Notre Dame has had some great performances in 2022. Unfortunately, they’ve had some real clunkers this year too. On Saturday against Navy, Notre Dame did both. After jumping out to a 35-13 lead going into half-time, Notre Dame had to hold on for dear life as Navy cut the lead to 35-32 before time ran out. If the game was five minutes longer, we might be having a different discussion right now, but luckily for the Irish, the clock ran out with them still in the lead.
What was that second half?
For the first 30 minutes of football, Tommy Rees and Drew Pyne could do no wrong. Then, for the next 30 minutes, Notre Dame’s offense looked as futile and inept as we’ve seen it since 2007 when Charlie Weis tried like three different offensive systems in one year. It was bad. Very bad. And to be honest, there’s no excuse for a turnaround like that against an opponent like Navy.
Notre Dame scored on five of their six first-half drives, and the only drive that netted zero points came on a missed field goal by Blake Grupe, who is now just 10 for 15 on the season on field goal attempts.
In the second half, Notre Dame scored zero points on six drives and picked up just one first down against a weak Navy defense. Tommy Rees got away from the screen game that was working to near perfection in the first half Pyne was 7 for 7 on screens, and Pyne held onto the ball too long as Navy sent jailbreak blitzes almost every down. Neither Rees nor Pyne had an answer for Notre Dame.
Marcus Freeman said all the right things publicly after the game, but behind closed doors today, Rees and Harry Hiestand have a lot to answer for today. A week after dominating Clemson in the trenches, Navy sacked Drew Pyne five times in the second half alone.
Build Brian Mason a statue already
The one coordinator on this team that won’t have any tough questions from Freeman today is Brian Mason, whose special teams unit blocked yet another punt – a program record seventh on the season. That is now four straight games with a punt block. Considering how awful the offense was in the second half, Jack Kiser’s blocked punt at the end of the first half basically won the game for Notre Dame since it set up the offense with the chance to score another touchdown.
In the pre-season, everyone pegged Tommy Rees as the most likely Notre Dame coordinator to get a head coaching gig in the off-season. Still, at this point, I can’t imagine how anyone could look at the performance of Rees and Mason and not think Mason was the better choice to run a program.
For Notre Dame’s sake, hopefully, no program is progressive enough to take a chance on a special teams coordinator with no head coaching experience because he is the best coordinator Notre Dame has had in any capacity in a long, long time.
Notre Dame missed JD Bertrand more than most fans want to admit
JD or “JT,” as the NBC announcers who have seen him all year long called him last week, Bertrand missed the game with what Freeman said was an area in the “groin area,” and he was missed more than most Notre Dame fans would like to admit. At times, Bertrand has been a bit polarizing for some of Notre Dame Twitter, but his presence was sorely missed.
Playing the option for the first time is not fun, and Notre Dame had to turn to true freshmen Junior Tuihalamaka and Jaylen Sneed. It showed. Navy gashed Notre Dame up the middle, where Bertrand would have been roaming.
Bertrand was coming off his best game in a Notre Dame uniform against Clemson, making it unfortunate that he missed yesterday’s contest. Luckily, Freeman said he should be back next weekend against Boston College.
Notre Dame missed Brandon Joseph too, but remember that Joseph never saw the option before and Xavier Watts has, so there was a good chance that Watts would have played a lot anyway.
Braden Lenzy earned that ridiculous touchdown
Braden Lenzy has been wide open for multiple long touchdowns this season – and last season, for that matter – but hasn’t gotten the ball. Notre Dame hasn’t had the kind of quarterback who can consistently hit deep balls the last two years, which is Lenzy’s game. So yesterday’s “catch of the year” candidate was a long time coming for Lenzy.
Lenzy ended the game with five catches for 67 yards and one insane touchdown. Amazingly those 67yards were the most in a game for Lenzy since he posted 87 yards, also against Navy, as a freshman in 2019.
Eight carries for Audric Estime was playcalling malpractice
A week after bulldozing Clemson, Tommy Rees only gave Audric Estime eight carries, and I am still trying to wrap my head around that a day later. Estime is a battering ram of a back, and you don’t give him the ball more against an undersized defense? It just doesn’t make sense to me.
One could argue that Navy was stacking the box, but so was Clemson and Estime still found a way to top 100 yards.
This is why you keep feeding a back like Estime the ball against Navy.
The only thing predictable about this team is it’s unpredictable
I said on last week’s pod that nothing would surprise me with this team anymore, and that is why I wasn’t that surprised with how yesterday unfolded. Notre Dame’s trend of looking great against good teams and not so great against bad ones continued. The only difference this time was that the Irish started this one off well before falling off.
At this point, this team is what it is, so any outcome over the final two games seems possible. Lose to Boston College and beat USC? Sure, why not? Win them both? Sure, it could happen. Lose them both? Definitely could happen.
I can’t remember a game where Notre Dame went from looking so dominant to so inept from one half to another before, like this one. The contrast was that stark. Notre Dame has had moments against Navy where they’ve fallen asleep before (see 2008 and 2014), but not quite like this, where they put up 35 points in the first half with five touchdowns from their quarterback (4 passing, 1 rushing).
Freeman has learned how to push the right buttons in big games and figured out how to get his team to start fast against a bad team this weekend. Next, he’s got to figure out how to keep his team engaged for a full 60 minutes against a team like Navy when you’re winning big next.