Game Observations: Notre Dame Offense vs. Navy
Notre Dame finally had the offensive performance against a quality opponent that Fighting Irish fans have been waiting all season to see.
Here’s my post-game analysis of the Irish offense.
*** Notre Dame set the tone on the first series of the game, with the line pushing Navy off the ball on the first play from scrimmage. On the next play, wide receiver Chase Claypool turned a short throw into a 23-yard gain. It was a sign of things to come, as Notre Dame overpowered Navy up front and its skill players were just too much to handle.
*** I was highly impressed with the game plan Chip Long implemented for this matchup against an aggressive, and up to this point, accomplished Navy defense. His plan mixed up inside and outside runs, used jet sweeps and reverses to slow down the Navy pressures, and when it got isolations on the outside it went right after the Navy secondary. On the first two drives alone the Irish ran a jet sweep to Lawrence Keys III and a reverse to Braden Lenzy, arguably the two fastest players on the offense, and both picked up at least 10 yards.
*** Long clearly had Navy scouted well, which you could tell by how he used motions and alignments to get matchups he wanted. On the first touchdown, Claypool went in motion, which got him isolated in man coverage on a crossing route that he turned into a touchdown. On the next drive, Long motioned tight end Tommy Tremble outside of Claypool, which took the cornerback outside and left Claypool isolated on a linebacker. When QB Ian Book read the safety go away from Claypool he immediately went to the seam to his star wideout against a linebacker for a 47-yard touchdown.
*** You can see that play here:
*** The game plan was built around the pass, but the Irish did enough early on with the run game to keep Navy off balance. Long’s use of the pass game, motions and perimeter plays took Navy’s blitz game completely out of the equation. The use of the play-action pass game allowed Notre Dame to get more blockers into protection for downfield pass opportunities, which further negated Navy’s pressure package.
Let’s look at the individual performances of the Notre Dame offensive players.
*** Quarterback Ian Book turned in his second straight strong performance, and it appears the veteran signal caller is finally hitting his stride. Book looked a little amped up on the first drive and was rushing through his reads, but after the first few plays he settled down and picked the Navy defense apart. When they had short routes open he took them and got his playmakers the ball accurately in space, when he had downfield one-on-one opportunities he took them and hit them.
*** Book’s willingness to attack down the field, especially over the middle, was arguably the best thing to come out of this game. He hit Claypool up the seam for a long touchdown and launched a post route deep, hitting Lenzy - his fastest receiver - in stride for a touchdown (see tweet below).
*** In the third quarter he threw a perfect corner route to Finke for a 28-yard gain. It was a difficult throw, but he made it decisively and accurately. It was clear evidence that Book’s previous struggles throwing down the field were never physical. Today he had the mental aggressiveness to go after a Navy defense that had been very, very good on film coming into this matchup.
*** If not for an underthrow of a throwback drag to Finke that forced the veteran wideout to stop and go down to make the catch, Book’s downfield throwing would have otherwise been perfect.
*** Book did a good job staying in the pocket as well, and that allowed him to take off and find running lanes when the downfield routes weren’t open. He also did a good job keeping his eyes downfield when he moved around, which led to him hitting Keys on the sideline for a 27-yard gain on a third-down scramble in the third quarter.
*** Book finished the game 14-20 for 284 yards and five touchdowns. At one point he was 10-11 in the game.
*** The Irish backs were used primarily as complements to the pass game, which dominated Navy. Senior Tony Jones Jr. ran hard downhill and was efficient in the victory, although his numbers weren’t overly impressive. He scored once on a 2-yard gain and had a chance to get into the end zone again in the third quarter on a well-designed seam route against the Navy blitz, but Jones dropped the pass. The pass protection from the backs - especially Jones - was top notch from what I could evaluate live during the game.
*** Jones helped set up the first score of the game. He had an excellent open-field block on a 3rd-and-16 that sprung Book free for 15 yards. On the next play, Jones put his shoulder down and plowed ahead to convert a 4th-and-1.
*** Sophomore RB C’Bo Flemister carried the ball three times for 16 yards in the first half. He didn’t get the ball much, but he continues to impress with his burst, decisiveness and willingness to run with authority.
*** Senior wide receiver Chase Claypool was absolutely dominant against Navy. He turned in one of the most impressive single-game performances I've ever seen from a Notre Dame pass catcher. Claypool finished the game with seven catches for 117 yards and four touchdowns despite playing just one series in the second half. His four touchdown grabs tied the Notre Dame record that was first set by Maurice Stovall against BYU back in 2005.
*** Claypool could not be guarded off the line. He used his size to his advantage, but his release moves were top-notch, especially near the goal line. He showed patience when working crossing routes, but when he needed to turn up the speed he did so. He had an impressive stiff arm on his first reception, and Navy had no chance against him when the ball was thrown down the field. Book did a good job getting the ball out near Claypool, and his star wideout did the rest.
*** Claypool has racked up 20 catches for 332 yards and five touchdowns in the last three games, all Notre Dame victories.
*** Sophomore WR Braden Lenzy made a huge impact in the game. He picked up 10 yards in a reverse early in the game, but he showed off his home run speed later. Long knew he could get backside one-on-ones in the game, so with the Irish up 21-0 he went for the knockout blow. Long put Lenzy backside, but on this particular snap Navy took a big gamble, blitzing its boundary cornerback, which put Lenzy in a one-on-one against the safety. That’s a matchup Notre Dame certainly wants, and here’s what happened:
*** Fifth-year senior Chris Finke had a solid performance against the Midshipmen. He caught three passes for 57 yards. He caught the 28-yard route on a corner route in the third quarter, gained 14 yards on a crossing route and made a great catch on a poorly thrown ball on a throwback drag for 15 yards. A better ball would have resulted in a much bigger gain.
*** Sophomore wideout Lawrence Keys III made his presence felt in the game as well. Keys hauled in an impressive sideline grab on a scramble that picked up 27 yards. He also picks up 11 yards on a jet sweep early in the first quarter that set up Claypool’s second touchdown.
*** Getting Lenzy and Keys involved in the game plan made it difficult for Navy, who had a hard enough time keeping up with Notre Dame’s size. Once you add in the speed of Lenzy and Keys, the Midshipmen really had no answers. With the offensive line giving Book time and the Irish quarterback making good reads and accurate throws, we finally saw what this offense is capable of.
*** My one issue with the wide receivers in this game was the downfield blocking was spotty at times.
*** The tight ends did not catch a pass in the game and were targeted just three times. Navy was keying on junior Cole Kmet, which helped keep his numbers down. Despite the lack of pass game production, Kmet had an impact in this game. On the opening drive, Kmet blew up the right side of the Navy defensive line to open up running room for Jones to convert a 4th-and-1. Two players later, the junior had a strong perimeter block that allowed Lenzy to get outside on the reverse for a 10-yard gain.
*** Sophomore tight end Tommy Tremble also blocked well in the game, especially on the perimeter. Tremble had a key block in space to free Keys for his 11-yard jet sweep gain.
*** I will have to rewatch the game to break down the individual performances of the Irish linemen. At times the group got excellent movement in the run game, especially from the left side of the line. The group also did a very good job giving Book a clean pocket all game long, with the only pressures coming on overload blitzes where the Irish simply didn’t have enough blockers in the game. From what I could evaluate, left tackle Liam Eichenberg, left guard Aaron Banks and center Jarrett Patterson were the most effective blockers in the game, but I saw very few breakdowns at any spot.