Notre Dame football narrowly avoided a letdown against Navy, so what stood out the most in the close victory and what it means moving forward?
Notre Dame football: A tale of two halves
The Notre Dame football offense struggled mightily to move the ball in the 2nd half, primarily due to Navy’s ability to put pressure on Drew Pyne. Typically when your quarterback is constantly getting sacked, one first would point to the offensive line. However, that didn’t seem to be the case. Whether it was Drew Pyne’s inability to find the open receiver or Tommy Rees not calling the right plays, something has to change.
While it’s likely both could be a bit better, this one sure looked to be on Drew Pyne holding on to the football for far too long. At times, Drew can focus a bit too much on the initial read and not work through his progressions. At the same time, coach Rees could do a bit more to fend off the blitz. Throwing a slip screen or a quick slant against heavy pressure could make the defense think twice about blitzing.
Sometimes watching from your living room, it’s easy to pass judgment on where the blame lies. That said, I’d take a former quarterback’s word for it. Dan Orlovksy, one of the announcers for the game and 12-year NFL veteran, thinks most of the blame lands on Pyne’s execution.
Notre Dame football: Young defenders stepping up
With some key players out for Notre Dame this weekend, some young guys were called upon more than usual. In fact, redshirt sophomore safety Xavier Watts led the team in tackles, with All-American safety Brandon Joseph sidelined. Watts, who converted to safety from wide receiver, has seen his stock trending in the right direction lately with some solid performances.
True sophomore linebacker Prince Kollie also has been heavily relied on as of late and tallied 7 tackles with half a sack and half of a tackle for loss. Junior Tuihalamaka and Jaylen Sneed, both true freshmen, also added a solo tackle in some of their heaviest playing time of the year. Of course, no Notre Dame defender has been more impressive this season than Benjamin Morrison.
A true freshman, it was hard to see the meteoric rise of Morrison coming this soon at Notre Dame, but that’s precisely what has happened. After dominating Clemson last week with two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, Morrison dominated again. He only had 3 tackles on the day, but a couple of massive stops in space could’ve resulted in huge gains had he not made the challenging play. Watts, Morrison, Kollie, Sneed, and Tuihalamaka all have massive futures as defenders for the Irish.
Notre Dame football: Special teams (mostly) firing on all cylinders
Coming into this game, Blake Grupe had struggled a bit on the season as Notre Dame’s new kicker. He was tied for 76th best field-goal percentage in the nation before missing his only attempt today. However, he did nail all five extra-point attempts. While not ideal, he certainly isn’t the reason for Notre Dame’s 3 losses on the season.
Outside of Blake struggling a bit on the year, the Irish have one of the best special teams units in the country, thanks to Brian Mason. Somehow, whether scheme or just sheer luck, Mason has coached his team to an incredible 7 blocked punts on the season, with Jack Kiser being the latest to get a block. Notre Dame football fans are starting to get spoiled as they (or at least I) expect the special teams to block a punt every time they line up against one.
Though it wasn’t the best game for the Irish, they pulled out the win, and as a fan, you can’t ask for much more. However, the coaches should ask themselves quite a few questions after that narrow victory, starting with how to be more consistent on offense. Notre Dame has two more games left against Boston College and USC. Let’s get two and finish 9-3. Go, Irish.