I was back in South Bend this Saturday and was able to enjoy some outrageous weather for a perfect football weekend. After questioning bringing a sweatshirt I left the game with a nice sunburn on my face. Let's recap the 5th straight win over Navy.
Play-Call of the Game: Kizer 5-Yard 4th Down Run on 2nd Series
This was a sneaky big play early in the game. The Irish went 3 & out on their first series and found themselves down 7-0 following a much-too-easy touchdown drive by Navy. On the 11th of a 12-play drive in next series the Irish faced a 4th & 2 from the Navy 6-yard line.
Kick the field goal and get some points on the board or try to tie the game? Notre Dame remained aggressive and trusted Kizer enough to run QB power. It paid off as Kizer got 5 yards and kept the ball on the next play for the touchdown.
This is a product of watching Kizer live for the first time but I thought he was just okay most of the afternoon. I say that with the thought in mind that he's progressed enough mentally within the offense that I don't need to heap praise on him all the time for how composed he is for a young player in his position.
There were 5 "pop passes" or quick pitches that averaged about 10 yards per play and several little flare out throws among Kizer's 22 completions. Outside of those you're looking at only 14 completions or so, with no pass going over 30 yards. For most of the season it felt like Kizer was playing a little bit better than his numbers suggest (probably a product of his impressive command of the offense for a redshirt freshman noted above) but this seemed like the first game where his numbers were a little inflated in comparison to his actual performance.
My two big complaints are that Kizer's arm isn't that strong and he's late on a lot of throws. These two things stuck out from my seats. I actually think he's doing an above average job going through his progressions but he isn't super decisive yet, doesn't have a quick throwing motion, and can't drive the ball down-field for easy catches.
The Fuller pass to the back of the end zone was a perfect example of these factors coming into play. It was an accurate ball but a tough completion because he was late and the ball had little zip. There were also several intermediate completions where the receivers lost YAC opportunities because Navy defenders closed easily on late throws. The interception was an overall bad throw, and there was also a dangerous throw to a double-covered Chris Brown later in the game that was popped into the air.
All that aside, Kizer has plenty to be proud of so far this year. This is basically me hoping he could have dominated a little more against an over-matched defense. He might not be there yet, and that's okay.
Turning Point: Navy's 2nd Half Opening Fumble + Missed Field Goal
Navy had momentum in this game for two brief segments. The first came following their first touchdown and as noted above the Irish responded well and squashed that opportunity--the only time the Middies led in the entire game.
The second segment came towards the end of the first half when Navy scored 2 touchdowns to tie the game at 21-21. The Irish impressively tacked on a field goal before the break to slow the momentum, however, the Midshipmen were due to get the ball to start the 3rd quarter.
Then, Elijah Shumate and Niles Morgan combined to force a fumble on the kickoff after which Prosise scampered in 2 plays later to push the Irish lead to 10. Navy responded with a long 61-yard kick return but missed a 44-yard field goal on the drive. Notre Dame found the end zone 4 minutes later and effectively ended the game with a 17-point lead.
Prior to Navy's missed field goal, Notre Dame got stellar back-to-back tackles from Greer Martini (stops a 1-yard and no gain) plus a Romeo Okwara sack. Huge defensive stop to drive Navy into deeper field goal territory.
Surprising Stat: 6.18 Yards-Per-Play by Navy
Stats are deceiving? There was some freaking out in the first half of this game and after the fact I've read some things pointing to the turnovers killing Navy, otherwise they were doing a lot of damage on offense.
Eh, the Middies had a handful of big plays in the first half, didn't do much in the second half, and the Irish sat on the ball in the 4th quarter (11:26 of possession!!!) to limit them to a small sample of 55 plays.
For example, Reynolds had a 51-yard scamper and Navy added a 44-yard touchdown run by Ezell in the first half. They also posted 5 more plays from at least 10 yards to 22 yards. In total, Navy had 7.7 YPP on 30 plays in the first two quarters.
In the second half, Navy had long plays of 11 and 12 yards with all other plays under 10 yards. For the second half they totaled 2.56 YPP on 37 plays. They annoyingly converted three 4th down conversions in the second half to extend some drives but simply couldn't catch up on the scoreboard. For reference, the Middies lone points in the second half came on a field goal that took 13 plays and nearly 7 minutes off the clock.
Unheralded Star: LB Greer Martini
Another fine performance from Martini against the option. He was really active and made stops that limited Navy to gains of 2, 4, 1, 0, and 3 yards. That is a lot of wins against the option, plus he got injured and he's going to be okay!
Missed Opportunity: Schmidt Missed Tackle on 3rd Down at 21-7
This wasn't exactly a redemption game for Schmidt but I thought he performed admirably. For example, he was ready to blow up a third down play on Navy's second series but got horribly blocked in the back on a no-call. However, Schmidt once again blew up a third down on the same series and turned Keenan Reynolds back inside only to be dropped by Sheldon Day for a 3-yard loss. Due to that, Navy was forced to punt at a very important part early in the matchup.
Hard to believe Navy had just 1 red zone opportunity today. Fewest in the ND series since ’08. Fewest overall since ’13 against WKU.— Irish Illustrated (@PeteSampson_) October 11, 2015
However, with a two-touchdown lead Schmidt was about to drop back-up Tago Smith for no, or minimal, gain on 3rd & 4 from Navy's own 31-yard line. For whatever reason, be it a moment of hesitation or fooled by Smith's lack of a juke up-field, Schmidt completely blew what should have been an easy stop and a possible opportunity to bury Navy going up 28-7 into halftime.
Schmidt has struggled and will continue to receive criticism with such highlighted errors.
Flag of the Game: Joey Gaston Holding Penalty
I just mentioned the nice 3rd down stop by Schmidt and Day from Navy's second series. With the score tied 7-7 the Middies went 40+ yards in 8 plays and were threatening to move into the Notre Dame red zone. Then, on a 2nd down rush Navy was called for holding and backed up to the Irish 42-yard line.
They never recovered from the 2nd and 14, ultimately punting with a chance to take another lead.
Red Zone TD Success: 75%
The Irish scored touchdowns on their first 3 red zone opportunities and settled for a field goal on the final penetration inside the Navy 20-yard line. The final drive was a really conservative, clock-killing drive with 9 rushing attempts out of 11 total plays.
Schemes n Such
I really liked the play-calling this weekend. Once you get over the early pass plays (nearly impossible to do so for the most fervent MMQB's) the Irish had Navy off-balance for most of the night. I know there was some complaining about the lack of overpowering runs between the tackles but I don't know how many more years it's going to take for people to realize that Navy's slightly under-sized ends and slightly under-sized linebackers do not mean they'll fall over like feathers on run plays.
You know, only 6 teams have rushed for over 200 yards against Navy since the beginning of the 2014 season, which doesn't include your defending National Champion Ohio State Buckeyes. With the pop passes included Prosise was over 150 yards and Notre Dame was over 200 yards on the day. I slept like a baby knowing the Irish gashed Navy on the perimeter with their speed. We also had 12 rushing first downs, just over the season average.
A few play-calls stood out to me on Saturday. I liked a Pistol formation with H-back blocker set up for a fake jet sweep to Torii Hunter and hand-off to Prosise. Another included a H-back coming back across the line as a blocker, followed up by a pulling Alex Bars from left guard, and a faked jet sweep to Prosise with Kizer running the ball--a play the Irish are continuing to use quite often.
The third was a couple of draws! Honestly! They both went for nice gains, including a Prosise carry on the first play from scrimmage that set up a pass on second down to get into field goal territory before halftime.
It seemed like it took some time for the offensive line to settle in but they got nice and cozy thereafter. Might have been a case of Alex Bars getting his first start at guard--I thought the first sack was on the redshirt freshman but otherwise he played admirably.
The line did well enough to allow Prosise and Adams to rush for 5.75 yards per carry and gave Kizer plenty of time to throw all afternoon. The second sack looked like a coverage sack with Kizer holding on to the ball too long.
The defensive line was a little up and down, especially in the first half but got some explosive plays from Day (2 TFL) and Rochell had a solid outing. The Navy fullbacks did run for 134 yards which isn't great for the Irish.
Alize Jones and Jerry Tillery picked up starts again.
Also seeing action were LB Te'von Coney, WR C.J. Sanders, K Justin Yoon, CB Nick Coleman, RB Josh Adams, and WR Equanimeous St. Brown.
There's been lots of talk about Max Redfield being benched. He came out very early in the game and finished without a tackle after several miscues in run support. In his place, Matthias Farley played well with 7 tackles, including 4 solo stops. However, what the heck is Farley doing on this Ezell touchdown run???
I jumped out of my seat re-watching the game after seeing this. I mean, perhaps the angle is funny and Farley's not as close to the fullback as it appears. But even still, not even a dive to take his legs out? Does he get tripped up by Martini? This looks really, really bad.
Everyone raise a toast and give a salute to Keenan Reynolds' last game against Notre Dame. He never beat the Irish but I'll breathe a sigh of relief that he's graduating. The only problem I see is that Tago Smith looks really fast.
We'll see how the rest of the season plays out. However, defeating both triple option teams this year, even with Georgia Tech in the tank, was a huge win for the team and coaching staff. That's now 8 straight against that offense and 5 straight victories over Navy. Look out next year when Notre Dame will host Miami in late October following a bye, then travel to Jacksonville to face Navy and to the Alamodome to face Army in the Shamrock Series game. That's back-to-back games against the triple option, although it's probably much better to face the Middies first.
Kizer's touchdown pass to Fuller was an example of how--if he can improve his timing and confidence reading defenders to throw receivers open--the redshirt freshman could put together one heck of a package as a college quarterback.
Major props to Jarrett Grace getting his first opportunity to run with the 1st team since his injury in October 2013. This wasn't just some minor cameo, either. He finished with 5 tackles and looked solid.
Elijah Shumate's pick was awesome, a great safety play indeed. That was the best pick by an Irish safety since 1995.*
*Probably since Harrison Smith left, I'm being dramatic for effect.