Welcome to the first Three Things of the 2023 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football season! This article was much more fun to write than last year’s opening three things, as the Irish cruised to a 42-3 victory over the Navy Midshipmen. As a new addition this season, I thought I would throw in an Irish tune of the week to enjoy after each game; this week the choice was easy, with Notre Dame’s pirate flag flying high and proud over Dublin:
The Irish now sit at 1-0 and will celebrate their victorious return to South Bend with a tune-up game against the Tennessee State Tigers; what did we learn?
Hartman Wins Hearts
So far, so good for the new Irish signal caller. Behind an offensive line that gave him all the time he needed and more, Hartman effortlessly spread the ball around the field and led remarkably efficient scoring drives throughout the day. His only real blemishes were a near-interception by Rayuan Lane and a delayed release on a deep ball to Tobias Merriweather that turned a likely touchdown into an incompletion; otherwise, Hartman did whatever he wanted and did it with a smile on his face.
Showing the pocket presence and subtle mobility of Ian Book, downfield arm of Deshone Kizer, intermediate accuracy of Jimmy Clausen and leadership of Brady Quinn, Hartman turned in one of the more complete quarterback performances Notre Dame fans have seen in a long time. If this is a sign of things to come, this team will score against anyone.
The Irish Have Not Had This Level of Skill-Position Depth In My Lifetime
In the same category of things we haven’t seen in a long time, I can’t remember the last time a Notre Dame offense had this many backs and receivers who were ready to be difference-makers. At running back, Gi’Bran Payne adopted #3 and essentially was Logan Diggs, showing great patience and nifty running in the hole to move the chains. Meanwhile, Jadarian Price and Jeremiyah Love, one a redshirt and the other a true freshman, showed dynamism in their own right; the former with his quickness and strong running style, the latter with his unrivaled speed. All of this was behind a more than worthy leading man in Audric Estime, who showed exactly the punishing, violent running style we have come to know and love.
Among the receivers, Jaden Greathouse grabbed headlines with his two touchdowns, but Deion Colzie, Chris Tyree, and Jayden Thomas each flashed their unique playmaking skillsets. And for all Hartman did to spread the ball around, there was still plenty left on the table; the Irish did not get the ball to Merriweather in this game, nor did they even target their impressively deep tight-ends group.
Put all that together and you have a roster with the surplus of high-caliber athletes that Irish fans have long coveted, giving Gerad Parker and co. nearly endless possibilities to attack opposing defense: real speed to burn opponents all over the field; real size and strong hands to win contested balls and create separation; real power up the middle to move the chains. All supported by an offensive line that - for the first time in a few years if you remember early 2022, 2021 and even 2020 - already appears to be in sync and playing with some serious edge. No matter who they play, this offense is going to be a problem.
Notre Dame’s Veteran Linebackers are Assets, Not Liabilities
J.D. Bertrand, Marist Liufau and Jack Kiser have all taken their lumps from Irish fans over the last few years, often deservedly so. Many Irish fans have wondered why the Irish didn’t give more snaps to younger, more athletic players behind them on the depth chart; Liufau in particular has taken flack for always seeming to be a step too late to where had to be. But in this game, each member of that trio showed why the Irish coaching staff have entrusted them with leading the defense in 2023.
Kiser and Liufau were the team’s two leading tacklers with Bertrand not far behind, as one would expect against a team running the ball on nearly every play. But where they impressed was in their in-game response to Brian Newberry’s new triple-option (same as the old, mostly).
After a promising first drive from Navy that had many of us worried about whether we were in for a classic way-closer-than-it-should-be finish, the Irish linebackers quickly adjusted their movements behind the line to be in position and bring the Mids’ ball-carriers down after minimal gains. Liufau and Kiser should improved quickness and tackling abilities that turned the kind of gains we had so often seen end in 3rd-and-2 into 3rd-and-5 or 6, a crucial difference against the triple option. Together, the veteran trio led the defense in holding Navy to under 3 yards per carry, which longtime watchers of this matchup will know means you are going to win the game.
Notre Dame will play other offenses this year with more dynamic players and playbooks, and may find themselves leaning more on different personnel in the linebacking corps. But in this game the experience and leadership of Notre Dame’s veteran ‘backers was a primary reason the Middies stayed off the scoreboard until notching a Dino Babers field goal in the fourth quarter.