Notre Dame wins season opener convincingly against Navy, 42-3
Thomas Zwiller | Saturday, August 26, 2023
Three years after COVID-19 suspended a Notre Dame-Navy game in Dublin, 49,000 fans watched the two teams play in Ireland for the third time on Saturday. Now, Notre Dame is 3-0 when facing Navy in Ireland, winning in dominant fashion, 42-3. Graduate student quarterback Sam Hartman led the way through the air with 251 passing yards and four touchdowns. The Irish running backs combined for 191 rushing yards, while the defense held Navy to just 126.
Navy deferred after winning the toss, letting Notre Dame get to work early. The Irish set the tempo on the very first play, with junior running back Audric Estime trucking ahead for a 10-yard gain. Then, Hartman completed a 19-yard pass to junior wide receiver Jayden Thomas immediately after.
A holding penalty against junior tight end Mitchell Evans led to an Irish third and 12, briefly threatening the drive. Hartman got the Irish out of a jam, navigating Navy’s pressure and finding Estime for a 22-yard gain. Four plays later, Estime found the endzone on a one-yard carry.
On the following drive, Navy opted for a touchback and started with the ball on their 25. The Midshipmen picked up two first downs in their first three plays with gains of six, 14 and 11 yards. However, the drive began to stall once Navy entered Irish territory.
The Midshipmen faced a fourth and three on the edge of field goal territory. Instead of attempting a rush to keep the drive alive, Navy attempted their first pass play of the season. The on-the-run pass from Navy senior quarterback Tai Lavatai was wobbly but found its way to the right spot. However, two Navy receivers collided with one another, and the pass fell incomplete. Had either of the wide receivers managed to stay upright and haul in the pass, the drive would have stayed alive, with the Midshipmen on the outskirts of the red zone.
The first two Irish drives saw Notre Dame establish the ground game as the offensive line bullied the Navy defensive line. The third drive differed, as the Irish seemed more comfortable passing the ball. Hartman began by finding Thomas for 19 yards. Freshman running back Jeremiyah Love had a carry for 11 yards the next play, and then Hartman returned to the air and found junior wide receiver Deion Colzie for 13 yards, setting up the Irish at the Navy 35.
In the next play, Hartman faked a handoff before scanning down the field. He saw freshman wide receiver Jaden Greathouse going down the field in one-on-one coverage. Hartman saw the pocket collapsing, quickly executing the pass through contact. The ball found Greathouse in stride, and the true freshman made the catch and shook off a defender. He then tumbled into the endzone for a 35-yard touchdown to grow Notre Dames’s lead. Head coach Marcus Freeman had lots of praise for Greathouse and the wide receiver room as a whole.
“Consistently do your job, especially at that position, and you will be in a position to be rewarded. Sometimes, when you play well at the wideout position, you don’t always get those rewards. So, to see Jaden Greathouse score two touchdowns today, it’s a reflection, hopefully, of what [wide receivers] coach [Chansi] Stuckey has done with that room,” Freeman said.
The score capped off a 78-yard drive in under two minutes and gave Notre Dame a 21-point lead. The touchdown was also the first of Greathouse’s collegiate career and the first of Hartman’s at Notre Dame.
Navy began their third possession of the game on their own 25 and slowly began to gain ground, earning first downs in short increments. With just over four minutes left in the half, Navy neared the red zone and looked to get their first score of the season. Lavatai picked up five yards on first and ten. But running back Daba Fofana lost two yards on the next play, setting up a third and seven. Lavatai then gained three yards, setting up a fourth and medium.
Instead of attempting a fourth-down conversion, Evan Warren trotted out to attempt a 37-yard field goal. He missed wide right, and Navy concluded a 14-play, eight-minute drive with nothing to show. To make matters worse, Notre Dame marched down the field in under two minutes to score their final touchdown of the half.
Navy began the second half after a touchback and could not do much with the ball, gaining seven yards in a three and out. The resulting punt from their 32-yard line traveled just 31 yards. Notre Dame took advantage, marching down the field once again. Estime brought the Irish to the Navy 35 on three straight carries. Hartman then completed a pass to Thomas for 11 yards and then, two plays later, found an open Greathouse in the endzone for a 20-yard touchdown.
After the game, in the press conference, when asked if the game felt slow and under control at times, Hartman deflected the credit away from himself and toward the offense as a unit.”We had a great plan, and we went out and executed it, not really any of my abilities; it was more guys around us like Jaden Greathouse… And really, it starts up front; I had a lot of time to go through my reads and progressions,” Hartman said.
After another Navy three and out, Notre Dame took over well inside Midshipmen territory. The Irish drive was a short-lived six-play, 13-yard jaunt lasting just over three minutes. It was also the first Notre Dame drive that did not result in points. Instead, graduate student kicker Spencer Shrader missed a 42-yard field goal well wide of the uprights.
After Navy lost ten yards in seven plays, Notre Dame got back to work and made up for the missed field goal, moving down the field with ease once again. Love and sophomore runningback Jadarian Price took turns carrying the ball, working their way down the field. Then, at the Navy 25, Hartman found Colzie for his fourth touchdown of the night.
On their final drive, Navy ended Notre Dame’s shutout bid, scoring a 31-yard field goal after an eight-minute drive. Notre Dame finished out the remaining 3:30 almost exclusively the ground, with sophomore quarterback Steve Angeli brought out in relief.
Coach Freeman was pleased with his team’s performance from start to finish, in stark contrast with how the team played against Navy last year.
“As I told the team, I was really proud of just their overall performance. Four-quarters of execution, and it was a really great way to start the season,” Freeman said.