Whenever you win a football game against a top 25 team by 32 points, there usually isn’t a lot to dislike in the game, but since I do this column every week, I thought long and hard about this to come up with a list of five things even if some are more on the trivial side. After some of the performances Notre Dame turned in during October, everyone should be pleased about how hard these columns have been to write for me the last two weeks.
Notre Dame’s running game
Most of these are all ticky-tack type things that I had to stretch for since Notre Dame did beat a top 25 team by 32 points after all, but the Irish ground game was stuck in neutral again this week. The Irish ran 31 times for 105 yards, with only 71 yards coming from non-quarterbacks and 55 coming from running backs.
Jafar Armstrong struggled again with just 11 yards on seven carries while Tony Jones Jr added 26 on nine carries. That isn’t good production from your top two running backs against the Navy defense. Considering how well the Irish passing game worked, they didn’t need the running game this week, but they will against Boston College and Stanford and probably even more so in whatever bowl game they land in.
Notre Dame’s passing attack has come alive the last two weeks, and it’s been fantastic to see Ian Book bounce back the way he has, but if there is something the Irish need to work on in the next two weeks, its the running game.
The backup offense not really running the full offense
It usually a great game when one of the things I didn’t like is regarding how much playing time the backups got, but for the second week in a row, Notre Dame probably could have given its second-team offense a bit more work or at least more meaningful work. Against Duke Phil Jurkovec and the second-string offense didn’t get in the game until late in the fourth quarter and against Navy Jurkovec didn’t have the opportunity to throw the ball much.
In two blowouts, Jurkovec only threw two passes. One was a nice 17 yard gain to Braden Lenzy on a pass he just snapped off, but other than that, it was a lot of handoffs for the sophomore quarterback. You don’t want to run it up on Navy in that instance necessarily, but at the same time, it’s impossible to replicate a game environment in practice for a young quarterback.
Notre Dame’s sellout streak ending
I know there have been some creative methods used to get the sellout streak to last this long. Still, if Nebraska can do it with a program that has not been relevant for years, it is a little sad to think that Notre Dame’s ended with the Irish ranked 16th in the country playing a traditional rival who also happened to be ranked in the top 25 at the time. It just shocks me that a matchup of top-25 teams, even if one was Navy, is how this thing ended.
I get it, Notre Dame – Navy isn’t usually an exciting game. Watching the Navy offense is as much fun as going to the DMV. It’s a lot of sitting around without much action most of the time that leaves you frustrated. But still, this is how it ended? Notre Dame vs. Bowling Green sold out this year, but this one didn’t?
I know there were rumblings that this weekend’s game with Boston College is also not expected to sell out, and that’s why those creative methods weren’t used this time. Again, how does senior day against Boston College not sell out, though? It’s not a good look.
Notre Dame’s punting
We’re stretching here since Notre Dame only punted twice against Navy, but freshman Jay Bramblett only averaged 35.0 yards per punt against the Midshipmen. It was the third week in a row in which Bramblett averaged less than 40.0 yards per punt, which is a bit concerning since he is a true freshman, and he could be hitting a bit of a freshman wall, even though punters are not called on that often.
In a perfect world, Notre Dame won’t need to rely on Bramblett much the next two weeks, but if they do, it’d be nice to see Bramblett start hitting some punts like he did earlier this season.
Chris Finke’s punt return getting called back
Brian Kelly joked after the Duke game that Finke leads the nation in punts returned to the 10-yard line. Then it finally happened. Chris Finke took one to the house against Navy. But, there was a flag on the play. Notre Dame got called for an illegal block in the back all the way back at the start of the return. It was a little bit of an iffy call, but one that was easy to see why it was called in real-time. It was also a penalty that didn’t need to be made, Finke was going to make the initial defender miss anyway.
After the struggles Chris Finke had earlier this year and the struggles Notre Dame has had in the return game, in general, the last few years, it would have been great to see Finke get rewarded for a great return. Alas, it was called back. Notre Dame scored on the drive anyway, so it didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but it would have been nice to see it stand.