Your Notre Dame Fighting Irish threw up the skull and shamrocks, spotted the enemy in open water and unloaded a glorious round of cannon fire - but they assumed too early they had sunk the Navy Midshipmen. They had to weather a major storm and nearly ran aground in treacherous waters outside Baltimore before finally righting the ship and I am all out of nautical metaphors. Notre Dame won a textbook never-really-in-doubt-but-still-super-annoying Navy game 35-32. Let’s do the things.
Significant Pass Protection Failures
I want to make this clear up front - Notre Dame’s pass protection was mostly good in this game. But in key sequences in the late third-early fourth quarters, the offensive line and running backs proved to be a sieve against a Navy front hungry for Drew Pyne’s blood. In a second half that opened with Navy possessing the ball for over ten minutes, the sacks recorded by the Middies were incredibly significant.
This was a Navy team that excelled defending the run, and showed it in this game. The Irish had to - and should have been able to - beat the Middies through the air. Against an undersized Navy front, Pyne should have been able to have his way and finally see over the line to find his receivers. And for the most part he was, particularly in the first half. But when the Irish had a chance to sink the Midshipmen, Hiestand and Rees’ cannons were empty and they allowed Navy to fill their vessel full of holes in the second half and I promise you, the naval metaphors are done now. Basically pass protection in the second half sucked, left Pyne a sitting duck and allowed what should have been a blowout to become a near-upset. If the Irish are going to finish off their comeback tour and end the season 10-3, this simply. Can’t. Happen.
PAY BRIAN MASON
5-10 years from now, a Moneyball-style book will be written about how Brian Mason mastered the art of always blocking punts and turned special teams into a viable winning edge for Notre Dame. Last week, the block created a lead that would never be relinquished and sent an already feverish home crowd into a blood-hungry frenzy against a pretending top-five team already struggling with self-doubt. This time, it created a seemingly-unsurmountable lead of which the Irish ultimately needed every point.
The broadcasters pointed this out during the game, and for once I agreed with them - the sequence in which Notre Dame scored a touchdown on offense, blocked a punt, and then immediately scored another touchdown was one of the best half-ending sequences you will ever see, and it turned this game from a 21-13 battle to a 35-13 (seeming) rout in the first half. Considering how the second half unfolded, this was absolutely crucial. Game in and game out, Mason figures out ways to bring pressure up the middle with the same rushers (this week it was Jack Kiser - you will notice different rushers are always involved) in ways Notre Dame’s opponents can’t predict, and game in and game out this has helped the Irish win. I’ve noticed it, you’ve noticed it, and we had all better hope the budget keepers in Notre Dame’s athletic department have noticed it too.
Braden Lenzy Appreciation
It’s been a tough year for all of Notre Dame’s receivers. The Irish have had two young quarterbacks who both struggled with accuracy in different ways, and the only receiver with whom they have found a rhythm...isn’t a wide receiver. It’s been toughest of all for the fifth-year senior Lenzy, who has never quite managed to find a consistent role in the Irish offense despite possessing elite physical skills. In 2022, this is not primarily Lenzy’s fault - many an Irish fan including myself has lamented the numerous occasions on which Lenzy has been open, but either missed or simply not seen by Notre Dame’s quarterbacks. But on Saturday, Lenzy managed to have himself a DAY, headlined by one of the best catches Notre Dame fans (at least of my age) have ever seen.
I wanted to give Lenzy a shoutout here as tribute to his talent, his journey, his positive presence as a leader on the Irish roster, and the spectacular moments he’s delivered for us over the last few years. I don’t know if the next two games and Notre Dame’s bowl game this year will be the last games Lenzy plays, but if they are it was worth it. Great game, Braden.
It feels crazy to say, but there are only a few Notre Dame football games this year, and for better or worse I’m going to treasure each one. Enjoy it while you can, Irish fans!