It felt a lot like 2010 yesterday at Notre Dame stadium. Navy sailed into town to play a game that most believed wouldn’t be close. The Irish were coming off a 45-10 win over Air Force and seemed to have figured out how to defend the option. Tommy Rees was playing possibly his best football of his Irish career and the defense had seemed to have found its swagger after some early season struggles. The Irish just seemed to have started to put everything together just in time for November, when playing your best football is key. Notre Dame was primed for another blowout victory as they continued to play for a BCS berth at the end of the season. Instead what they got was an unexpected shootout with the Midshipmen, a slew of injuries, and a lot of questions as to exactly how Navy was able to almost pull off a win in South Bend.
Navy came to play. Notre Dame’s defense didn’t. That’s really the only reason I can think of how Navy was able to run up and down the field seemingly at will. The Midshipmen rushed for 331 yards and converted 10 of 16 third down attempts against the Irish defense who, even though playing Air Force’s option attack last week, looked like they have never seen the option before. Navy was averaging 4.7 yards per carry. The key to defending the option is to play assignment football and make tackles. The Irish did neither for a good portion of the game, looking confused and making it very easy for Navy to move the ball down the field. Even when Notre Dame was able to put Navy in third and long and knock their offense off schedule, the Midshipmen still seemed to convert every third down attempt they faced. Everything seemed to be going perfect for the Navy offense. Even their passing game, which only attempted nine passes all game, was working for the Mids going for 88 yards including a 34 yard touchdown pass from Keanan Reynolds to Matt Aiken which gave Navy a 34-31 lead with 8:55 left to go in the 4th quarter. Navy was clicking, but in the end it was not enough.
Notre Dame’s offense was the reason the Irish won this unexpected shootout. While the Irish defense could not keep Navy off the scoreboard, the Irish offense kept pace which heavily utilized the running game which was a site for sore eyes. Notre Dame racked up 506 total yards on offense which included 264 yards on the ground. Tarean Folston stole the show Saturday, having a breakout performance running for 140 yards on 18 carries and the game winning touchdown. Folston showed why he was such a valuable recruit for the Irish, showing off his speed, power, and field vision. Multiple times he made moves on defenders that were just silly. Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson split time as the number two back each receiving 7 carries and running for 72 and 54 yards respectively. Moving forward you would have to think Folston will be the number one back for the Irish. His play deserves it. Tommy Rees threw for two touchdowns and 264 yards but also threw two interceptions, which helped Navy keep the game close. Tommy’s first interception could be blamed partially on the horrific field conditions. Tommy was targeting TJ Jones, who looked open on the play, when he slipped on the grass allowing a Navy defender to intercept the pass. The second interception however was all on Tommy as he overthrew a deep ball to Davaris Daniels. Daniels could have fought for the ball but the pass was bad.
After being embarrassed all game long by the Navy rushing attack, the defense finally came up with the stop it needed. Navy faced a 4th down inside Notre Dame territory with a minute and a half left in the game down four. Jaylon Smith showed off his amazing speed running across the field to make the tackle to stop Navy short and put the game on ice for the Irish. The defense played bad all game but when the game was on the line, they stepped up and avoided an embarrassing upset loss. Notre Dame moves to 7-2 on the season and still control their own destiny in their chase for a BCS Bowl berth.
This game showed me a lot of things that need to be addressed both on and off the field. First things first. I know its already been talked about but Notre Dame needs field turf and they need it now. The condition of the field is a complete embarrassment and the fact that it has gotten this bad could warrant someone getting fired. Notre Dame is one of the most prestigious college football teams in the country and yet we seem to be ok with playing on a playing surface that is worse than some high school programs. This needs to be fixed. Having a field in that bad of condition is dangerous and puts all the player on the field at greater risk for injury. I have heard from many people, including my father, that they prefer the natural grass because it slows down our opponents. What an awful reason to keep natural grass. Do these people not realize that this would also mean that it limited the speed of the Irish players as well? Brian Kelly has done an outstanding job bringing more speed to both sides of the ball. Its time to realize Notre Dame has speed and instead of trying to limit other teams speed at Notre Dame, the Irish need to utilize their speed.
The second thing might not be a popular sentiment with a lot of Notre Dame fans but for me it has to be said and should be addressed in the offseason. Bob Diaco needs to go. What happened against Navy is a complete embarrassment. This same Navy team only scored seven points against Duke and Western Kentucky. There is no excuse as to how the defense can allow 34 points and over 300 yards rushing. Notre Dame should never be in close games with a team like that. Ever. I’m tired of the conservative play calling. I’m tired of the defense under achieving with the amount of talent and skill it possesses. I’m tired of continuing to allow inferior teams to hang around because the defense cant get off the field. Last year was great but Diaco has been here for four years now and even last year there were games that the defense just didn’t step up. There is no consistency. Last week the Irish faced an option attack on the road and only gave up 10 points, yet this week at home they faced an almost identical option attack and gave up 34 points. There is no excuse for this. Its time to move on.
This weeks polls
Notre Dame finally cracks the AP poll and comes in 24th. The Irish remain 25th in the coaches poll.
Oh look Arizona State is ranked ahead of Notre Dame yet again in the AP poll. This makes no sense. Notre Dame beat ASU on a neutral field head to head and hold the exact same record. Michigan State moves up to 18 in the AP poll ahead of Notre Dame but with the Spartans only having one loss compared to the Irish’s two, this is no surprise.
More SEC garbage in this weeks polls. The AP has two loss Texas A&M and two loss LSU ahead of one loss Oklahoma. Uh what? Again it makes no sense. LSU has yet to beat anyone of merit and Texas A&M’s best win is Vanderbilt? Having these teams ahead of the Sooners is a complete joke.
How the hell is Miami still in the top 15? Miami is still overrated even after being embarrassed by Florida State and exposed as a pretender instead of a contender. Other than the loss to FSU, Miami has yet to play a team of any merit. No guys Florida is not a quality win. Just because they are in the SEC does not mean anything. They are awful. Miami doesn’t belong in the top 15 and is a borderline top 20 team especially with Duke Johnson now out for the season.
Get Texas Tech out of the polls. They have lost their last two games, which were the only two games they have played against quality opponents. This team cant stop the run and are not a top 25 team. They have not beaten anyone worth while.
Observations from around the country
It was a pretty dull weekend of games with not many good matchups but here goes:
Florida State is really good but Miami was very over rated. I am not doubting that FSU is one of the best teams in the country or that they can contend for the National Championship. I’m just not ready to claim the win over Miami as a huge win. Miami was ranked way to high to start with. Second Florida State was the first half decent team that Miami had played. No Florida is not a half decent team. They are awful. Florida State is defiantly one of the top teams in the country this year but their weak schedule could come back to haunt them. What’s even worse for FSU is they will probably play this same Miami team in the ACC Championship in a few weeks and the result will probably be even worse for Miami.
That Michigan State win earlier this season is starting to look pretty good now isn’t it? Michigan State dismantled Michigan this weekend using their elite defense to smother the Shunkbear offense. Michigan State moved to 8-1 on the season with their lone loss being to the Irish and look to be headed to the Big Ten Championship game against Ohio State.
Texas Tech is doing exactly what I expected. The Red Raiders benefited from a ridiculously easy schedule to get to 7-0 but have now lost two straight games to ranked opponents last week to Oklahoma and this week to Oklahoma State. They have fallen out of the Big 12 race and don’t be surprised to see them lost one or even two more games this season.
My Heisman rankings
1. Marcus Mariotta
2. Jameis Winston
3. Johnny Field Goal
4. Derek Carr
5. Bryce Petty