Notre Dame improved to 8-1 on the season Saturday with a very stereotypical Navy game. There were moments of pure frustration, the game stayed close for a while, the outcome was never in doubt, and ultimately the Irish won, going away. Anytime you win by 28 points and your opponent scores in the single digits, there’s going to be a lot to like. This week was no exception.
Marcus Freeman’s first dance with the option at Notre Dame
Marcus Freeman had seen the option before yesterday, but yesterday was his first test against it at Notre Dame. He passed with flying colors. Navy was held to less than 200 yards of offense and scored under 10 points for the first time in the Brian Kelly era. The last time Navy scored six or fewer points against Notre Dame was 1998, when the Irish shut out the Midshipmen.
Freeman made some smart schematic adjustments like moving ROVER Jack Kiser, a high school safety, to safety. Given Notre Dame’s depth issues at safety without Kyle Hamilton, it schematically and logically made sense. He also mixed up the defensive alignments and kept Navy off balance all game long. They had one drive the whole game where they moved the ball with any sort of efficiency, and it ended with a field goal.
Couldn’t have asked for a better option debut for Freeman.
Logan Diggs, smooth operator
Kyren Williams is back to being the video game running back we got used to last year. It was only a matter of time for that to happen. More surprising is how well freshman Logan Diggs has played the last few weeks with Chris Tyree slowed with turf toe.
Diggs ran the ball eight times for 59 yards and a touchdown. His most impressive run came on a 2nd and 18, where he showed elite patience and vision before busting off a 23-yard run.
The patience Diggs shows at the line of scrimmage is elite. A lot of freshman running backs run right into the line there without busting it outside. Diggs waited for something to open up though, and his patience paid off. Assuming Kyren Williams heads to the NFL, a duo of Diggs and Tyree is something to be excited about in 2022.
Captains doing captain things
Notre Dame had two captains step up big time on Saturday afternoon. Linebacker Drew White played the entire can after tearing his PCL in his knee in practice during the week. White still played 38 snaps in the game – fourth most of any defender. Notre Dame has been decimated by injuries at linebacker and would have been in a major bind without White. Their 5th-year senior captain, however, gutted it out and played.
How one plays with a torn PCL, I am not sure, but it sounds pretty painful.
Fellow captain Kurt Hinish didn’t play through an injury, but in just 29 snaps, Hinish racked up ten tackles, including a sack. Hinish was disruptive whenever he was in the game and was a significant reason why the Irish defense held Navy in check all game long.
With all of the injuries that Notre Dame has had – on top of some of the self-inflicted challenges this season – they need their captains to step up, and on Saturday, they did.
Kahanu Kia’s hit on kick coverage
Notre Dame got some young defenders in the game on Saturday like Xavier Watts, Prince Kollie, and Kahanu Kia, which was great to see. In addition to looking good in some limited defensive snaps, Kia made one of the hits of the game on special teams.
With all the injuries on defense right now, the more young players Notre Dame can play and get impactful snaps from, the better, so seeing the youngsters make plays in any capacity is promising. Kia was planning on taking a two-year mission following his freshman season, so unless something changes, it will probably be a while until Notre Dame fans see him have a significant impact on defense, but he flashed on Saturday.
Xavier Watts flashed at safety before mop-up duty too. His 15 snaps were the same as sophomore Ramon Henderson’s.
Kevin Austin’s 70-yard touchdown at the end of the first half
Notre Dame’s downfield passing game has been a casualty of the revamped post-bye week offense for the Irish. Jack Coan flashed the ability to get the ball downfield earlier this season but struggled with anything over 20 yards over the last few weeks. Seeing Coan and Austin connect on that 70 yarder was promising.
Navy helped make the play happen with a terrible angle from the safety, but Austin made it happen by getting open initially and then taking it the rest of the way.
I still don’t know why they stopped calling any deep shots for Braden Lenzy, the fastest player on the team, but seeing any sort of downfield passing was encouraging after the lack of any vertical attack for weeks.
Austin ended the game with a career-high 136 yards while tying his career-high in receptions with six. He’s scored touchdowns in back-to-back games and has five on the season.
Many had hoped for a monster season from Austin, myself included, but the signs are there. Much like Chase Claypool early in his career, though, Austin has had struggles with consistency. But, assuming he returns in 2022, that monster season could be coming then.
Bonus: Notre Dame’s sideline reaction to Chase Ketterer’s special teams tackle
I am sneaking in an extra thing this week because it was pretty cool. Scout team quarterback Chase Ketterer was instrumental in helping the Irish defense prepare for Navy’s option attack. The preferred walkon could have been a scholarship quarterback at a smaller school, but he walked on at Notre Dame for opportunities like this week.
Ketterer was rewarded for his hard work with some special teams work, and he made his impact felt with an excellent tackle. When he did, the Notre Dame sideline erupted.
I love this play. #27 is @ChaseKetterer5 – he played scout team QB all week and was a big piece of our defense’s preparation. He gets in on KOC and makes a solo tackle. The reaction of our sideline is just awesome! #NDFamily ☘️🏈 pic.twitter.com/sFVIdMKHdC— Brian Polian (@BrianPolian) November 7, 2021
You love seeing teammates have reactions like that in support of unsung heroes like Ketterer. It’s part of what makes college football so great.