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The good, the bad, and the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Navy

Nov 3, 2013, 1:08 PM EDT

Keenan Reynolds, Justin Utopo, Cole Luke AP

After eight lead changes, Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame team did just enough to keep Navy from springing an upset that would’ve undone much of the positives that have come from a season that hasn’t come easy. At 7-2, the Irish will likely climb a few more spots in the polls if only because of attrition, as teams get into the meat of their schedules.

We’ll hear later today just how bad the injury situation is for the Irish, with Kelly updating the media in his usual Sunday conference call. But before that, let’s get into the good, bad and ugly from Saturday’s wild 38-34 victory.

THE GOOD

Tarean Folston. The freshman running back looked the part on Saturday afternoon, running for 140 yards on 18 carries, carrying the load for the Irish down the stretch when Notre Dame turned to the ground game.

After rarely trusting a freshman with key touches in games that are tight, that Kelly turned to Folston to be the chain mover was telling. (Then again, every other back has had fumble problems.)

The freshman ran with power and speed, showing great cutback ability and vision as he diced the Navy defense down the stretch.

Kona Schwenke. The senior defensive lineman had an impressive  11 tackles before leaving the game with an injury, wreaking havoc on the interior of the Navy offensive line.

We will see how serious the leg injury Schwenke suffered is, but it’d be a shame if this was a career-ending injury for the Hawaii native, who would likely be returning for a fifth year if Kelly and the coaching staff had any depth along the defensive front when they arrived in South Bend.

TJ Jones. The senior receiver connected with Tommy Rees on a beautiful 35-yard post route for a touchdown, Jones’ sixth consecutive game with a touchdown and his fourth 100 yard game of the season. While his slip on a crossing route resulted in an interception, Jones has been the most reliable Irish receiver all season, and had a 19-yard punt return called back because of a block in the back.

Ben Koyack. Another game, another touchdown for Koyack, who is starting to show how effective the Irish can be with two tight end sets. Koyack’s 17-yard touchdown catch was a perfect design and setup by offensive coordinator Chuck Martin.

The running game. So THIS is the running game Notre Dame fans have been waiting for. The Irish rushed for 268 yards even with Conor Hanratty and Steve Elmer starting at guard. In addition to the nice game by Folston, George Atkinson averaged over 10 yards a carry and ripped off a 41-yard touchdown run early. Cam McDaniel averaged 7.4 yards a carry and had a 16-yard touchdown run called back as well.

Offensive efficiency. The Irish averaged 9.0 yards per offensive play, the most since the 1998 season, a remarkable 15 years. While the two turnovers the Irish committed kept the Midshipmen in the game, the Irish offense is rounding into form at the right time, especially with the attrition on the defensive side of the ball.

THE BAD

Injuries. There’s no way around it, this team is ravaged by injuries right now, especially on the defensive side of the ball. For those wondering why the Irish struggled against the option after doing so well the previous two seasons, consider the fact that Bob Diaco’s unit barely resembled the group on the field the past two seasons.

Here’s a quick look at the significant injuries the defense has faced:

OLB Danny Spond – Out for Season (Migraines)
DE/DL Tony Springmann – Out for Season (Knee)
S Nicky Baratti – Out for Season (Shoulder)
DE Chase Hounshell – Out for Season (Shoulder)
LB Jarrett Grace – Out for Season (Knee)
DE Sheldon Day – Missed multiple games (Ankle)
DT Louis Nix – Missed multiple games (Knee/Shoulder)
OLB Ishaq Williams – Missed multiple games (Knee)
S Elijah Shumate – Missed multiple games (Hamstring)
DE Kona Schwenke – Left game against Navy (Lower Leg)
OLB Ben Councell – Left game against Navy (Knee)

Councell’s injury looked to be serious, with the junior linebacker carted to the locker room with a wrap on his knee after an injury covering a kickoff.

Containing the option. It’s hard to say just one segment of the option attack killed the Irish since everybody but Keenan Reynolds averaged 4.8 yards or more per rush. But if there was a surprising problem for Notre Dame, it was the fact that the Midshipmen got outside the Irish’s leverage so often.

Multiple times it looked like the defense had Navy strung out only to see the pitch man or quarterback get outside the edge and turn a play in the backfield into a big gainer. It was especially demoralizing for the Irish after making decent plays early in a series only to give it all back a play later.

Third down defense. Maybe the most disappointing stat of the game for Notre Dame is the fact that Navy converted on 10 of 16 third downs, moving the chains often and contributing to a really lopsided time of possession ratio, with Navy possessing the ball for 37:36 to Notre Dame’s 22:24.

Tough penalty flags. The call against Justin Utupo (or Matthias Farley) was a complete debacle. The refs called it on the wrong player, diagnosed the call incorrectly, and then couldn’t explain what exactly was called when Brian Kelly asked for clarification.

The extra 15 yards took Navy out of a sure punt situation and gave the Midshipmen a much needed first down that turned into a touchdown drive.

While Navy wasn’t flagged once, multiple flags against Notre Dame appeared suspect on second glance including the touchdown that was wiped out thanks to a “holding” call on Troy Niklas. (Replay showed it as a perfect pancake block, though a second hold was called on No. 1 (Greg Bryant?) but was meant for DaVaris Daniels, a penalty that didn’t look like much of one when reviewed again.)

Irish turnovers. In a game where the Irish absolutely NEEDED to turn the ball over to keep Navy in it, the offense obliged, with an ugly interception courtesy of the turf monster (we’ll get to that later) keeping ND from stretching the game to a two-touchdown lead early.

The second interception came after DaVaris Daniels lost the battle for a 50-50 ball on the first play of an Irish two-minute drive, a pass that Tommy Rees threw to the outside and Daniels didn’t get to. It wasn’t one of Rees’s better passes on the day, but the quarterback showed faith that Daniels could beat the Navy cornerback and Daniels didn’t do it.

Three plays that changed the game. If you’re looking to distill this game into a three-play sequence, you could do it. The Irish’s fate changed early in the second quarter as the offense was marching to take a 10-point lead that could’ve forced Navy out of its game plan.

But then this happened:

* Cam McDaniel’s 16-yard touchdown run was called back because of Troy Niklas (and Davaris Daniels) holding penalty.
* On 1st and 20, the Irish offense set up a perfect running back screen. With blockers in front of him, Amir Carlisle couldn’t hold onto the quick throw from Tommy Rees, and the pass fell incomplete.
* 2nd and 20, Rees threw a in-cut to TJ Jones, who slipped on the break and had the pass intercepted.

Problems compounded and ten plays later, Navy scored a touchdown to take the lead.

THE UGLY

Notre Dame’s playing surface. Weather played a factor all across the Midwest yesterday, so Notre Dame Stadium wasn’t the only slippery track in college football. But after spending years and thousands of dollars trying to keep a natural playing surface inside Notre Dame Stadium, it’s beyond clear that the fight isn’t one that can be won without some drastic steps.

When asked about the field after the game, Kelly — who has openly talked about wanting FieldTurf — didn’t throw anyone under the bus.

“Our field people work their butts off, though, to try to get it the best they could,” Kelly said. “This is something that has been inherited in a large degree over a long period of time.

 

“It’s going to be resolved.  It will be handled.  Jack Swarbrick will take care of it. It will be handled. It’s not an easy fix. This is not just roll out some grass and tamp it down. So it will be something that will have to be worked on in the off‑season, looked at extensively, and we’ll come up with a solution.”

Plans are already underway to turn the stadium into something that’s used for more than just seven Saturdays a year, a renovation that could include additional luxuries boxes, classrooms, a potential video board and other modern amenities.

And while people point to hybrid surfaces like Green Bay or great natural turf like Michigan State, the work that needs to be done to allow the grass to hold is a costly and time consuming renovation that might not be possible for reasons other than money.

 

Either way, expect the final home game against BYU to be the final game for natural grass.

 

  1. runners00 - Nov 4, 2013 at 11:32 AM

    It’s always difficult to watch games against Navy but this one was particularly challenging because of our injuries, turnovers and mistakes. From an injury perspective, the loss of Councell is huge and it’s a disappointment and it just plain stinks. The kid is a real player who seems to be involved at all key moments. I feel badly for him. The turnovers– sigh — Rees. Nude is right (above): the internal reminder is essential. “It’s first down. I don’t need to force anything here,” seems to be lacking. He has shown some arm strength this year — but the discipline against Navy was absent. And the mistakes were everywhere. From missed tackles to dropped passes, there were plenty of mistakes this week.

    All of that aside, Notre Dame is now 7-2. At the beginning of the year, with no apparent starting quarterback against a challenging schedule, most of us may have “predicted” we had a shot at going unbeaten, but we thought a great season was 9-3. We’re on track for this. Kelly has this team growing. Sure, this week it seemed that we took at step back. But we lost a few more guys and we still pulled out an exciting win.

    We haven’t won anything yet — and we shouldn’t even think about a BCS matchup — but we’re on track to have a very successful season. Let’s finish this portion of the schedule by knocking out Pittsburgh and then get a week to recover before facing a very good BYU team and, of course, No. 5 Stanford.

  2. getsome99 - Nov 4, 2013 at 6:00 PM

    If you don’t like coaches yelling and screaming then you’re probably following the wrong sport. I can’t even watch a game by myself without screaming and yelling let alone expect a football coach to not do the same. This is not new to the sport and is not uncommon. At any level. When did Notre Dame football fans become so sensitive that they all of a sudden don’t like the coach to scream and yell? I never had a problem with Lou Holtz doing it and would have liked to have seen Davie, Ty, and Weis do it more often.

    Is this part of that “holier than thou elitist” Notre Dame fan mentality where we think coaches should be held to a different standard than other coaches? Saban, Miles, Meyer, all do it and I don’t hear their fans complaining. Once we hear ONE player complain, then we can take issue with it. But until the in, we should try not to be so sensitive about our football coach being too mean to the players.

    • ibleedirish - Nov 6, 2013 at 2:16 PM

      Oh my god I’m agreeing with getsome….

      • getsome99 - Nov 6, 2013 at 2:22 PM

        Lol. Hope I don’t lose you with this one, but that goes double for Jonathan Martin.

        Actually, just kidding. I do have strong opinions about the Dolphins situation, but I keep reminding myself to let all the facts play out before I go crazy on the Dolphins fan blogs.

  3. getsome99 - Nov 4, 2013 at 6:06 PM

    Hoping to get beat so we get an easier opponent in a bowl game? What a disgrace. I’m glad our players and coaches don’t have this mentality. That’s some very weak fan support right there. Notre Dame has never won a BCS bowl game and it would be nice to check that off the list while we still have a chance.

  4. jem5b - Nov 4, 2013 at 9:27 PM

    Nude check the Navy coach’s comments following the game; “The Mecca of College Football.”
    John McKay; UCLA is our city rival, ND is our national rival.”
    OU was up for ND more then UT in Dallas….They’re all Up for the Irish.
    Gee Nude, get your head out of your ass. :)

  5. ajw21 - Nov 4, 2013 at 11:32 PM

    I had a college baseball coach who yelled & scream at times during games. It didn’t bother most of the players because during practice he was teaching us & got upset when we didn’t do what he was teaching.
    I think a mixture of teacher and hard @$$ isn’t gonna hurt anyone. Most coaches know what players can take it.
    As long as the team keeps playing hard & doesn’t give up then Kelly is doing no harm. Plus he has been doing this for a long time and knows what he is doing.
    Go Irish!

  6. getsome99 - Nov 5, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    1. One bad throw on a day when the offense averaged more yards per play than any game in recent memory can be forgiven.

    2. I don’t know if it’s possible to go into a competitive battle in front of 80,000 screaming fans and effectively lead a team without raising your voice or showing emotion.

    3. BCS bowl win is the last remaining attainable goal for this team and it’s seniors.

    4. No apologies necessary for playing Navy. Navy will be a bowl team this year. I don’t hear Florida State apologizing for playing Nevada, Bethune Cookman, and Idaho.

    5. Injuries may not impact the bowl game as much as it has the end of the season. We’ll have 30+ days to “heal up” after the Stanford game.

  7. irishdrg1 - Nov 5, 2013 at 4:00 PM

    To the comment about Bennet Jackson missing the tackle, his job was to ‘fly’ to ball from the other side of the field and either make the tackle of ‘seal’ the edge and force him back insided where he had help coming. He was man to man all the way on the other sideline and still force the issue, GOOD PLAY BENNET AND JAYLON

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