SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame and Navy picked up Saturday exactly where they left off in 2019, the first year off in the series dating back to 1927 not changing the dynamics of the game at all. The No. 10 Irish (8-1) slogged to a convincing win against the Midshipmen, 34-6, the game never in doubt or particularly riveting.
The rare moment that genuinely elicited excitement from the crowd, not to mention essentially decided the game, came as the result of a Navy safety woefully mistiming his read on a pass to Kevin Austin, springing the Notre Dame senior receiver for a 70-yard touchdown and a 17-3 lead just before halftime. The Irish had prepped the play throughout the week, expecting Austin to have such a one-on-one moment, and he very much did, including on the play prior.
“We basically ran the same play right before, and [Notre Dame head coach Brian] Kelly was screaming at me because it was open the play before and basically told me to throw it there,” quarterback Jack Coan said. “That’s what I did, followed his plan. When you get the ball to a guy like Kevin Austin, he can take it the distance every time. Just great by coach Kelly, great by Kevin.”
Austin finished with six catches for 139 yards, Coan’s preferred target as the veteran finished with an efficient 269 yards on 23-of-29 passing. Junior running back Kyren Williams added 95 yards and two touchdowns on just 17 carries, a 5.6 yards per rush average, falling short of reaching 100 yards for a third straight week only because a penalty negated a late run.
Up until Austin’s catch-and-dash, the Irish had struggled immensely. Williams had found the end zone once, but even that came after Notre Dame opened the game with a pair of three-and-outs followed by a turnover on downs. Its first three drives gained 49 yards on 13 plays. It took until the third possession for the Irish to manage even a first down.
“Didn’t get off to a great start, but kept at it,” Kelly said. “[Navy’s is] a bit of a unique defense in the way that they play it. A lot of Tampa 2, a lot of drop eight, mix in some pressures. We stayed at it. It’s a defense that you have to be patient, keep prodding, thought we did a nice job there and broke the game open.”
Notre Dame scored on its final three possessions of the first half — getting the ball six times in one half matching what is sometimes an entire game’s worth of drives against the Midshipmen — putting Navy too far behind to mount an appropriate comeback, the limitations of the triple-option offense short-circuiting most hopes of dramatic responses, especially since the Midshipmen did not complete a pass through three quarters and managed just one the entire game. Navy sophomore quarterback Tai Lavatai was injured in the second quarter and did not return, compounding its passing woes, as he was responsible for 21 of the Midshipmen’s 33 completions entering the weekend and 273 of 472 passing yards. Perhaps most pertinently, Lavatai went 11-of-15 for 116 yards in Navy’s near-miss against No. 2 Cincinnati two weeks ago.
Without Lavatai keeping the Irish defense a touch more honest, the Midshipmen managed just 166 rushing yards on 55 carries, a 3.02 yards per rush average, both the yardage and the average the second-worst marks of Navy’s season, trailing only the debacle against Air Force in the second week of the year that led to offensive coordinator Ivin Jaspar’s firing-into-demotion to quarterbacks coach.
“Defensively, we played very well,” Kelly said. “We were detailed, we were focused, we trusted our teaching, we trusted the guy next to each other and got back to the foundational principles of playing really good defense.”
Not making life any easier for Navy’s offense, Notre Dame fifth-year defensive tackle Kurt Hinish finished with 10 tackles, doubling his previous career-high, with eight of those coming unassisted and two coming behind the line of scrimmage. No tackle was officially necessary for the Irish to force a Navy safety, but Hinish was right there to hassle Midshipmen quarterback Xavier Arline into a bad pitch in the fourth quarter.
— Brian Kelly (@CoachBrianKelly) November 7, 2021
“Those guys definitely do not get enough credit, especially the interior guys,” junior linebacker JD Bertrand said. “… You don’t see the work that they’re doing and taking on double pounds, to have 600 pounds of force, be able to hold their ground, they’re the reason why anyone else can make plays.
“It starts up front. We’re thankful to have guys who are willing to do that.”
DO THAT SAFETY DANCE!
— The Fighting Irish (@FightingIrish) November 6, 2021
Williams quickly followed that safety with his second touchdown, an effort that is becoming vintage Williams, and the Irish went for two to create a three-touchdown cushion, one expanded by a late touchdown from freshman running back Logan Diggs.
— Notre Dame on NBC (@NDonNBC) November 6, 2021
Fifth-year receiver Avery Davis was injured on Williams’ second touchdown, appearing to grab at his left knee. The “ND on NBC” broadcast reported it to be a significant injury.
“It’s a knee injury,” Kelly said. “Our doctors aren’t certain until we get an MRI, so we’ll get an MRI and then we’ll know for sure.”
3:03 — Navy field goal. Bijan Nichols 49 yards. Navy 3, Notre Dame 0. (13 plays, 36 yards, 7:36)
9:47 — Notre Dame field goal. Jonathan Doerer 24 yards. Navy 3, Notre Dame 3. (11 plays, 74 yards, 3:45)
2:46 — Notre Dame touchdown. Kyren Williams 1-yard rush. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 10, Navy 3. (11 plays, 66 yards, 5:00)
0:50 — Notre Dame touchdown. Kevin Austin 70-yard pass from Jack Coan. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 17, Navy 3. (5 plays, 95 yards, 1:00)
5:16 — Navy field goal. Nichols 21 yards. Notre Dame 17, Navy 6. (14 plays, 71 yards, 9:36)
13:20 — Notre Dame safety. Notre Dame 19, Navy 6.
10:55 — Notre Dame touchdown. Williams 20-yard rush. Two-point conversion attempt good, Coan pass to Braden Lenzy. Notre Dame 27, Navy 6. (7 plays, 54 yards, 2:18)
3:13 — Notre Dame touchdown. Logan Diggs 8-yard rush. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 34, Navy 6. (7 plays, 53 yards, 3:45)
That was a football game.
It took exactly two hours and 59 minutes.#NotreDame won.
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) November 6, 2021