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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — Navy Week

Pat Rick is behind schedule and trying to complain to American Airlines about it, but it will have to wait because it’s time to talk about What’s Important Now for Navy Week!

Wow, as tired as I am today, I sure am happy to be home. I can’t believe simply flying from Chicago to Denver and back could bring such frustration and stress and anxiety, but alas, my good friends at American Airlines saw to that.

Oh wow, American Airlines. I forgot I’m on hold with them trying to complain about my experience. Let’s see if that’s still the case..

*picks up phone*

*hears soul-crushingly generic hold music*

Welp, I’ve really gotta jump on this weekly call. I’ve got a feeling they’ll finally answer while I’m busy with that, and hang up on me. Oh well, all I can do is leave it waiting and hope for the best.

Alrighty, let’s go lead this call real quick.

*clicks “Join Call” button*

Hey everybody! How’s everyone doing?

*unintelligible answers spoken quietly by multiple people at once*

Awesome, awesome. Yep I’m doing okay, just pretty tired from the weekend.

Yeah I had a friend’s wedding in Denver, so we took Friday off and made a whole thing of it.

It was a blast! But I’m not as young as I used to be, so I’m definitely feeling it today...oh, and travel was AWFUL. I think I’m cursed, after the Asheville/United fiasco in August and now this with American...

Yeah, I should probably just teach myself to apparate, it’d be easier for sure.

Okay, well it looks like we’ve got everybody here, so let’s dive on in. Can everyone see my screen?

Perfect, this should be a pretty quick meeting today, just because it was a short week for me last week and thus I don’t have as many detailed updates as usual. But let’s go ahead and dive into the same ole agenda as always!

And we all know this stuff, no need to linger here...

Alright awesome — so like I said, I was out due to my buddy’s wedding, but here’s what I’ve been able to gather happened last week, considering I did manage to keep myself engaged with real-time updates on how things were progressing.

Hopefully my limited knowledge of what happened and my hazy wedding dance floor memories don’t meld together too much — no promises, though.

Alrighty, so in terms of positives from last week, I’d like to raise a glass and toast plenty of guys for stepping up — and that starts with Bellyman, who continues to cement himself more and more each week as my favorite Notre Dame football player of all-time.

He finished this one with 199 yards on a ridiculous 9.0 yards per carry. The 199 is a career high for him and the most by a Notre Dame player since November 2018, when Dexter Williams ran for 202 against Florida State. Bellyman’s total and his average were both certainly helped by his best highlight of the evening, which was an absurd 91-yard touchdown run that looked stuffed for a loss on the right side, featured a cut-back to the left and then a NASTY stiff arm, followed by a 90+ yard sprint down the left sideline with some great downfield blocking help from Michael Mayer and Avery Davis.

Even though I was busy getting unbelievably sweaty on the dance floor while showing extremely limited rhythm, this play was epic enough that I even made note of it at the time.

Of course, that run only accounted for 46% of his rushing production on the evening — Bellyman made plays all game, and even returned a punt 47 yards in the first quarter to set up Tyler Buchner’s TD pass to Avery Davis a little over 3 minutes later.

BK said it best — he was an absolute beast.

Bellyman’s performance goes hand-in-hand with the improvement of the offensive line of late. Obviously the Irish are finally facing some softer defenses and that helps, but the fact the offensive line of Alt-Kristofic-Patterson-Madden-Lugg has emerged and begun blocking much better recently is also just the right group finally getting to gel together a bit and become a true blocking unit.

The first graph in this tweet is exactly what I’m talking about — this group was not good early in the year, but they’ve made some adjustments and clearly just improved as a group as the season has progressed.

Bellyman and the other backs have certainly seen their production jump recently as a result — it’s not subtle at all.

Another guy whose recent improved play can definitely be partially attributed to a better offensive line is QB Jack Coan, who had himself a very nice game against UNC. He completed 16 of 24 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown while keeping a clean sheet in terms of INTs and only getting dropped for a sack one time, on the first drive of the game.

Oh, and did I mention that Jack “Statue” Coan went and earned himself a “DUAL THREAT” nickname for his electric 21-yard gallop to the end zone early in the third quarter? I’m not sure anyone saw that coming — especially not Coan himself.

Another exciting note around Coan and how much better he’s been at leading this offense since the end of the Virginia Tech game:

That’s been really fun to see, as it’s clear his teammates and coaches love him and he’s a super resilient kid. He didn’t complain or show bad body language when he got replaced by Buchner or Pyne, he just stayed ready and stepped up his game to help deliver three straight wins after the disappointing defeat against Cincinnati. And the way we saw Buchner and Pyne celebrate with Coan after his rushing TD — as well as how the rest of the team reacted — tells you everything about how he’s earned this moment. Well done, Jack Coan.

Other positives to note include Lorenzo Styles Jr. continuing to assert himself as one of the best receivers on the team all of a sudden, reeling in 3 catches for 74 yards, including a 40-yarder that set up Coan’s TD scamper.

Also, check out what Styles does on Bellyman’s punt return in the 1st quarter — this kind of effort, speed, and willingness to block for a teammate are going to make Styles one HELLUVA starting wideout next year and beyond.

Other nice portions of Saturday night I’d like to mention include Logan Diggs getting his first career touchdown (and continuing to look like a guy who can play major minutes in 2022); Michael Mayer and Avery Davis being their typically-reliable selves in combining for 9 catches, 102 yards, and a touchdown from Davis; Kevin Austin Jr. reeling in a really nice touchdown pass from Coan and just getting his foot in for the score; several guys on defense making some nice plays, including D.J. Brown’s INT and sacks/partial sacks from Drew White, Jordan Botelho, Isaiah Foskey, and Jayson Ademilola; a perfect night of kicking for Jonathan Doerer; and me getting the chance to dance to “Cotton Eye Joe” by the Rednex.

Okay, and now really quickly, let’s talk negatives from Saturday night — because as always, there were some.

The biggest and most obvious one was poor tackling from the Notre Dame defense. As someone who didn’t watch, I can’t speak much to that, but it seemed to be a pretty universal opinion and these lovely Sam Howell stats definitely align to it.

With that said, I do think some perspective is needed here. Yes, the defense didn’t play a great game and needed the offense to bail it out with a sparkling showing, but Marcus Freeman’s group was playing without the All-American safety who cleans up everyone’s messes (Kyle Hamilton, in case this is the first Notre Dame football article you’ve read in years) and with extremely shallow depth at linebacker, including missing some of the most athletic guys who would have been very helpful in containing Howell (Marist Liufau, Paul Moala).

Those aren’t bullet-proof excuses for what was a rough overall performance by the defense (especially considering Liufau and Moala have been gone all season), but it’s important context here — the defense did enough to win, even if it was ugly and even if Howell and Josh Downs and Ty Chandler had some pretty productive games.

Other negatives to note include one or two drops on offense (I gathered from some tweets), and then the obvious negative of me not being able to watch the game because of the lovely wedding I was attending. Also, I want to shout out the sad fact that I completely missed the playing of “Mr. Brightside” by the DJ at the reception, and missed nearly all of “Walking in Memphis” as well, just barely managing to sprint into the big room to shout “MA’AAAAAAM I AAAAAAAAM TONIGHT” as the song neared its finish.

Finally, a huge negative to note was the performance of American Airlines, who canceled hundreds of flights over the weekend, including 3 separate flights I was booked on. They stole hours of my long weekend from me and my friends, and clearly have conspired with United Airlines and what they did to me in August to try to discourage me from ever flying anywhere again. Alas, all they’ve done is ensure I never fly them again if I can help it — I’m a Delta/Southwest guy for life at this point, folks.

Okay, let’s quickly cover the scorecard for this week.

A lot of the above has been covered — shout out to Bellyman for being the god among men that he is — he’s earned every bit of swagger he displays.

Shout-outs are also in-store for Logan, Lorenzo, Jack, the ND secondary, and the ND front seven for accomplishing their most important goals — there may have been some bumps and bruises and slip-ups along the way, but they all pushed their action items across the finish line.

Also, I want to give Jeff an extra-special shout-out, as he’s successfully taken his action item from a bright, blinking red all the way to the green it is today — the offensive line is actually doing some decent blocking and just like how he deserved plenty of blame for the bad start to the year, Jeff deserves praise for how that group has really come along.

The concerning red action item there is for the ND defense as a whole, as their performance left a lot to be desired and is certainly a tad concerning heading into a game where tackling and forcing 3-and-outs is super key.

Otherwise, DJ did not achieve his action item of looking lost and losing ND the game in relief of Kyle Hamilton, so I’ll have to align with leadership on that — my recommendation is going to just be that we move forward with a new strategy there.

Finally, Pat, you need to figure your shit out. Your action item was to NOT drink a ton of whiskey gingers and old fashioneds and have such a good time at your friends’ wedding, and instead that’s EXACTLY what you did. Way to go, you idiot.

Okay, moving on — it’s time for our favorite slide, the Team Members of the Week!!!!

This week, we have a special prize for our winners — instead of a Chipotle gift card, each player will receive a pair of Yeezy Foam Runners!!!!

As you can see, Bellyman wasted no time enjoying his.

Congrats to Bellyman, Jack, Lorenzo, Avery, and those defensive guys who chipped in a really nice play or two — we’re so proud of what you accomplished!!!

Alrighty, now it’s time to look ahead to this week’s competition — the Navy Midshipmen.

I’ll let you dive into the details here on your own time, but just want to point out a couple things:

  • Navy’s official color of blue is “Navy Blue” and I think that’s awesome
  • Shout out to the 1926 national champion Midshipmen
  • I won’t make too much fun of the Ball State thing, considering the 2018 showing ND had against the Cardinals — Chirp, Chirp!!!
  • Notable alumni from the Naval Academy include Montel Williams, Ross Perot, some tall guy named David Robinson, the founder of Target, and of course, Thomas Magnum

On the next slide, we can briefly talk through some key insights on this Navy squad...

Most of this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Navy, as expected with their triple option offense, loves to run the ball — almost exclusively. They’re 14th in the country in rushing yards per game and dead last in passing, throwing the ball only about 9 times per game and averaging less than 60 yards through the air.

However, unlike some past seasons of devastating efficiency on the ground, this Navy team isn’t very good at running the ball for how much they do it. They’re 123rd in the country in SP+ offensive rating, 93rd in yards per carry, 109th in 3rd down conversions, and 96th in red zone conversions — clearly, their offensive efficiency leaves something to be desired.

Defensively, the Midshipmen are a top-50 unit in terms of raw production (43rd nationally in total defense), but when you dig a little deeper it’s clear they’re a group that’s ripe for Jack Coan and Tyler Buchner to pick apart — they’re 82nd in SP+, 99th in the country in yards per play allowed, 93rd in scoring defense, 101st in tackles for loss, 122nd in sacks, 107th in passes defended, and 56th in interceptions.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Navy Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Despite all of the above, though, Navy has actually played some good teams very close — Cincinnati, SMU, and Houston all only beat the Midshipmen by one score, which just goes to show how the triple option, even when not run that well, still can be a great equalizer when it means eating clock and keeping the ball out of the opposing offense’s hands.

So, What’s Important Now for the Irish in order to get their 8th win of the year against such a team?

Really, the answer here is for the Irish to do what they have been doing recently on offense, and to just tighten up on defense. Keep running the ball and use an immense physical advantage in this one, both in the trenches and also in terms of speed — this is a game where Coan/Buchner should be able to use Bellyman’s dominance on the ground to enable some successful deep balls to guys like Davis, Austin, Styles Jr., etc.

Defensively, the Irish will be without Kyle Hamilton again, so it’s going to be key that Freeman drills the defense hard this week on the couple of simple things they need to focus on to contain the triple option — disciplined assignments and wrapping up on tackles to force punts and keep the Midshipmen from reeling off very many long scoring drives. Part of that, in my opinion, should be Freeman getting more young guys in on defense to help throw fresh bodies out there and support the lack of depth at several positions. In addition to just seeing more Isaiah Pryor, let’s also see some Prince Kollie, some Xavier Watts, maybe some younger DBs occasionally since there won’t be much of a passing threat, etc.

As long as they know their specific assignment and stick to that, this should be a game where the Irish can just throw waves of guys out there and take care of business — rest people at least a bit if they need it, so they’re fresher for the final stretch of UVA/Georgia Tech/Stanford.

Finally, I will be at this game with my entire family and my girlfriend, and so I humbly ask the Irish to force some turnovers and make some fun, exciting plays for us to enjoy — there may be nothing worse than watching the triple option chug along somewhat successfully on a dreary Saturday afternoon, so let’s liven things up and absolutely stomp these guys like you did in 2019.

Okay, and with that, that’s all we’ve got for this week — does anyone have any questions?

Quiet group today, must have been a long weekend for y’all too!

Okay, well please let me know offline if anything comes up, and otherwise I of course will send out the deck after we hang up so you can reference it on your own.

Thanks again for your time everybody, and keep pushing hard on all open items — we’re in the final two months of the year, so everything counts as we try to finish strong!

Buh bye now!

*Clicks “End Call” button*

*Picks up cell phone again*

Ahhhh, nice, I’m still on hold and there are more than 100 parties ahead of me. Glad to hear they’re consistent with their customer experience across the board, I suppose.