Tommy Rees says Notre Dame won't shrink from the blitz next time: 'We would welcome that'

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame play-caller Tommy Rees bumped into Navy defensive coordinator Brian Newberry after the Irish held on to win 35-32 on Saturday in Baltimore.

Now in his fourth year at the academy, Newberry sounded almost apologetic about resorting to an all-out blitz that held Notre Dame to 12 yards of total offense in the second half.

“It’s the only call I felt like I had left,” Newberry said, according to Rees.

Analysis:Did we just see the blueprint for freezing out Drew Pyne and Notre Dame?

After seeing quarterback Drew Pyne sacked five times in the second half, Rees joked with Newberry that the Midshipmen must have “set a record” for most 10-man pressures. As for that being a potential blueprint against the Irish, Rees didn’t sound too concerned.

“I would welcome the challenge if teams want to play us that way,” he said. “It can be a lot like it was in the first half. You’re risking a lot there as a defensive coach. Guys are going to see it and be aggressive. We have a good plan of how to attack it and how to beat it. We would welcome that.”

On Monday, coach Marcus Freeman also noted the Navy approach was similar in the first half.

“I don’t know if teams will try to copy that,” he said. “That was probably more Navy-ish defense than you’ll see probably from Boston College. I don’t know about USC. We still have to protect. I don’t care if you’re bringing eight guys or four guys.”

Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne (10) runs the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Navy , Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

Freeman also noted the shared responsibility among the offense.

“There’s no excuse for not setting the protection the right way,” he said. “There’s no excuse for not blocking the guy that we’ve worked (on) in practice. You see him coming, you’ve got to block him. There’s no excuse for having bad fundamentals.”

Joe Moore Award eludes Irish O-line

When Notre Dame’s offensive line failed to make Tuesday’s cutdown to nine Joe Moore Award semifinalists, the setback registered.

“That’s one of our three goals every year,” sixth-year guard Josh Lugg said after practice. “We want to help Notre Dame win, we want to be the best version of ourself and we want to win the Joe Moore Award. Whenever we don’t achieve that opportunity, it’s disappointing.”

Harry Hiestand, the offensive line guru lured out of semiretirement in January, turns 64 on Saturday as Notre Dame welcomes Boston College for Senior Day. Lugg and Co., won’t be joining Hiestand’s previous Notre Dame line, the 2017 Joe Moore Award-winning group that featured first-round draft picks Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey.

“We’re not going to hang our head,” said Lugg, who redshirted as a freshman in 2017. “We’re going to go out there this Saturday, and it’s going to fuel us even more, and then next week at USC it’s going to fuel us even more.”

Notre Dame offensive lineman Josh Lugg (75) Notre Dame offensive lineman Blake Fisher (54) and Notre Dame offensive lineman Zeke Correll (52) smile while singing the alma mater during the Notre Dame vs. University of Nevada NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

The O-line of the resurgent Trojans made the cut for the award named posthumously for the legendary Notre Dame line guru. Ranked fourth in run blocking efficiency, as measured by Pro Football Focus, USC joined UCLA, Oregon, Michigan, Illinois, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Air Force among the semifinalists.

Air Force senior Mark Hiestand (Harry’s son) has played 27 snaps as a reserve left tackle this season on PFF’s top-rated run-blocking unit.

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Notre Dame, which ranks seventh in run-blocking efficiency but only 20th in pass blocking, is coming off a five-sack game for quarterback Drew Pyne against Navy. Perhaps not unrelated, the usual post-practice drilling for Hiestand’s linemen seemed to run longer than normal.

“We’re constantly worried about, ‘How do we improve as a group, as a core five?’ ” Lugg said. “That’s going to be the only way we can move forward. And the outside noise -- I heard a thing the other day: ‘If you live for the praise, you die by the criticism.’ “

Justin Ademilola weighs options

Versatile defensive lineman Justin Ademilola plans to run out for Senior Day with twin brother Jayson Ademilola, but it’s still possible Justin will come back for one more season in 2023.

Because Justin Ademilola only played in three games in 2018, he’s still able to use his 2020 COVID bonus year. Jayson, who played extensively as a freshman in 2018, has exhausted his eligibility.

“I didn’t really decide yet what I was going to do with that year,” Justin Ademilola said. “Notre Dame has asked me to come back here. I’m open to all decisions. I’m sure those cases can be adjusted.”

Notre Dame defensive lineman Justin Ademilola (9) rushes Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik (2) as he throws an interception during the Notre Dame vs. Clemson NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.

First-year coach Marcus Freeman said Monday he wanted Senior Day to be reserved for those who were both seniors and not planning to return in 2023. Freeman even pinpointed 25 as the number of planned honorees on Senior Day.

However, it has since been clarified that the door will remain open for all seniors with options, whether they participate in Senior Day festivities or not.

Notre Dame gains two spots in rankings

That sketchy second half against Navy didn’t keep Notre Dame from climbing two spots to No. 18 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings.

Released Tuesday night, the rankings included a pair of ACC teams whose only loss came against the Irish: No. 9 Clemson and No. 13 North Carolina.

Notre Dame (7-3) opened with a competitive loss at No. 2 Ohio State and will close out the regular season on Nov. 26 at No. 7 USC (9-1).

That game will air on ABC at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time.

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.