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Week 1 Notre Dame football grades: Offense shines across the board

| Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Notre Dame-NavyMeghan Lange | The Observer
Sam Hartman looks to the sideline during Notre Dame’s 42-3 win over Navy at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 26, 2023.

The story of any sports team changes over the course of the season. Areas that look like weaknesses at the start of the year can turn into strengths. Depth charts change. Injuries necessitate new heroes.

Examining how these developments shape up is one of the most exciting parts of following a sports team. One of the best ways to do that is through assigning grades. Whether it’s physics or blocking assignments, grades offer a great snapshot of success and progress. Of course, there is always a greater context to slot them within.

So, this article marks the beginning of a season-long project for The Observer. For each game, we’ll break down how each position group for the Irish football team fared the previous week. We’ll both assign a grade to the group for that week and average it out with previous grades to see how each unit evolves throughout 2023. This will be split into two articles — one for the offense, one for defense and special teams. First up is the offense, looking to earn high marks after hanging 42 points on Navy.


The Midshipmen aren’t exactly known for having a stellar secondary. In 2022, Navy ranked 98th out of 131 schools in passing yards allowed per game (250.2). They came into Dublin with a new head coach and defensive coordinator. It’s important to note that for all of the grades in this article, but especially at quarterback.

That being said, all you can do is play the team in front of you. And graduate student Sam Hartman played the Midshipmen like a fiddle from start to finish. It’s almost always a good sign when you have as many incompletions (four) as touchdowns. Especially when one of them was a drop and another drew a flag for pass interference that was eventually picked up.

The statistics certainly tell an impressive story. Hartman went 19-for-23 with the aforementioned four passing touchdowns. He spread the ball around to nine different players, six of which had multiple receptions. But the eye test was just as impressive, if not more so. Hartman looked poised and composed, lacking the frenetic nervousness that Irish signal callers displayed at times over the past two seasons. He expertly moved through his progressions and maneuvered the pocket on the few occasions the Navy pash rush made noise.

Hartman looked exactly like you’d expect one of the most decorated college quarterbacks in the country to look, no matter the quality of the opponent. Add on sophomore Steve Angeli notching his first career completion, and it’s hard to dream of a better day for the Irish QB room.

Weekly Grade: A+; Season Grade: A+

Running Backs

The big question coming into Saturday was how the Irish would spread carries around. The Irish enter the season with a clear No. 1 in junior Audric Estime and a quartet of quality options behind him. Three of them received multiple carries in Dublin, in addition to Estime. Notre Dame’s leading rusher picked up where he left off from 2022. Estime rumbled for 95 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. He may have done even more damage if he wasn’t benched for the second quarter after a fumble (which, fortunately for the Irish, bounced out of bounds).

Sophomores Jadarian Price and Gi’Bran Payne and freshman Jeremiyah Love all showed promise in their Irish debuts. Love and Price showcased speed and big-play ability, with game-high rushes of 21 and 19 yards, respectively. Payne was very solid in his own right, leading non-Estime Irish backs with six carries and also being counted on in pass-blocking. Love led that trio with 40 rushing yards on just four carries, a 10-yard average per carry that bested even Estime.

Graduate student Devyn Ford notched just a single carry in his first collegiate game since Sept. 24, 2022, back when he was still with Penn State. But even he received some important snaps during the first half two-minute drill and also hauled in a nine-yard reception.

No one clearly emerged as an undisputed RB2 on the Irish depth chart. But a bevy of solid performances, with Estime leading the way, is nothing to scoff at, especially with how badly the Irish run game collapsed in the second half against Navy a year ago. Avoiding a similar letdown in Dublin helped the Irish cruise to victory on Saturday.

Weekly Grade: A-; Season Grade: A-

Wide Receivers

There’s always a bit of a chicken-and-egg dynamic between quarterback and receiver play. Hartman certainly made life easy for his wideouts Saturday, consistently making on-time throws and leading them into open space. That being said, the receivers themselves certainly made some plays themselves. Freshman Jaden Greathouse fought off a defender to free himself for the team’s third touchdown on a deep route in the second quarter. Junior Jayden Thomas capped off the half with a two-handed snag through contact for six points and popped the entire day. The two represent the team’s best chance of having an impact receiver, something the Irish sorely lacked in 2022. So far, so good.

They weren’t the only ones to shine in a positive light, either. Junior Deion Colzie flashed as well after an inconsistent 2022. Senior Chris Tyree had a respectable first career game playing in the slot after converting from running back. Even graduate student Matt Salerno got in on the fun with a nine-yard catch.

The one disappointment was sophomore Tobias Merriweather, a popular breakout candidate. He failed to catch the two passes thrown his way, which were the drop and near-PI aforementioned in the quarterbacks section. Still, considering wideout was essentially a universal weakness heading into the year, the unit being a strength Saturday represents a huge success.

Weekly Grade: A-; Season Grade: A-

Tight Ends

For the second time since 2019, the Irish played a regular-season game without Michael Mayer, and it showed. Not only did the Irish tight ends fail to garner so much as a single target from Hartman, junior Mitchell Evans took the team’s lone penalty, a potentially drive-stalling hold on an opening-drive third down. The group deserves some credit for its blocking efforts, of course. And they get some slack for the setback of losing senior Kevin Bauman to a torn ACL late in training camp. But they’ll need to show more going forward.

Weekly Grade: C; Season Grade: C

Offensive Line

No sacks or penalties, just one hurry allowed and a bevy of impact rushes from across the running back core. Hard to do better than that for the Irish line, which enters 2023 as a dark horse Joe Moore Award candidate. Graduate student center Zeke Correll looked good after not being confirmed to play until Thursday due to a left ankle injury. Juniors Rocco Spindler and Pat Coogan looked like the right choices to start at guard after coming from behind to win those roles in camp. Credit both the line for executing at an incredibly high level and the Irish coaches for putting them in a position to succeed.

Tougher tests lie ahead, but they passed test No. 1 with flying colors.

Weekly Grade: A+; Season Grade: A+

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About Andrew McGuinness

Andrew McGuinness is a senior in Siegfried Hall and Sports Editor of The Observer. He is from Haddonfield, New Jersey, and loves all of his Philly sports teams, even if they don't always love him back. Reach out below or on Twitter (@_AndrewMcG) to talk sports or TV shows, especially if they're Stranger Things, Survivor, Abbott Elementary or/and Severance.

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