before the season began.