In my preview post, I asked if today’s game would be fun or frustrating before predicting that it would be both. That prediction proved to be accurate as the Irish won by 28 points over Navy, but in the process, they still had moments that caused frustration and consternation amongst the Notre Dame fan base. Still, the Irish improved to 8-1 on the season while other top-10 teams just keep losing and still have an 11-1 record in reach with just one more challenging contest on their slate.
Hat tip to Marcus Freeman and Notre Dame defense
Marcus Freeman saw the option before in his time at Cincinnati and learned some lessons the hard way. That experience, along with the knowledge of the Irish staff who have had their tangos with the option as well, proved invaluable. Notre Dame shut down Navy’s offense from the jump. The Midshipmen had less than 200 yards of offense, completed just a single pass, and scored six points. That’ll get it down every time.
Navy put together one good drive coming out of half-time, but that nearly 10-minute drive that made a root canal look entertaining resulted in three points. After that, Navy didn’t do anything the rest of the game.
Freeman mixed in some news looks with ROVER Jack Kiser playing safety, his high school position, while mixing in some 5-2 and 4-4 looks. Freeman kept Navy off-balance all game long. Navy had five three and outs and a drive that lasted just two plays before ending in a safety.
Excellent stuff from Freeman and the Irish defense. Remember how bad Bob Diaco looked in his first dance with the option at Notre Dame?
Navy adjusted to Notre Dame’s post-bye offensive adjustments
We’ve wondered out loud on the podcast and in posts about whether or not the newly discovered offense the Irish found after the bye week was sustainable, and Navy certainly raised more questions about that. Navy faked a lot of pressure before dropping eight into coverage which didn’t give Jack Coan anywhere to go with the ball. As a result, Coan struggled to find receivers with eight in coverage, and the Irish offense looked fairly pedestrian considering the opponent.
Coan completed 23 of 29 of his attempts which is obviously very good, but for the first three quarters, the Irish offense struggled to score points. They had just 17 points through three quarters, and it felt like they just couldn’t do what they wanted to do for much of the game. As a result, Coan ended up settling for many check-downs, resulting in Kyren Williams pacing the Irish with seven receptions.
The next three defenses the Irish face aren’t very good, but Navy certainly gave a blueprint to Virginia, Georgia Tech, and Stanford for how to slow down the Irish. It’ll be interesting to see how Tommy Rees and Notre Dame responds next week.
Kurt Hinish was an animal
The defense held Navy in check all game because of the defensive line – super senior Kurt Hinish specifically. Hinish led all Notre Dame defenders with 10 tackles – a career-high – while noticing a sack in the first quarter that helped stall a drive that looked like it might end with a touchdown.
Hinish had a quiet few weeks, but I felt like this would be a Kurt Hinish kind of week, and it certainly was. Hinish routinely blew plays up, and when he didn’t make the tackle himself, he set someone else up to make the stop.
Prayers up for Avery Davis
There was a lot of good from this game and a little bad, but by far, the worst of the “bad” was the non-contact injury to Avery Davis. NBC reported that it was a severe knee injury, and while Brian Kelly only said they wouldn’t know for sure until they got an MRI done, you got the sense that it’s a bad injury that likely ended Davis’s season.
Davis was one of the more underappreciated players on the team, and his loss, assuming he is lost for the rest of the season, will be very tough to overcome with all of the other injuries at receiver. Kelly already said that Notre Dame might have to move some players around since the Irish are left with just five scholarship receivers now – three of whom are true freshmen.
Wide receiver and linebacker have been straight-up MASH units this season.
Logan Diggs is going to be fun to watch
Kyren Williams did some Kyren Williams things again this week, coming up just short of another 100-yard outing, but we’ve become accustomed to Williams making plays that very few others can make. The more we see of Logan Diggs, however, the more apparent it is that he has a very bright future at Notre Dame.
Diggs ended the game with 59 yards on 8 carries, including his second touchdown in as many weeks. The yards and touchdowns are great, but it’s how he’s generating them that is exciting. He’s not just running through giant holes into lots of daylight. He displays some impressive patience and vision that is rare to see in running backs as young as him.
Where was Lorenzo Styles?
After leading Notre Dame in receiving the past two weeks, Styles was not featured much today. He had just one target on a play that it didn’t appear he was the primary target on. Where were the quick hitters to Styles to get him the ball in space? Navy didn’t have any on the perimeter of their defense that could shut him down, so the lack of targets for Styles was questionable, to say the least.
With Davis down, it’ll be interesting to see if Styles gets some looks at the slot, but today’s lack of involvement didn’t make much sense.
Navy’s Rayuan Lane did a lot of talking
Two weeks ago against USC, it was Trojan defensive back Chris Steele. This week, Navy freshman defensive back Rayuan Lane did an awful lot of talking against the Irish. From the opening snap, he was trying to yap at Kyren Williams. In the second half, Lane appeared to instigate an interaction on the sideline that resulted in a personal foul on Jarrett Paterson. Good on Patterson in that instance to have his teammate’s back.
Lane is a true freshman, so it’s not the last that the Irish will see of him. Something tells me that the Irish offense will be well aware of him next year.
The Kevin Austin Game
We’ve been waiting all season for that one big breakout game from Kevin Austin. He had the two big touchdowns against Wisconsin and has had a few long catches this season, but today Austin recorded the first 100-yard game of his career with 139 yards on 6 catches, including a 70-yard touchdown at the end of the first half.
It has been a bit of an up and down campaign for Austin with several highs but a few lows with some rough drops at inopportune times. People forget that he went almost three years without playing much football, though. What we’re seeing from him this year – high highs with some low lows – reminds me a lot of what we saw from Chase Claypool before his massive 2019 season.
Cameos from young defenders
We got some glimpses of some young defenders in the fourth quarter that should have Notre Dame fans excited.
- We finally got some defensive snaps from freshman linebacker Prince Kollie. After he was slowed with a COVID-related absence early in the seaosn it looks like he’s finally ready for some rotational reps.
- Freshman VYPER Kahanu Kia recorded four tackles and had a huge hit on kick coverage that had the Irish sideline jumping. He was on the field in the fourth quarter too and if nothing else, he looked the part.
- Xavier Watts finally got on the field for defensive snaps after moving to defense earlier this season. Watts filled in at safety and made some plays in the 4th quarter. He ended up with three tackles and showed some impressive pursuit and angles.
All three underclassmen looked good in limited action giving some reason for optimism for the future.