Early Notre Dame barrage sinks Navy despite sluggish Irish second half – Inside the Irish

A punt block, an interception leading to a touchdown, a dominant offensive performance. No, Notre Dame didn’t hit Clemson again. That was just Ireland’s second quarter in a 35-32 win over Navy on Saturday. The Midshipmen won the second half after No. 20 Notre Dame slowed to a 35-13 halftime lead.

For a moment late in the second quarter, Navy (3-7) looked like it would make the Irish (7-3) sweat all afternoon. By drawing within a possession and then recovering the ball — the only time the Midshipmen have had the ball within a possession after falling 14-0 in the first 11 minutes — Navy could potentially level the game before halftime and then received the push to start the second half. Instead, a back pass landed in the hands of Notre Dame junior cornerback Clarence Lewis, and Midshipmen head coach Ken Niumatalolo became a little too difficult for his team’s own good.

Three plays later, Ireland junior quarterback Drew Pyne rushed 11 yards into the end zone for his fourth touchdown of the day, the previous three all going through the air. The 28-13 lead probably would have been enough for the day, with an air of urgency in the second half, but part of Notre Dame’s weekly schedule had yet to raise its head.

Enter the Irish punt block unit again. The fifth week in a row. And for the seventh time this season.

“[Special teams coordinator Brian Mason] does a really good job of planning what the opponent is doing,” said sophomore linebacker Prince Kollie, who was a week off form and announced a blocked punt into the end zone. “I’m thrilled to be on this unit.”

If ever there was an argument for never kicking, it’s Notre Dame’s punt block unit. Senior linebacker Jack Kiser, the sixth Irish rusher to punt an opponent this season, gifted Pyne & Co. short field, and a play later Pyne scored his fifth touchdown of the day with a 37-yard pass to second receiver Jayden Thomas, a throw that flew 44 yards through the air and hit Thomas perfectly as he dove into the end zone.

“Our offense clicked in the first half,” said Ireland head coach Marcus Freeman. “To go up [35-13]against that defense, you felt good at half-time.

Most weeks, that would have been by far the most impressive catch for a Notre Dame offense so run-dependent. In Baltimore, it wasn’t even the most impressive catch for an Irish receiver in the first half. What fifth-grader Braden Lenzy did to Midshipmen cornerback Khaylan Williams defies description, catching a touchdown around and behind Williams’ back with the same casual manner most use to reach out to a stranger to get in to get a drink from a crowded bar.

“I climbed out of there, he beat his man by a few yards,” Pyne said. “I saw that, I said I’ll give him a chance. I threw it up and that was an amazing catch.”

That firework – coupled with an impressive 30-yard catch-and-run by Audric Estimé as a sophomore on Notre Dame’s first possession – was enough for the Irish to head to safe haven in the second half. Navy made the second half competitive, but the reality was that the midshipmen’s offense is borderline incapable of getting three touchdowns in one half. The quick sequence of Lewis executing the trick play, Pyne dancing in the front corner of the end zone, Kiser reinforcing Notre Dame’s special teams dominance and Thomas diving over the goal line gave the Irish an advantage too large for Navy to overcome.

Those two minutes and 27 seconds made the second half a training exercise.

“What any coach is going to say (at halftime) don’t look at the result,” Freeman said of his halftime message. “Have urgency that you had the first half. And we don’t have that, we don’t have that.”

Navy’s 19-0 lead in the second half could only be dismissed as a spectacle when Matt Salerno, the former Notre Dame player, covered up an offside kick in the last minute. The Irish offense was dead in the water after half-time, somewhat illogically, after scoring touchdowns on five of their six first-half possessions, the sixth a missed field goal attempt. It also had five possessions in the second half, managing just one first deficit. The Midshipmen’s triple option might be a lumbering approach, but when opposing offense refuses to even eat a clock, this lumbering approach can be just quick enough to keep things interesting.

The Navy, who put together three powerful drives, the first stalling in the red zone and the third coming as time was running out for the Midshipmen, would not have been so notable if Notre Dame’s offensive had any second-half productivity would have scored. Instead, the natural desire to end the week against the triple option and the subconscious relief of being close to that conclusion stood out.

“Being able to improve after a win is something every coach dreams of,” Freeman said. “The opportunity to challenge your team and show them the film – as much as I’m sitting in here and saying, it’s hard to get those wins.

“We have to celebrate. We have to feel good about it.”

Notre Dame’s only first down of the second half came on a 3rd-and-15 conversion, counterintuitively, a 21-yard completion for second receiver Deion Colzie. Remove that game and the Irish lost 15 yards in 17 games in the second half.

Notre Dame’s first possession in the third quarter was a three-and-out. After a 10-minute Navy drive, this quick sortie put the Irish defense back on the field too quickly in several ways.

“We knew Navy, it’s a time of possession struggles, they love that, they love stealing possessions,” Freeman said. “We knew that every possession counts. That first possession was important and we went three-and-out on offense.

“That can’t happen. At the very least you have to get some first downs and try to regain some momentum and position in the field.”

Notre Dame’s dominance over the past three weeks is a result of complementary football, defense or special teams gifting Ireland leaders at Syracuse and against Clemson, allowing Notre Dame’s offense to wear the game down. Offense also needs to hold up their end of that deal at times, and in that regard, it failed in the second half at M&T Bank Stadium. If it had stringed a single drive together, the Navy would never have had a third possession to sneak within a notch.

“A win is a win and as coach Freeman said there were games earlier in the season where we didn’t make it and win when we were in the same position. We found a way to win today, that’s important.” — Pyne.

Notre Dame offense in the first half: 333 yards and 35 points on 35 plays.
Notre Dame offense in the second half: 6 yards in 18 games.

Pyne Passing in the first half: 14-of-16 for 234 yards and four touchdowns, not bagged.
Pyne passes in the second half: 3-of-5 for 35 yards and one interception, sacked five times for a 30-yard loss.

First half estimate: 6 carries for 44 yards.
Estimé rushing in the second half: 2 carries for 5 yards.

Logan Diggs rushes in the first half: 8 carries for 27 yards.
Diggs rush in the second half: 5 carries for 4 yards.

first quarter
10:36 – Notre Dame touchdown. Audric Estimé 30-yard pass from Drew Pyne. Blake Group PAT good. Notre Dame 7, Navy 0. (9 plays, 67 yards, 4:24)
4:28 – Notre Dame touchdown. Braden Lenzy 38-yard pass from Pyne. Group PAT good. Notre Dame 14, Navy 0. (6 plays, 82 yards, 2:42)
2:19 – Navy landing. Daba Fofana 36-yard rush. Bijan Nichols PAT not good. Notre Dame 14, Navy 6. (5 plays, 75 yards, 2:09)

second quarter
12:27 – Notre Dame touchdown. Chris Tyree 5-yard pass from Pyne. Group PAT good. Notre Dame 21, Navy 6. (10 plays, 83 yards, 4:52)
7:49 – Navy landing. Xavier Arline 2-yard rush. Nichols PAT good. Notre Dame 21, Navy 13. (7 plays, 80 yards, 4:38)
2:19 – Notre Dame touchdown. Pyne 11-yard rush. Group PAT good. Notre Dame 28, Navy 13. (3 plays, 41 yards, 1:18)
1:10 – Notre Dame touchdown. Jayden Thomas 37-yard pass from Pyne. Group PAT good. Notre Dame 35, Navy 13. (1 game, 37 yards, 0:07)

Third quarter
4:59 – Navy field gate. Nichols 26 yards. Notre Dame 36, Navy 16. (16 plays, 72 yards, 10:01)

fourth quarter
14:47 – Navy landing. Mark Walker 23-yard pass from Arline. Two-point conversion good. Notre Dame 35, Navy 24. (1 play, 23 yards, 0:06)
1:21 – Navy landing. Maquel Haywood 20-yard pass from Maasai Maynor. Two-point conversion good. Notre Dame 35, Navy 32. (11 plays, 88 yards, 2:57)