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Irish bust out of slow start, dominate Navy 34-6

| Saturday, November 6, 2021

Despite Saturday’s final score of 34-6, the game got off to a rocky start. Navy kicked off out of bounds right out of the gate causing a penalty. The Irish immediately followed suit with a false start. Subsequently, both teams ran a three-and-out.

On their second possession, Navy’s Jayden Umbarger ran for 32 yards to bring the midshipmen into field goal range. Although Navy pushed further into the red zone, graduate student nose guard Kurt Hinish and defensive end Jordan Botelho both had sacks that ultimately pushed Navy out. Instead, Navy settled for a 49-yard field goal, the first to break into scoring, and led the Irish 3-0.

After a few plays, a first-down off a connection between graduate student quarterback Jack Coan and wide receiver Deion Colzie broke into the red zone on the next Irish drive. But ultimately, the Irish were held up on fourth and four.

Navy quarterback Tai Lavatai fell on his own fumble, cornering the Midshipmen into a fourth and six and ultimately a three-and-out to start the second quarter. After the punt, Williams had a 10-yard rushing first down. Then, Irish sophomore tight end Michael Mayer and senior wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. caught back-to-back first downs for 15 and 38 yards respectively. Again, the Irish could not find the end zone. They settled instead for a field goal from graduate student Jonathan Doerer, tying the score at 3-3.

Head coach Brian Kelly acknowledged the slow start, particularly how the Navy defense played into that. 

“Offensively, [we] didn’t get off to a great start, but you know, we kept at it,” Kelly said. “It’s a bit of a unique defense in the way they play a lot of Tampa 2, a lot of drop 8, and they mix in some pressures and so I thought we stayed at it. It’s a defense that — you just got to be patient, keep prodding. I thought we did a nice job there and broke the game open.”

Freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner ended up being the leader of the first touchdown drive to break that open.

In for his first snap with 6 minutes left in the half, Buchner pump-faked and ran for a first down. The next couple of first downs came in combination from Buchner and fellow freshman, running back Logan Diggs. A late hit by the Midshipmen against Diggs brought the Irish to a first and ten at the 15. Then, Austin Jr. caught a pass pulling the Irish to first and goal at the one.

Williams ran it in for the touchdown and after a good PAT from Doerer, the Irish were up 10-3.

After another three-and-out, Navy punter Riley Riethman pinned the Irish at the 5-yard line. Williams grabbed back-to-back first downs to bring the Irish to the 27. On third down, Jack Coan, back in the game, hit Austin Jr. for a 70-yard touchdown.

“I thought we managed the back half of the second quarter pretty good,” Kelly said. “We wanted to see how we were playing there defensively to decide how to use a timeout. First down was the key. We kept them under, four yards on first down, and then I was able to use the timeout strategically. Anytime we have one timeout with one 1:10, 1:15 we feel like we’re in pretty good shape to be aggressive. We ran four vertical. Jack used eyes to influence the safety, hold the safety and came all the way back across the field was able to find Kevin in a hold shot and it’s something that we had a game planned all week.” 

The offense had run the same play moments before, Jack Coan said in the post-game press conference, and Austin had been open then too. 

“Coach Kelly was screaming at me because it was open the play before and [he] basically told me to throw it there, so that’s exactly what I did. I just followed his plan,” Jack Coan said. “If you can get the ball to Kevin Austin, you know, he could take it the distance every time. So, just great by coach Kelly, great by Kevin.” 

Finding success with this play ended up being the turning point for the Irish offense to open up the game.

After running out the clock to end the first, the Midshipmen received the kick-off to start the second half. Navy running back Chase Warren ran for an 18 yard first down.

Lavatai suffered an injury in the second quarter, so second-string Navy quarterback Xavier Arline stepped in. He tried to hit Warren for a deep pass. It fell incomplete but not without a pass-interference from graduate student safety Houston Griffith. The penalty brought the Midshipmen to the Irish 33-yard line. A few plays later, Arline would take the ball for the first down himself followed by one from running back Isaac Ruoss to bring the Midshipmen inside the 10 yard line.

Hinish came up with two stops inside the 5 over Ruoss and Arline. These were two of his 10 tackles on the day. Hinish also had one sack in his 57th start for the Irish. After one more attempt, Notre Dame held the Midshipmen to another field goal bringing the score to 17-6. 

On the kickoff, Irish senior returner Matt Salerno ran for 26 yards to make it an Irish first down at the 30. Williams broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage on third down to get 5 yards but ultimately the Irish punted it away.

After another Navy punt, and a three-and-out from the Irish, Notre Dame punter Jay Bramblett pinned the Midshipmen at the one with help from Jack Kiser. Hinish then led the defense to a safety as Navy’s Arline flicked it to running back Mike Mauai. The lateral pass fell short resulting in a fumble in the end zone and Irish lead 19-6. This was Notre Dame’s first safety since Oct. 7, 2017, when they took on UNC in North Carolina.

A 29-yard kick-off return from Williams led the next Irish drive. Williams had 17 carries for 95 yards on the game. Avery Davis barrel-rolled over a Navy defender after catching a first down pass to bring the Irish to the 20-yard line. A few plays later, Davis would go down with a knee injury as Williams ran it into the end zone. Navy’s Michael McMorris forced a fumble from Williams at the goal line but he recovered it in the end zone to bring the score 25-6 Notre Dame. Coan hit Braden Lenzy on the two-point conversion to make it 27-6.

On a last-ditch fourth-down attempt from Navy, broken up by Irish defender Isaiah Pryor, Notre Dame took the ball at their own 47. This ultimately resulted in the final touchdown of the game from Diggs after a 3:45 drive. The final score was Notre Dame 34, Navy 6.

“It was a really good victory,” Kelly said. “Proud of our group and [this] gets us another step closer to where we want to be.”

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About Mannion McGinley

Mannion McGinley is a junior American Studies and Sociology major with a Journalism minor. She is a member of the Glynn Family Honors program and is Sports Department Editor at The Observer.

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