Instant Observations: Defensive line rises to the occasion as Notre Dame smothers Navy

Eric Hansen
ND Insider

Bottom Line

Notre Dame warmed up for the most prolific passing attack in the Power 5 by taming an offense that didn’t amass a single passing yard until midway through the fourth quarter Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium and only officially attempted to throw three passes.

The upside in first-year defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s schematic masterpiece in a 27-6 victory for the AP No. 8/CFP No. 10 Irish over Navy was the execution of it, with sure tackling the constant.

The Notre Dame defensive line set the tone, limiting Navy to 184 total yards — the fourth-lowest opponent total in the 12-year Brian Kelly Era. It was the fewest points scored by the Mids (2-7) in the almost-annual series since a 30-0 Irish victory in 1998.

The victory was the 39th in a row for the Irish (8-1) against unranked opponents. 

Big Picture

Notre Dame continues on a postseason trajectory that would land the Irish in the Peach Bowl opposite the ACC champ. Wake Forest and Pitt are currently the division leaders in the ACC. The Irish will likely climb at least a couple of spots on the second CFB rankings, set for release at approximately 9 p.m. EST on Tuesday.

Questions Answered

Yes, Notre Dame practices tackling. The Irish employed a five-man defensive line for most of the game, dropping at linebacker at times to join their front four. Rover Jack Kiser played safety. 

Questions Lingering

Will any of this defensive surge against a triple-option attack translate to ND’s final three games — against Virginia, Georgia Tech and Stanford? Will the Irish have to shuffle another player to the wide receiver corps after grad senior Avery Davis suffered an injury late in the game?

My Game Balls Go To

Offense: Running back Kyren Williams and wide receiver Kevin Austin. Williams amassed 176 yards in all-purpose yardage, including 95 rushing yards and two TDs and a team-high seven receptions. Austin caught six passes for a career-high 139 yards, including a 70-yard connection from Jack Coan.

Defense: Nose guard Kurt Hinish doubled his previous career high in tackles, with 10. He had two tackles for loss, with a sack.

The Road Ahead

Notre Dame visits Virginia (6-3) on Saturday and will face the nation’s No. 2 team in total offense (545.2 yards per game). The Cavaliers had an open date this weekend after a cme-from-ahead loss to BYU, 66-49, on Oct. 30.