Five plays: Breaking down the key moments of Notre Dame's 34-6 win over Navy

Tyler James
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Chase Ketterer spent his week mimicking Navy’s triple option as Notre Dame’s scout team quarterback. He ended it by making a tackle on Notre Dame’s final kickoff in a 34-6 home victory Saturday over the Midshipmen

The sophomore walk-on from nearby New Prairie High School didn’t even get credit for tackling Navy’s Amin Hassan initially. The official game statistics listed the tackle going to Irish linebacker JD Bertrand. Both Ketterer and Bertrand wear No. 27 on game days, so the mistake could be easily explained. 

► Hansen:Irish look to carry defensive strides beyond their taming of Navy's triple option

► Noie:Once again, one big play helps No. 8 Notre Dame muster needed momentum

Notre Dame linebacker Jack Kiser, who moved to safety in a wrinkle designed to stop Navy’s offense, made sure everybody knew what Ketterer did. 

“First off, did anybody see Chase’s tackle on kickoff?” Kiser asked reporters during Notre Dame’s postgame press conference. “That was pretty sweet to see. For him to put a long, hard workweek in and then get out there on the field and make a tackle is pretty special.” 

The moment may have been a minor footnote in a fourth-straight victory for AP No. 8/CFP No. 10 Notre Dame (8-1), but Ketterer was greeted on the sideline as if he made a game-changing play. The Irish built a commanding enough lead that even the unsung heroes on the roster had opportunities to make plays. 

How did Notre Dame get in that position in the first place? These five plays defined the comfortable win over Navy (2-7). 

1. Kurt Hinish halts Navy’s momentum with a sack 

The Midshipmen put themselves in position to score the first points of the game by driving 54 yards on the first nine plays of their second offensive series late in the first quarter. The methodical drive included two fourth-down conversions, the second of which put Navy on Notre Dame’s 14-yard line. 

At that point, Irish nose guard Kurt Hinish had seen enough. He ran around Navy center Darrellson Masaniai on first-and-10 to sack quarterback Tai Lavatai for an eight-yard loss. The play disrupted Navy’s rhythm and led to another sack by Jordan Botelho on the next play.  

The Midshipmen would eventually settle for a 49-yard field goal by Bijan Nichols, but a 3-0 deficit with 3:03 left in the first quarter was much more preferred than a 7-0 hole. 

Hinish’s sack was his fifth tackle on that drive alone. The graduate senior finished with a career-high 10 tackles, including two tackles for a loss. Hinish’s previous career high in tackles was five, which he set earlier this season at Virginia Tech. 

“In particular, Hinish was virtually unblockable inside,” said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. “We were hoping that was going to be the case, and it came out that way.” 

Hinish set the tone for Notre Dame’s defense up front. 

“He was so dominant today,” Kiser said. “That’s the just the type of guy he is. He’s such a gritty guy. He’s a leader for us, a captain and that energy. He had a great game today. Every play he was a force to be reckoned with. I can’t speak highly enough about him.” 

2. Tyler Buchner’s legs spark Notre Dame’s offense 

Notre Dame’s Tyler Buchner (12) tries to move by Navy’s Diego Fagot (54) during the Notre Dame-Navy NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in South Bend.

Notre Dame managed to tie the game at 3 on its fourth drive of the day, but the Irish offense wasn’t exactly clicking midway through the second quarter. When starting quarterback Jack Coan opened the next drive with a one-yard pass to running back Kyren Williams, the Irish turned to freshman Tyler Buchner for a boost. 

Buchner’s first snap was a handoff to fellow freshman Logan Diggs. The five-yard gain set up a critical third-and-4 at Notre Dame’s own 40-yard line. Notre Dame started the game with two three-and-outs and really couldn’t afford another one. 

Buchner took things into his own hands (or legs) by running for six yards to keep the Irish drive alive. He faked a pass to tight end Michael Mayer while running to his left and took off to pick up the necessary yardage. 

The offense kept rolling from there. Nine plays later, Notre Dame scored its first touchdown on a one-yard run by Williams to create a 10-3 lead. Buchner converted two more third downs with a three-yard run when he needed one yard and an 11-yard completion to Kevin Austin Jr. when he needed seven yards. 

“It's just been a natural progression getting him in the game,” Kelly said. “I don't know if there was anything magical other than we were running his package and it was a change-up from that standpoint.” 

Coan regrouped after sitting out most of the drive and moved the offense with more consistency the rest of the game. He finished 23-of-29 passing for 269 yards and one touchdown. 

“If we can get points on the board, no matter who it is, that helps me, that helps the team, that helps everyone,” Coan said. “I’m super glad when Tyler goes in and can make plays like that.” 

3. Kevin Austin Jr. breaks free for a 70-yard touchdown 

Notre Dame’s Kevin Austin Jr. (4) runs along the sideline during the Notre Dame vs. Navy NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Navy made Notre Dame’s two-minute drill before the end of the first half a whole lot easier by not covering Austin closely. The Midshipmen were so sloppy in their zone coverage earlier in the drive that Kelly scolded Coan for not recognizing he needed to get the ball to Austin. 

Coan didn’t miss his second chance. He found Austin open down the left sideline for a 70-yard touchdown on third-and-7. 

“We basically ran the same play right before,” Coan said. “Coach Kelly was screaming at me because it was open the play before. He basically told me to throw it there, so that’s what I did. I followed the plan and got the ball to a guy like Kevin Austin, who can take it the distance every time. Great by coach Kelly, great by Kevin.” 

With Navy running a Cover 2 defense, cornerback Willie Collins V allowed Austin to run down the sideline with ease and safety Jamal Glenn allowed Austin to get deeper than him with a poor angle to the football. The coverage mistake put Navy behind 17-3 with 50 seconds remaining in the second quarter. 

“Once I caught the ball, and (the safety) wasn’t going to get over to me in time, I knew that he wasn’t going to touch me,” Austin said. 

Austin was the playmaker in Notre Dame’s passing game Saturday with six catches for a career-high 139 yards. Three of his catches converted third downs. 

4. Navy botches option pitch in its own end zone 

Navy’s Xavier Arline, left, recovers a fumble in Navy’s end zone, which resulted in a safety, next to teammate Mike Mauai, center, and Notre Dame’s Isaiah Pryor (10) during the Notre Dame-Navy NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in South Bend.

Maybe calling for a pitch wasn’t the best idea for Navy’s offense. 

With the Midshipmen pinned at their own one-yard line, backup quarterback Xavier Arline was asked to run an option with fullback Mike Mauai. Soon after Arline started to run to his right, linebacker JD Bertrand was diving at his feet. Arline hurried a pitch to Mauai that hit him in his back shoulder rather than in his hands. 

The ball bounced to the ground a couple times before Arline was able to dive on it in his own end zone for a safety. The Irish took a 19-6 lead with 13:20 remaining in the fourth quarter. 

“Our pitch relationship was a little bit off,” said Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo. “That safety was a killer.” 

Notre Dame knocked Navy starting quarterback Tai Lavatai out of the game late in the first half, but it didn’t seem to matter who was playing quarterback. The Midshipmen weren’t very sharp in executing their offense. Navy’s 184 yards of offense Saturday were its fewest against Notre Dame in the series since gaining 182 in a 58-21 Irish win in 1994. 

5. Kyren Williams dazzles on his 20-yard touchdown 

Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams (23) blocks Navy's Michael McMorris (5) as he runs into the end zone during the Notre Dame vs. Navy NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Williams made a Navy comeback nearly impossible with his second touchdown run of the game. He managed to do it in spectacular fashion, despite having to recover his own fumble in the end zone. 

Williams cut to his left, juked right to make safety Eavan Gibbons miss, spun out of a diving tackle attempt by linebacker Tyler Fletcher, which froze safety Rayuan Lane in the process.

Williams then tried to stiff-arm cornerback Michael McMorris while approaching the goal line, but McMorris knocked the ball loose. Williams avoided any harm by falling on the loose football. 

The two-point conversion that followed extended Notre Dame’s lead to 27-6 with 10:55 left in the game. 

“What makes (Williams) such an electric player is the overall patience he plays with,” said Navy linebacker John Marshall. “He’s very patient, to the point where you’re waiting for this to happen and you’re expecting it to happen, then he kind of flips the field.  

“You have to do a good job of containing him in space. Sometimes we were able to do that, but he did good job of making things happen when we didn’t.” 

Williams was the workhorse for Notre Dame’s offense once again. He led the Irish in carries (17) and catches (7) and totaled 95 rushing yards and 36 receiving yards. Williams would have hit the 100-yard mark for a third consecutive game if not for a tripping penalty on right tackle Josh Lugg that wiped out his final six-yard carry. 

“Toward the end, the (defense) just got worn out,” Niumatalolo said. “We had a hard time tackling (Williams), who is obviously a really good back. But I think a lot of it is just getting worn down.”