5 Things I Liked: Notre Dame vs. Navy ’18

Notre Dame played about as uneven of a 22-point victory as you could play on Saturday night.  At times they looked flat out dominant and at others it looked like they wanted nothing to do with trying to slow down the Navy offense.  The positive outweigh the negative though in this one though and the Irish are sitting at 8-0 for the first time in six years with a clear path to the playoffs in front of them. So let’s take a look at the 5 things I liked in Notre Dame’s 44-22 win over Navy.

1. Notre Dame winning when 11 teams in the top 25 lost

Everyone would have loved for Notre Dame to simply replicate its first half dominance in the second half and have the final score be more like 51-10 instead of 44-22.  It would have looked better to the playoff committee and it would have just been a nice boost of confidence to the team in general to thoroughly dominant Navy.  Instead, we had to settle for simply having a resounding win over Navy.  Given the close call last year, the loss in 2016, and the near miraculous comeback by the Middies in 2014, that’s not too shabby.

It’s especially not terrible when you look at what happened to the rest of the top 25.  #6 Texas, #9 Florida, #24 Stanford (thanks for nothing Cardinal!), #15 Washington, #16 Texas A&M, #18 Iowa, #19 Oregon, #20 Wisconsin, #21 South Florida, #22 NC State, and #25 Appalachian State all lost this weekend.  And all but Florida, Stanford, and Iowa lost to ranked teams.  That’s eight ranked teams that lost to unranked teams this weekend.

We are now also down to just four unbeaten teams in the FBS.  Notre Dame is one of them.

While not all 60 minutes of action were pretty, Notre Dame’s record after the game is still a thing of beauty.  The Irish are 8-0 and heading into another November with the playoffs in their sights.  The last three times this has happened (2014, 2015, 2017), they have fallen short.  In none of those three tries, however, did they enter the month 8-0.

2. Kevin Austin’s lone catch on the night

It was one play, but it was one of my favorite plays of the night.  Ian Book hit Kevin Austin on a simple crosser and the freshman did the rest on a nice 38 yard gain.  It didn’t go for a score, but it was still one of my favorite plays of the night because I have been waiting to see the Irish get the ball in Austin’s hands like that all season.

Miles Boykin is a chain moving machine and a redzone monster.  Chase Claypool looks like he can be a pretty good chain mover as well even if he doesn’t ascend to being the elite receiver many hoped he would.  What Notre Dame has been missing is a wide receiver that can take those short passes and turn them into huge gains.  Michael Young showed he could do it earlier this year and Austin showed he’s capable of this weekend.

Hopefully Notre Dame continues to get Austin more involved in the offense over the final weeks of the season.  He’s got abilities the starting receivers don’t and could compliment what they do have very well.

3. Cole Kmet getting worked into the offense more

Another player I liked seeing get more involved was Cole Kmet.  The sophomore tight end only caught four passes for 31 yards, but both of those totals are career highs.  Notre Dame had been going to Alize Mack more over the last few weeks, but despite his athleticism, he has been unable to do much with the ball once he’s gotten it.  Kmet got the ball downfield at one point for a 24 yard gain.  It was the kind of play we had become accustomed to from Notre Dame tight ends in the past but haven’t seen much of lately.

Like with Austin, if Notre Dame can get Kmet going a bit here down the stretch and make the tight end position more of a weapon again, this offense will continue to become more and more dangerous.  It is already pretty good, but with the components Notre Dame has that have flashed so far, it has the potential to be a lot better by the end of November than it is right now.  Kmet is one of those components.

4. Notre Dame’s first half defense

For 30 minutes we saw the most dominant defense by Notre Dame against Navy that we’ve seen since 2012 when the Irish held the Midshipmen to 10 points.  Navy could not get anything going in the first half.  Clark Lea had all of the answers for what Navy was throwing at him.  Navy ran for less than 70 yards and had two first downs at the half.  The second half was another story of course (and we’ll get into that in the 5 things I didn’t like column).

Still, the first 30 minutes of football by Notre Dame were about as dominant as you can get against an option attack that you only see once a year.  Next year Lea will need to get his troops to play that way for all 60 minutes, but given Notre Dame’s struggles with Navy in recent years, seeing the Irish shut down the option from the jump was a lot of fun to watch even if it eventually became frustrating in the end.

5. That Drue Tranquill’s injury was not more serious

The story of the night wasn’t that Notre Dame beat Navy. That was supposed to happen.  The story of the night was Brian Kelly announcing that x-rays were negative on Drue Tranquill’s ankle and that the 5th year senior captain had only suffered a sprain, and not something more serious.  When the play first happened, it looked bad.  The Navy defender just incidentally rolled into Tranquill and the worst was feared.  Then we saw Tranquill get carted off with a towel over his head and Notre Dame fans had a bad feeling in the pit of their stomachs.

Seeing Tranquill on the sidelines in a walking boot in the 2nd half were the first signs that it wasn’t a knee injury.  Then Kelly said in the post game that it was just a sprain and that Tranquill was already out of the boot.  Crisis averted.

Had Tranquill been seriously hurt, the course of Notre Dame’s November could have been drastically changed.  Remember the change in the Notre Dame defense in 2014 after Joe Schmidt got hurt?  We wouldn’t have been in quite that territory, but it would have been similar given Tranquill’s role as the leader of the Notre Dame defense.  Luckily it appears as though that isn’t the case.  Kelly even suggested that he wouldn’t rule out Tranquill for this weekend’s tilt with Northwestern.

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  1. Frank you were spot on about Kevin Austin. I dam near choked on my Popcorn after he caught that pass. He appears to be a very physical runner and advances the ball like Randy moss. He runs the ball like you would think Alize Mack should. He is special.

  2. Frank , I was at the game in San Diego. Your article covers about what I saw. Anything before that on UHND articles and comments–is like WTF. Onward to 9-0 — Go Irish !

  3. Please don’t remind me of Schmidt and Uncle Rico’s genius defensive scheme again. 2 deferent teams and MUCH better defense thank God

  4. Give Michael Young the same routes that you give Kevin and Chase and see what he does. Just about every pass that has been thrown his way has been behind the line of scrimmage.

  5. I have read elsewhere that the second half let-up on defense was attributable to Navy half-time adjustment and Irish subbing in the second half. I’m not buying it. I can understand a breakdown for a few downs, the lapse lasted the entire third period into the fourth. Also, the tackling on Navy’s second play of the half that ran for 50 yards did not involve subs. It resulted from the poorest tackling this year on a single play. It looked to me that the players defenders were in position but thought they were playing two-hand touch.

    1. EZ Robert. Even Jesus fell three times. It was a lapse, not a trend.

      Frank, as always, five clear significant positives . Add these to a what I liked list.
      #6. Coney – with 14 tackles- closest D’ tacklers to him vs. Navy were safeties Gilman and Elliot with 7 apiece.
      #7. The energy and dominance of Gilman , especially the earlier series. Navy had to readjust their second half O’ to account for Gilman. That dominance took away any runs between the tackles, along with, did I mention, Coney’s 14 tackles?
      #8. 44 points with a QB that has better than 70% accuracy. . . Badda Book, badda boom!
      #9. RB tandem and WRs answered when Navy scored with a score. Huge energy lift!

    2. If you go back and look at the highlights, it was Julian Okwara pushing him, then Troy Pride pushing him. I was a litle …well…more shocked than anything. Asmar Bilal showed some jets running from behind. I live 1.5 miles from Ben Davis where he played football. I am glad for him. Maybe he kicks it down to DT’s position for one game while Dru recovers. I guess we will see.

    3. Is it possible that ND decided to ease up in the second half to make the score look better for Navy? How else could the whole team look so different from the first half?

  6. Something to like marginally linked to ND football. I just saw on the official website that the Irish hockey will play Michigan in an outdoor game at Notre Dame Stadium on 01/05/2019. It will be broadcast on NBCSN. I love hockey (though I don’t follow ND hockey as closely as ND Football and Basketball–more the Pittsburgh Penguins).

    But outdoor hockey games are a lot of fun to watch so I’ll probably tune in for this one.

  7. Some of their wins have not been the prettiest. But thankfully they are 8-0 in a year they pretty much have to be undefeated to get in the CFB playoff.

    Perhaps adversity could be a positive. Last year, for instance, they steamrolled a number of opponents. Then they faced some adversity at Miami and completely fell apart. They weren’t used to fighting from behind and they ended up being routed by a team that they should have beat, if not beat handily.

    This year they haven’t had the same success to start the season. They’ve had to fight, even against Navy, while the score seems to indicate a comfortable win it was anything but. And against Pitt they had to fight every inch just to come out with a win.

    Perhaps that will prepare them down the stretch to not panic when they do fall behind. We’ll see.

  8. Good likes here.

    Running a 5-2 against the option is perfect. Hats off to Lea for actually understanding this. Take away the FB dive first, and then with our team speed, no way they are beating us to the outside as long as our LBs and safeties stay disciplined, which they pretty much did the majority of the game, especially the first half. And for the first time I think ever, we only gave up one bomb downfield where our corner was out of position. And surprisingly that was Love. At least it wasn’t a TD but if Love turns around with the ball in the air for 30 seconds, it’s a pick. What happened to the old “BALLLLLLLLLL!!!” scream from the sidelines to let your DB know when to turn and look???

    Also, I’ve been writing a lot lately about how Mack can’t ever seem to break a tackle and how I’d like to see more Kmet as he has been actually doing something after the catch. However, I’ll admit…Kmet kinda let me down this game. While he did have more catches, there were times where he went down with one tackler same as Mack always does. For whatever reason, our 6’5″ 250+ lb TEs do not want to one, jump over a DB diving at their ankles and two, absolutely destroy a sitting duck DB while running full speed at them. I just don’t get it. I still like Kmet more as he hasn’t dropped a single pass that I can recall but I would love to see some broken tackles or at least some punishing hits from these monsters that those DBs won’t forget.

  9. Frank, I hope you didn’t miss Tillery’s all-Pro pancake. Glad you focused on Tranquills importance. He plays with instinct and raw ability. When He is gone it’s the teacher being out of the room.

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