An ugly win is always frustrating to watch live. This game was a particular brand of frustration that only Navy can deliver to the Fighting Irish. Let's see if we can feel better about the 10-point win over the Middies.
Play-Call of the Game: Golson 46-yard Pass to Brown
There really weren't many plays to pick from in this game mostly because when Notre Dame plays Navy the big plays are simply the Irish being bigger, faster, and stronger. Not to say that the gameplan was poor at all. It's just the Irish don't need to do a bunch of tricky things to move the ball against Navy.
That said, the first play of the series early in the fourth quarter saw Golson take the team out of deep Irish territory and fire a bullet to Chris Brown for 46 yards, plus another 15 on a horse collar penalty. On the next play Folston rumbled for a touchdown.
Golson continues to climb his way up the record books. Here's something new he achieved over the weekend:
Golson is the first ND QB in history with 3 passing TD's and 3 rushing TD's in the same game— Irish Sports Daily (@ISDUpdate) November 2, 2014
"Oh, that's neat," most of think, right? There's just something so different about Golson where he puts up 300+ passing yards on 72% accuracy with 6 total touchdowns and it just feels about right. Not surprising or amazing. Just what we have come to expect from the shifty little enigma of playmaking ability.
Turning Point: Golson 8-yard Touchdown Run
This game couldn't have been summed up any better with a fumbled play-action pass, then scoop and score by Golson to give Notre Dame the final 49-39 score. Technically the end of the first half should be the turning point to talk about but I'll get to that below.
Surprising Stat: 5.6 Yards Per Rush
This was the rushing average for Notre Dame, which given the opponent, is a nice day at the office but nothing to brag about to your friends. Folston balled out (149 yards, 7.4 average) but the rest of the Notre Dame ground game really didn't do much.
The problem was that Navy averaged 5.6 yards per rush too. Total rushing yards typically aren't a big deal against Navy--or at least they can be deceiving--but in terms of stopping Navy on a per-play basis this game was just about as bad as the putrid 2010 game against the Middies. That day Navy ran for 6.1 yards per rush.
Unheralded Star: Greer Martini
He wasn't supposed to even sniff a backup role until his upperclassman years and we were told he wasn't an ELITE recruit. However, on Saturday the true freshman linebacker from Virginia got his first career start and then went on to lead the whole damn game with 9 tackles.
Missed Opportunity: The End of the First Half
There were several different segment of events that transpired in this game that couldn't have played out any better for Navy. None of those were more damaging to Notre Dame than the end of the first half.
There we were, marching down the field, on our way to 35 first half points, nearly 400 yards of offense, and a 3 score lead that probably put the game away as much as it could be before the break.
Then boom! A Golson interception and a quick 42-yard completion by Navy ignited a field goal drive that closed the gap to 28-17 into halftime. The Middies got the ball to start the third quarter and preceded to drive 75 yards on 15 plays, eat up half of the quarter, and score another touchdown.
Flag of the Game: Horse Collar on Brown
It was a clean game by both teams. Only 4 penalties in total and just 1 by Notre Dame. The personal foul by Navy was important but nothing of the game-changing variety.
Red Zone TD Success: 83.3%
You know what sucks? That Notre Dame's kneel down to end the game started at the Navy 19-yard line and will officially go down as a missed red zone opportunity. Otherwise, the Irish scored touchdowns on their other 5 red zone attempts.
If my math is correct this makes Notre Dame 28 for 39 on converting red zone touchdowns this season. That 71.7% success rate (t-17th nationally) is almost 20% better than last year. This is HUGE improvement that needs to be recognized.
Schemes n Such
It was a nice gameplan called by Brian Kelly and the staff. A total of 533 yards, 8.3 yards per play, and 49 points are all nice things to look at. Yet, there are still things to complain about. In the big picture the offense left a lot of points on the field. We talked in the game preview how the offense had the explosiveness to score 70 points, even if Navy's offense would make it difficult with their long drives. Well, something in the mid-60's very well could have been a reality in this game.
I don't want to wag my finger at Kelly for the second-to-last full series for simply playing McDaniel. My problem was throwing the ball on first down in a situation where bleeding the clock with 7 minutes left and 11-point lead looked like the smart decision. Plus, McDaniel only carried the ball once anyway.
Nevertheless, getting the ball on Navy's 32-yard line and picking up zero points and following that up with zero points again after getting the ball on Navy's 29-yard line was the big black mark for the offense.
The offensive line did what it should against Navy. That makes me feel old typing that for some reason. Hey, good job out there it was a fine performance.
The situation with the defensive line was more complicated. For whatever reason, size maybe being chief among them, the staff didn't use defensive end Romeo Okwara much in this game. It's tough to analyze the defensive line in a vacuum against the option but I didn't think they played all that well. There were moments for the starting front four of Day, Jones, Rochell, and Utupo and they did finish with 18 tackles among them which is a solid number against Navy.
I'm interested to see if this is brought up in our film reviews but to me it looked like the linebackers and safeties were over-pursuing a lot on plays in between the tackles. In the back and forth mind games between Niumatalolo and Brian VanGorder we may have been doing all we could to shut down quarterback Keenan Reynolds and they did just that limiting him to 47 yards on 18 carries. However, it's never a good thing to let a fullback rumble for 138 yards and Copeland did just that too.
I supposed we should be thankful there were no major injuries on the defensive line. Time to move on now.
Greer Martini, Drue Tranquill, Nyles Morgan, Daniel Cage, Justin Brent, Nick Watkins, Kolin Hill, and Andrew Trumbetti were the freshmen to see the field on Saturday. For Martini and Tranquill they picked up their first career starts. It doesn't appear that Brent's lively personal life cost him anything in the playing time department.
- From the Golson interception on there was very little on the field that made me think Notre Dame was going to win this game. Nothing summed this up more in my mind than a pair of perfectly defended passes by Cole Luke in which he tipped the ball BOTH TIMES and the receiver still caught the passes.
- I've seen a lot of comments hoping that the Irish coaching staff can 'figure out the option' next year. You don't ever really figure out the option. There's no magic scheme. That's what makes it so tough to defend because it minimizes Notre Dame's strengths and forces the Irish to do something other than physically dominate. Every once and a while a team truly shuts Navy down but when they're amped up against Notre Dame and saving little wrinkles all season just for us it's always a tough task.
- I'm not going to weigh in on whether Notre Dame should keep Navy on the schedule (I go back and forth on it) but to me the bigger question surrounds the future of Ken Niumatalolo as head coach. Navy has been very fortunate to have Paul Johnson and Niumatalolo leading the program and it's resulted in virtually zero terrible Navy teams for 12 years. That's a long time to be in a dog fight almost every time Navy takes the field. With Niumatalolo only 49 years old you have to wonder if he's in Annapolis for another 10 years.
- With back-to-back big performances Tarean Folston has now taken a firm lead as the leading rusher for this team. He'll need to average 94 yards per game down the stretch to become the first Irish back to break the 1,000 yard mark since Cierre Wood in 2011.
- Here are the stats that Golson is on pace for this season: 299 for 476, 62.8% completions, 3,755 yards, 36 TD, 11 INT with 446 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns.
- Losing Joe Schmidt to a broken ankle injury is the single worst outcome from this game. The defense has been overcoming odds all season in breaking in a new DC, missing Russell and Ishaq, without Collinsworth virtually all season, and now the QB of the unit is gone. We might be running out of magic.
- There's been one performance in the driving rain against the worst Stanford offense in half a decade but otherwise the Irish defense has looked pretty average over the last 15 quarters. The only exception in 4 out of the last 5 games was the first half against Florida State. Otherwise, the Irish are pretty much giving up about 6 yards per play recently and this isn't going to get it done for the remainder of the schedule. That's a huge predictor that another loss is on the horizon.
- Sunday we learned that running back Greg Bryant tweaked his ankle and didn't play. That's leaves him with only 11 carries over the past month.
- One of the keys to this season's offense is Golson's ability to spread the ball around through the air. With 1 more reception on the season by C.J. Prosise that'll give the Irish 5 players with at least 20 catches on the season. Last year the offense only had three such players (Jones, Daniels, Niklas) and with a nice finish both Carlisle and Folston could easily notch 20 receptions this season as well.
- The announced attendance of 36,807 at FedEx Field was the lowest to see a Notre Dame game since 2011 when the Irish played in front of 36,307 at Wake Forest. That's a really low number for Notre Dame standards but at least in that Wake Forest game they brought in additional seating for 105% capacity. On Saturday night more than half of FedEx Field was empty. I don't know if playing at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (34,000 capacity) is the answer--and remember Navy has never wanted the game on their campus for all these decades--but playing in half empty NFL stadiums isn't ideal for this game. For the majority of the home Navy games the rivalry has been played in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, or Cleveland. For these later season games it might be a good idea to start playing the games in San Diego, San Antonio, and in the Southeast of the country where the weather is more favorable.
- This was a frustrating game and I was more worried during this one than in any other this season that Notre Dame would lose. If they had lost, it would have been seriously bad. So much of the positive mojo that was built this season would have been obliterated. That said, it'll be a game to tuck away and forget about. The Irish were favored by a couple touchdowns and only won by 10 points. On the national scene it's really nothing too damning. Here's my guess at the CFB Playoff Top 15 unveiled tomorrow night:
1) Mississippi State- The strength of their win over Auburn should keep them at the top spot despite their inability to pull away from Arkansas over the weekend.
2) Florida State- A great come-from-behind win on the road against a Top 30 team could vault them into the top spot.
3) Auburn- Easily the best resume among the 1-loss teams with another ranked win on Saturday. They are comfortably in third place.
4) Oregon- The Ducks slide up a spot after the Ole Miss loss but they made a statement with a 29-point blowout win over Stanford. Someone will complain tomorrow that we would have done that to Stanford too if not for the weather. Just wait for it.
5) TCU- The Frogs pulled out a road win against a (still) ranked West Virginia team. That jumps them up a couple spots.
6) Michigan State- Much to the chagrin of Irish fans the Spartans move up two spots during a bye week. This is because their top win is against a now 8-1 Nebraska team.
7) Kansas State- Their loss to Auburn now looks better than Alabama's loss to Ole Miss. They're also leading the Big 12 for now.
8) Alabama- I'll be very interested to see if the Tide drop 2 spots during their bye week but their best win (West Virginia) has now been devalued significantly. They'll have the chance to prove it down the stretch with a few big games.
9) Notre Dame- The Irish essentially move up one spot with the loss by Ole Miss.
10) Baylor- The Bears do have a better win (TCU) than the Irish but if they weren't ahead of Notre Dame last week I don't think that changes this week. Unless, that win over the Frogs gets a little bump.
11) Arizona State- A win over Utah probably could move ASU ahead of Notre Dame too. However, that 35-point loss looms large in comparison to the Irish close loss at FSU.
12) Nebraska- Everyone keeps sliding up.
13) Ohio State- You too, Buckeyes. Neither of these Big Ten teams have had much change to their resumes since last week.
14) LSU- They have a bad loss on their resume but they did just beat Ole Miss a couple weeks ago. Will that give them an edge over the now 2-loss Rebels?
15) Ole Miss- Their win over Alabama keeps them inside the Top 15 but back-to-back losses have been brutal.