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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Hangs on to Defeat Navy in a ‘Tale of Two Halves’

November 12, 2022
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All week Notre Dame’s coaches talked about how to avoid a post-Clemson letdown against Navy. 

It turns out, the answer was to jump out to a 22-point halftime lead and hold on for dear life.

The Fighting Irish offense floundered in the second half and needed Matt Salerno to recover a late-onside kick to win, 35-32.

“Obviously, it’s not what you wanted,” coach Marcus Freeman said. “You’ve got to continue to tell yourself it’s so hard to win and to appreciate it, but we didn’t finish the way we wanted to.”

Quarterback Drew Pyne was on pace for a career day in the first half. He completed 14 of his 16 throws for 234 yards and 4 TDs, surpassing his passing total in each of his last four starts.

He also added 17 yards on the ground and another score. With 323 total yards, the Irish took a 35-13 lead into halftime. 

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Then Notre Dame (7-3) did its best to squander its lead from there. The Irish finished with 12 total yards of offense in the second half, including a 23-yard deficit on the ground. 

Much of the latter stems from Pyne’s inability to make short throws amidst zero pressure. That is, pure man coverage with no safety help, while the rest of the Navy defenders blitz.

“We have to be able to find ways to attack that,” Freeman said. “We're able to in the first half. We hit some [deep] balls and were able to check to some things we saw coming. But in the second half, we were just not able to beat zero pressure. That's something we've got to improve at because other teams are going to do that.”

Pyne was sacked five times in the second half as a result and connected on three of six passes for 35 yards an interception that set up a 1-play, 23-yard Midshipmen touchdown drive. 

With Navy committing its resources to the line of scrimmage, Notre Dame’s running back trio of Audric Estimé, Logan Diggs and picked up just 11 second-half rush yards. That’s after combining for 71 rush yards in the first two quarters. 

The Irish were without starting middle linebacker JD Bertrand on defense due to an injury in his groin “area.” Freshman Junior Tuihalamaka replaced him in the starting lineup with underclassmen Jaylen Sneed and Prince Kollie also filling in. 

Notre Dame’s inexperience in the middle shows as they were gashed for 255 yards on the ground, including 133 yards and a touchdown from Navy fullback Daba Fofana.

Navy quarterbacks Maasai Maynor and Xavier Arline also combined to complete 6 of their 12 passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. 

On a positive note, Notre Dame’s dominance on special teams continued. Linebacker Jack Kiser blocked a Navy punt in the first half. It’s the team’s seventh of the season and sixth in the last five games. He’s the sixth Irish player to block a punt this season. 

Notre Dame is now tied for the lead in blocked punts/kicks over the last five seasons. The NCAA record for blocks in a season is 11 by Arkansas in 1975.

The Irish failed to leave M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore with the type of victory they wanted, but Freeman is trying to see the positive of his team’s close win against Navy. 

“There have been a couple of games this year that have come down to a couple of points in the fourth quarter, and we didn't win,” Freeman said. “We've gotten to a point now we can win those close games, and we're going to be better because of it.”

He said it

It’s a common saying in football: never get too high or too low emotionally, stay in the middle. 

Notre Dame’s players apparently ignored this sage advice in the second half. 

“It was a great start to the game,” Freeman told ESPN sideline reporter Kris Budden after the game. “You go up 35-13 and get a lead, but it was a tale of two halves. We weren’t in the middle in that second half. We came out with a victory, which is so important, but man, we’ve got to get better.”

Big Picture

Notre Dame continues to struggle against the weakest opponents on its schedule. 

The Irish are 4-1 against opponents who’ve been ranked at some point in the season with a + 9.6 point differential.

Notre Dame is 3-2 versus all other opponents with just one double-digit win. In those games, the Irish have a + 5.2 point differential.

Play of the Game

Notre Dame played so poorly in the second half that Braden Lenzy’s 5-catch, 67-yard receiving performance was almost an afterthought. 

But it’s impossible to forget his 38-yard touchdown catch, which might just be the play of the season. Lenzy gained five or six yards of separation on Navy cornerback Mbiti Williams Jr. and then adjusted to an underthrown ball and somehow caught it behind the back of Williams.

Here’s another look:

What’s Next?

Notre Dame will have a chance to improve its point differential against unranked opponents next season. The Irish return home for senior night next Saturday to host Boston College (2-7) at 2:30 p.m. ET. 

It’s also a potential homecoming for former Irish quarterback Phil Jurkovec, but he’s missed each of the last two games after sustaining a right knee injury in a 13-3 loss to UConn on Oct. 29.

Jurkovec has struggled this season. He’s completed just 59.5 percent of his passes for 1,711 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions.

Recently, Jurkovec has called out Notre Dame for perceived slights that ultimately led to his departure. So if he does play next weekend, he’ll be out for vengeance. 

But it doesn’t matter who Boston College’s quarterback is if the Irish play like they did in the second half against Navy. 

“Somehow, someway, we have to be better because of what happened second half in the second half and go in and evaluate it as coaches on both sides of the ball,” Freeman said. “We need to find a way to improve as we get ready for Boston College next week.”

 
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