Notre Dame improved to 8-0 on the season and almost certainly secured their place in the top 4 of the initial playoff rankings that come out on Tuesday. They were dominant at times, but also allowed the Middies to gain some momentum in a second half that will give Brain Kelly and his coaching staff more than a little bit of material to work with this week. In the end, the Irish beat Navy by the largest margin of victory since 2012.
Now let’s crack open the slightly late version of the post game six pack.
1. The Drue Tranquill injury was NOT a dirty play, but Notre Dame got lucky
We’ll start off with this because some people still seem hell bent on making it seem or outright accusing Navy of the play that resulted in Drue Tranquill’s injury being dirty. It was not. The Navy defender rolled into Tranquill incidentally. Plays like that happen in almost every college football game. It sucks when it’s your star defender getting rolled into, but they happen. End of story.
Now, all that said, Notre Dame is very lucky that it was just a sprained ankle and nothing more. Those kind of plays can lead to serious knee injuries that end seasons – especially for a guy who has already had two torn ACLs. Brian Kelly said he wouldn’t rule out Tranquill for this weekend, but it would seem pretty surprising if he were to be able to play against Northwestern this weekend.
Shoutout to Drew White for coming into the game for Tranquill and playing the first defensive snaps of his career. White had experience against the option in high school and ended up playing over Shayne Simon and Jordan Genmark-Heath. He held his own.
2. Some Notre Dame defenders are not going to like this week’s film session
Notre Dame’s defense was lights out in the first half. In the second half it looked like someone turned the lights out on them. The same Irish defense that shut down Navy completely in the first half seemed to lose interest at times in the second half. They specifically seemed to lose interest in tackling.
Troy Pride Jr ended up getting pulled from the game after he made two very poor attempts at tackling that led to Navy’s first touchdown of the game. He was replaced by Donte Vaughn who was then eventually replaced by Nick Coleman. None of the three had very much success in the second half.
It wasn’t just the cornerbacks though, The entire defense seemed to lose their discipline in the second half. Maybe they were just ready to be done dealing with the option. Whatever the case, it is going to make for some Irish defenders getting some not so positive attention in film sessions this week.
Navy ended up gashing Notre Dame for over 200 yards on the ground in the second half alone after managing just under 70 in the entire first half. They also put up 22 points and usually did so on long drives that used chunk plays to move the ball and not their normal methodical death by 1,000 cuts offense. Let’s hope this wasn’t just like the second half of the Wake Forest game last year being indicative of what was about to unfold.
3. Jonathan Doerer really bounced back nicely after a terrible start
Saturday night did not start off great for Jonathan Doerer. Filling in for Justin Yoon, Doerer handled place kicking duties for the first time since his high school days and it showed early. Doerer missed the first extra point attempt of his career. Then his second attempt barely snuck inside the right upright. After the struggles he had with kickoffs this year, it did not look like it was going to be a good night for the sophomore.
To Doerer’s credit though, he rebound really nicely. He made all of his PAT’s after that first miss and he even connected on the first field goal attempt of his career. It was only from 30 yards out, but given the start he had, it was really nice to see him bounce back and make all of the his remaining kicks.
4. Ian Book wasn’t perfect, but his “OK” days are still pretty damn good
Ian Book was not perfect on Saturday night. He threw a bad interception by locking in on a receiver and staring him down and he missed a couple of touchdown passes that looked like gimmes – one to Jafar Armstrong and another Cole Kmet. That said, even when he isn’t perfect, he is still pretty damn good.
Book completed 27 of 33 passes for 330 yards with two touchdowns and the one interception. He now has 13 TDs to 4 INTs on the year and is completing 76.5% of his passes. And yet there are still people complaining about Book in the comments and on the message board. That’s just ridiculous.
Book hasn’t been perfect, but he’s completing passes at a rate that we haven’t seen a Notre Dame quarterback complete them. He is also winning games more importantly. And he is continuing to get better most importantly. Let’s not forget, Book made just the 6th start of his career on Saturday night. He’s 6-0 in those starts mind you.
Last night Book had one of the better rushing games of his season too. He ran the ball 6 times for 50 yards including a couple nice first down pickups.
5. Game one of Jafar Armstrong and Dexter Williams together shows the offense can still grow
Greg wrote about this last week and he was dead on the money. The Notre Dame offense is still continuing to grow and develop even this late in the season. The return of Jafar Armstrong last night was the first time that Dexter Williams, Armstrong, and Book were all on the field at the same time and available for the same game.
The opportunities that a backfield of Armstrong and Williams give Chip Long and the Notre Dame offense are exciting to say the least. While Armstrong was not the sharpest in the running game last night in his first action following his knee injury, he was a major factor in the passing game. He led the Irish in both receptions and yards with 6 for 64 yards.
Think about that last stat for a second when evaluating Ian Book too. Book threw for 330 yards and his leading receiver only had 64 yards. That’s because nine different players caught passes.
Ok back to Williams and Armstrong playing together. Having those two on the field at the same time make this offense which is already very good potentially dynamic. Line up both in the backfield and then put Armstrong in motion and get him in on a linebacker and forget about it. Splitting him out wide should garner some attention from the defense and create a little more space for Williams too. And we all know what Williams is capable of with the slightest of creases.
We got a glimpse of that last night.
6. The new look offense line was OK for its first time out there
The biggest question for Notre Dame coming in was the reshuffled offensive line. Aaron Banks got the first start of his career while Trevor Ruhland slid over to right guard and basically displaced Tommy Kraemer. The two were listed as co-starters but it was really Ruhland’s night.
Overall the offensive line was OK for a first time out, but it is still very far behind where last year’s line was at this point. No one is expecting the line to reach those heights in the next four games either, but if Notre Dame wants to make the playoffs and be there for more than an appearance, then the offensive line will need to build on what they did versus Navy. It’s tough to even judge the line against a team like Navy because the Irish should manhandle them regardless.