With Notre Dame exiting the bye week, the true second half of the season begins. The Irish will run a five-week sprint that will see them travel coast to coast in an effort to lock-down a playoff berth. With the lack of Conference Championship game, Notre Dame’s season truly becomes a series of one-game playoffs, as a single loss by Notre Dame would likely knock them out of contention for a berth in the College Football Playoffs.
Earlier this week, I read more than one fan on the internet worrying about injuries due to Navy’s cut-blocking scheme. How about we worry about winning? Navy is a team that has beaten Notre Dame three times in the last nine meetings. Last season the Irish escaped with a narrow 24-17 victory during an otherwise listless November. This current edition of Navy at 2-5, is probably less of a threat. However, they are still going to run the ball, shorten the game, be disciplined, and likely not turn it over very much. These are all ingredients that can get you beat if you are not on your A-game.
Despite a fumble on the first play following a completion to Miles Boykin, the Irish defense held and Navy, given a golden opportunity to start the game is turned away. It becomes clear almost immediately that Navy is simply over-matched in this game. Following the fumble and blown scoring chance, Navy does not move the ball with any regularity. It is clear early on that Navy lacks a significant game breaker at the quarterback position. Garrett Lewis the Navy quarterback though he runs the offense effectively, simply is not a running threat.
Notre Dame scores on two of their first two possessions on the strength of a one-yard touchdown run by Jafar Armstrong and a 12-yard scoring run by Dexter Williams. A potential storyline in the game might have been Jonathan Doerer replacing Justin Yoon at kicker and missing an early PAT, that is until the injury of Irish Captain and star linebacker Drue Tranquill. Tranquill after appearing to be rolled up on by a Navy linemen leaves the game under his own power, but is eventually sent to the locker room on a golf cart. Despite Navy’s typical time of possession dominance, the first quarter ends with the Irish in front 13-0. Given the circumstances of Tranquill’s injury, my mind has completely drifted from the score at this point.
Notre Dame extends their lead to 20-0 following another touchdown run from Dexter Williams this time from nine-yards out. Pete Sampson Notre Dame’s resident writer on The Athletic remarks at 9:09 p.m. via twitter that “we are basically done here”. I cannot say I disagree with his assessment. Following a 10 play 83-yard drive Dexter Williams scores his third touchdown of the evening giving the Irish a 27-0 lead late in the second quarter.
The dominance if not obvious enough on the scoreboard, is underscored by a second quarter where the Irish ran 26 plays compared to just 9 for the Midshipman. The Irish also held Navy to just two first downs in the first half, 72 total yards, and won the time of possession battle. The dominance in the first half takes me back to the early Holtz era when service academies simply did not stand a chance versus Notre Dame. (Holtz was 20-1 versus service academies with his one loss coming versus Air Force during his last season).
Navy starts the 3rd quarter quickly following a 58-yard run by Malcom Perry, Zach Abey scores from 1-yard cutting the Notre Dame lead to 27-7. Though Navy out gains their entire first half yardage total on their opening drive of the second half, it is as much the product of poor tackling by Notre Dame than execution by Navy. My spirits are also lifted from the CBS sideline reporter who reports that Drue Tranquill who I earlier feared might have sustained another knee injury, is likely the victim of a sprained ankle.
Though Tranquill will not return in this game, it seems plausible that he will return sometime during the season. The Irish respond to the Navy touchdown with an 11-play drive that culminates in a Jonathan Doerer field goal. The field goal is the first of his career to move Notre Dame ahead 30-7 mid-way through the 3rd quarter. Navy refusing to go away stages yet another 75-yard drive. On their next possession, that ends in another Zach Abey touchdown run and trims the Irish lead to 30-14. After a Miles Boykin touchdown, the Irish take a 37-14 lead into the 4th quarter.
Opening thought of the 4th quarter….get a baseball cap on Ian Book. Following Book’s fourth interception of the season, and more defensive sloppy run defense leads to another Navy touchdown. A 33-yard scamper by Mike Martin. A successful Navy two-point conversion leaves the score at 37-22 with 12:42 remaining.
What looked like a runaway, is now a game something I’m not thrilled about with Northwestern on the horizon. Much will be made by the naysayers about whether the Irish are a playoff team. At this point, I’m not sure. The best evidence that shows they are playoff team, might have been the response of the offense and Ian Book following the interception. Book’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Miles Boykin extends the lead to 44-22 with 8:29 remaining. Despite sloppy play by Notre Dame the score holds and the Irish move to 8-0 with a 44-22 win.
My major take away from this game is that Notre Dame is still a work in progress. For example, the Irish seemed vulnerable tonight on cutback runs. There will most certainly be teams down the pike with better runners than Navy. The larger question is whether the sloppy defense at times is a product of the bye week. Or is it a lackadaisical effort after taking a big lead, or a true weakness? Poor tackling and sloppy run fits also characterized Notre Dame’s defense in the second half. Even on Jalen Elliott’s interception at the end of the game, he neglected to high point the ball.
Brian Kelly Press Conference
“I’m thrilled this week is over. Navy is one of THE hardest teams to prepare for. I’m relieved this weeks game is over.”
“We got of to a great start today. What we learned is that if you don’t play with the same physicality for four quarters you are going to be in trouble.”
On Drue Tranquill’s prognosis:
“X-ray came back clean. Out of the boot. It’s Drue Tranquill. I wouldn’t count him out for Northwestern.”
🏈🏈🏈 Dexter Williams 23 Carries 142 Yards 3 Touchdowns
🏈🏈 Ian Book 27-33 330 yards 2 TD 1 INT
🏈 Jonathan Doerer 1st Time in Place-Kicker Role 5/6 PAT 1/1 FG All Kickoffs inside 10 – 2 Touchbacks.