Although relaxing wins have been rare for Notre Dame in 2021, they got one on Saturday as the home crowd watched the Irish thrash Navy 34-6 in the penultimate home game of the season.
And on a Saturday where college football took a deep dive into the world of chaos, Notre Dame enjoyed a routine romp of the Navy Midshipmen, winning big in the traditional rivalry series for the third straight meeting. The Irish have made a practice of making games closer than they should have been, but since returning from their bye week, the more casual dominance they have asserted over lesser opponents in previous years returned.
Irish Thrash Navy
The atmosphere in Notre Dame Stadium spoke volumes about the current state of the Irish. Gone was the anxious nail biting that came with ugly victories. The uneasy cheering as the Irish squeaked out a three-point win against Toledo or led by just four in the fourth quarter against Purdue. But on a balmy November afternoon, Notre Dame put on a fantastic matinee show for their three-game homestand. The win followed primetime victories over USC and UNC. It was a return to afternoon football against a traditional opponent that created an almost leisurely environment. Notre Dame got off to a slow start but was up 17-3 by halftime. Then the second half saw the Irish thrash Navy, pulling away with a defensive score and two more touchdowns.
The defense rebounded in a big way after a rough showing versus UNC, while the offense continued its second-half resurgence. Defensively, the Irish limited Navy’s triple-option to just 3.0 yards per rush on 55 carries. Graduate student Kurt Hinish was the motor, garnering two tackles for loss and ten tackles overall. Quarterback Jack Coan was an efficient 23-29 for a touchdown and 269 yards. The Irish also pounded out 150 yards on the ground, powered by 95 from junior Kyren Williams and 59 from freshman Logan Diggs.
After slow start, Irish roll
Navy actually struck first as the Irish went scoreless on their first three drives. However, their one scoring drive was just 36 yards – one of two Midshipmen drives that lasted over 30 yards. After the early deficit, the Irish scored on three consecutive possessions to end the half. Wide receiver Kevin Austin was the sparkplug. He recorded a 38-yard reception leading to a game-tying field goal. He also converted a key third-down in the red zone on their first touchdown drive, preceding a Williams’ score. Then, he hauled in a 70-yard touchdown bomb from Coan with 50 seconds to play in the half.
In the second half, the defense got things moving, recording a safety after a Jay Bramblett punt was downed at the 1-yard line. From there, the Irish buried the Midshipmen with consecutive scoring drives. Williams and Diggs did most of the legwork, as Williams raced in from 20 yards out for one touchdown, while Diggs accounted for the final 32 yards (on three carries) over the final touchdown drive.
Notre Dame Avoids Chaos-Filled Saturday
A 28-point victory over a 2-7 Navy squad is not going to drop any jaws around the country, but it was a refreshing return to the comfortable superiority that the Irish should enjoy over teams like the Midshipmen. And given the general chaos around college football, the ease of victory shouldn’t be taken for granted. Just on Saturday, #5 Ohio State struggled to beat three-win Nebraska, #3 Alabama sleepwalked to a six-point win over a depleted and unranked LSU, and #6 Cincinnati put forth a lackluster effort against a 3-6 Tulsa team. #9 Wake Forest, #12 Baylor, #17 Mississippi State, and #20 Minnesota all lost to unranked teams, while previously unbeaten and #3 Michigan State had the worst result, losing by 11 to Purdue.
The Irish improved to 8-1 and have three games left to improve their resume for a major bowl game selection – or a very outside chance at the College Football Playoff. By far the trickiest game comes this weekend, as the Irish go on the road to Virginia. Quarterback Brennan Armstrong, although his health is questionable, is exceptionally dangerous. The Irish boast the nation’s longest winning streak against unranked teams with 39 consecutive victories. They’ll look to run that to 40 in Charlottesville, continuing their upwards trend back into the elite ranks of college football.