It was a tale of two halves for Notre Dame football on Saturday in San Diego, but fans should still be pleased with the defensive performance.
If the game ended at half time, this would have been a pretty easy article to write. Notre Dame football was up 27-0 on the Midshipmen and were on pace to shut down a Navy offense that has caused many fits for this team under Brian Kelly. However, the second half did in fact kick off, and in typical Navy fashion, they never gave up.
The game ended 44-22 in favor of the Irish with the game never really in question, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be somewhat critical of the second half miscues. The defense looked sluggish and unwilling to tackle for much of the third and early fourth quarter. I’m sure the 27-0 halftime score and trying to stay healthy in a blowout had something to do with it, but fans want to see better play.
Here are the defensive grades against Navy:
This was definitely a consistent group throughout the entire game. It is tough to face off against Navy. They run the triple option better than anyone in the country, they cut block, and as mentioned they never give up. Props to the defensive line for stepping up to the challenge all night. Whenever Navy tried to attempt a pass, either Julian Okwara or Jerry Tillery was in the backfield right away. For the better part of the first half, Navy could get nothing going on the ground.
For a triple option offense, that isn’t a recipe for success.
Again, the second half brought more of a challenge, but it is also fair to assume the defensive line grew tired. Although it was a mixed bag for the defense, it is hard to find much fault with the defensive line. Grade: B+
The depth at linebacker deserves a ton of praise after senior captain Drue Tranquill went down with an ankle injury early in the game. Sophomore Drew White was the next man up and he performed admirably. Tevon Coney was his usual self and best player on the field, finishing with 14 tackles and one for loss — missing his career high mark by just three set in the Citrus Bowl last season.
The second half showed some missed gap assignments and some weak tackling, but this was all without their senior leader on that side of the ball. Along with White, Jonathan Jones also saw extended playing time. It wasn’t the best performance by the group to date, but we all know the reason for it. Grade: B
Against the triple option, the safeties essentially turn into glorified linebackers, Alohi Gilman specifically showed why leaving Navy was the best decision for him. He was all over the field in the first half, and showed an understanding of how to attack the Navy offense like we haven’t seen as fans. Greer Martini was always terrific against the option during his time at Notre Dame, but Gilman was on a different playing field of understanding — and understandably so. His performance was awesome.
For the other secondary pieces, it wasn’t the best game. Pride was replaced in the second half after multiple missed tackles, and Julian Love gave up a big play in the pass game to set up a score. Julian Elliott also missed some tackles with over pursuit and missed gap assignments. However, he also intercepted a pass late to seal the win. If not for Gilman I would be hard pressed to give this group a passing grade on the day, but he made up for a lot of the poor play in the second half. Grade: C
Grading the defense as a whole is interesting for this game. I really was impressed with how the defensive line and linebackers played throughout the entire game, but I haven’t had a chance to re-watch the film yet. In all likelihood, I am probably being too harsh on the secondary and not enough on the front seven. Regardless, the team was outstanding in the first half and less than stellar in the second. Overall Grade: B-