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.