Notre Dame won a commanding victory against the Naval Academy on Saturday in a game that featured great play from the special teams. It was not perfect, and there are things that ND needs to work on, but it sum, it was a great effort. Let's get to it.
Only one blemish tarnished the ND Kickoff Team's performance on Saturday, after having, arguably, their worst game of the season last weekend against Clemson. Tyler Newsome had 7 kickoffs for 425 yards, an average of 60.7 yards per kick. He touched back 2 of his kickoffs. Of the 5 that were returned, Dishan Romine took the bulk of them (4) for 136 yards, an average of 34 yards per return. The bulk of Romine's 136 return yards came from one single 58 yard return.
I ask all of you to go back and watch this return over and over and over again. Look at how Navy blocks on a return. Quite literally, there are few, if any, ND coverage players that are not being blocked. Navy knows where they want to create a lane and they did it. The lead blocker on this picked up the freaking outside contain man. That's how well blocked this return was. ND did not get off any of these blocks quick enough and left enough room for Navy to find a hole. This should be shown at camps and in clinics of how a team should block on special teams. Holy hell, if not for Russell playing safety valve and being faster than the Navy return man, this would have been 6 points easy. It was an uncharacteristic blemish on the kickoff team's performance on Saturday. That said, this is two games in a row that the kickoff unit has played poorly. Against a team like Southern Cal, this could be bad.
On a positive note, ND's kickoff team forced a fumble in a reverse of last week's 2nd half kickoff vs. Clemson. ND linebacker Niles Morgan made a fantastic tackle of Dishan Romine, who promptly put the ball on the ground, which was recovered by ND CB Devin Butler. ND would go on to score 2 plays later to go up 10 points on Navy.
Awesome play. Let's get closer. ENHANCE...
Absolutely fantastic play by Morgan to force this and for Butler and the rest of the team to jump on the loose ball quickly. Credit should also go to Shumate as well. This play, in combination with Yoon's 52-yarder, in my opinion, really turned the tide of this game. ND was about to go into half tied with Navy, when Yoon hits the 52-yarder (addressed below). On top of that, on the first play out of halftime, this happens. Fantastic.
It what turned out to be a fantastic day for the ND offense, Tyler Newsome only had to punt twice this game, booting both kicks for 84 yards, an average of 42 yards per kick. Neither punt was returned, and one landed inside the 20; it was a beauty.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is why, if you are EVER on a return team blocking, you ALWAYS make contact with your assigned man on the coverage team. Had the Navy blocker here made contact with Farley, whether it be a forearm shove, a straight block, or even a simple forcing out-of-bounds to try and draw an illegal touching penalty, this could have prevented ND from having such a successful play here. Instead, Farley was allowed to run down untouched and make the catch on the punt in the air. Additionally, what made this play even worse for Navy was that it set up Navy's play-calling for the series. Those plays resulted in a fumbled pitch 3 plays later that was recovered by Jaylon Smith. CJ Prosise would go on to score on the very next play, giving the Irish their first lead of the game, a lead they would never lose--tied yes, but never down for the rest of the game.
ND Field Goal
Anyone who doubted Justin Yoon should watch this game. Yoon went 2 for 2 on field goals for the game, making a 36 yarder in the 4th quarter, and a career-long 52 yarder right before halftime, putting the Irish ahead by 3. Yoon's 52 yarder tied for the 3rd longest in school history, 1 yard short of the longest field goal in program history, held by Dave Reeve (53 yarder vs. Pitt in 1976) and Kyle Brindza (53 yarder vs. Arizona State in 2013).
Perfect angle, great form, awesome kick all around. Let's get closer; ENHANCE...
Enough said. Props to Kizer for getting down a high snap and major applause for Justin. He is easily, in my opinion, the Rookie of the Year thus far in the season.
ND Kick Return
Arguably the worst part of the special teams units on Saturday, ND's kick return unit was relatively ineffective all game. CJ Sanders was back for the Irish to return kicks, taking 4 of them for 84 yards, an average of 21 yards per return. This is very poor. His longest return went for 23 yards. As you can see below, it's hard to blame him for this poor showing.
Homework for the readers: I ask you to watch this return and watch the Navy return above. Compare and contrast them. See what you can find the same and different. Here is the Bro's Notes condensed version; good blocking vs. poor blocking. In Navy's return, the blockers broke down and got in the way, making themselves useful tools of the return unit. Here, ND displayed a surprising lack of fundamentals on this return. To start, #44 Doug Randolph decided to try to level his assigned blockee, who simply ran around his diving attempt to hit him. Later, 5th year walk-on and former ND Lacrosse standout #32 Nick Ossello overran his man, resulting in him taking a poor angle and missing his assigned block. The end result of this was that CJ Sanders had nowhere to go. Even so, while Nick missed the block, this return was ruined from the start once Doug missed his. If you watch this replay again, even if Ossello misses his assignment, if Randolph had made his, CJ would have had an absolutely enormous hole to run through up the middle of the field.
ND Punt Return
ND's punt return team failed to return a single punt this game. Navy's offense went 4 for 4 on 4th down conversions, and ND's defense forced 3 turnovers, leaving Navy to only punt twice all game. Navy punter Alex Barta launched a 40 yarder into the endzone for a touchback, and dropped a 49 yarder on the 16, which was fair caught by CJ Sanders. Some times, a team will not get any returns. This was one of those games.
Additional Bro's Notes
- Navy kicker Austin Grebe missed a 44-yard field goal in the 3rd quarter that would have brought Navy within 7 points. ND would proceed to drive down the field in 10 plays and score, going up 17 points. It's hard to blame Grebe for his offense turning the ball over repeatedly in this game, but this is a play that I think Navy would like to have back. Grebe is a decent kicker and did make a 40 yarder later in the game.
- This will be my last special teams post of the season until the bowl game, as I will pass the baton to the rest of my colleagues to pick up my slack. All is well, I just happen to have to take a leave of absence for new employment-related purposes. I will see you all later in the season, hopefully for a preview of ND's first playoff game. Thank you for dealing with my insanity to this point.