Bill Wagner: Too early to draw conclusions about Navy football after 42-3 blowout loss to Notre Dame

8-10 minutes 8/27/2023
DUBLIN — I’m not going to draw any conclusions from Saturday night’s disaster in Dublin.
No. 13 Notre Dame dominated from start to finish in routing Navy, 42-3, before a soldout crowd of 49,000 at Aviva Stadium.
It was disappointing, it was embarrassing, it was deflating. I’m not going to say it was surprising because Notre Dame has blown out Navy many times in the past. Oddsmakers had installed the Fighting Irish as a nearly three-touchdown favorite for a reason and they backed that up in resounding fashion.
I feel bad for Brian Newberry that his head coaching debut came against such a powerful opponent, one that is annually the toughest on the Midshipmen’s schedule. Normally, they would meet the Fighting Irish in early November after having seven or eight games to build their identity.
Navy played Notre Dame in the 2012 season opener at the same venue and the result was similar: a 50-10 shellacking.
“They controlled the football and we couldn’t get off the field on defense. It makes it hard to get any kind of rhythm offensively when that happens,” Newberry said after Saturday’s loss. “Just a tough day on both sides of the ball. We just got our tails beat tonight. That’s the bottom line.”
Quarterback Sam Hartman was sharp from the outset and operated the offense with the precision one would expect of such a seasoned veteran. The Wake Forest transfer, in his sixth college season, completed 19 of 23 passes for 251 yards and four touchdowns in just over three quarters of work.
Hartman had plenty of time to throw behind a massive offensive line that totally dominated at the point of attack. Navy did not record a sack and was credited with just one quarterback hurry. Defensive end Jacob Busic got loose up the middle and almost got to Hartman, who simply stepped sideways to avoid the pressure then tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jayden Thomas.
“Honestly, it’s frustrating because to be so close to a sack or a couple steps away from affecting his throw more,” Busic said. “I had one where I got through up the middle, tripped a little and ended up on his legs. That’s the play he threw a touchdown on.”
Notre Dame's Jadarian Price, center, runs for a touchdown during Saturday's game against Navy in Dublin.
Tailback Audric Estime rushed for 95 yards and a score to lead a powerful ground game that gave the Irish a balanced attack. Notre Dame finished with 444 total yards, including 191 rushing. Last season, Navy limited the Fighting Irish to 67 rushing yards on 34 attempts.
Inside linebacker Will Harbour recorded eight tackles, while backup Kyle Jacob added seven to lead the Navy defense, which was on its heels from the outset. Safety Rayuan Lane (Gilman) had a strong all-around game and displayed his playmaking talent by totaling five tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble.
It was not the type of defensive performance Navy fans came to expect during the previous four seasons when Newberry was the defensive coordinator. Saturday night marked the debut of P.J. Volker as defensive coordinator and he was unable to keep Notre Dame off-balance with his play-calling from the coaching box.
“We were poor on first down and they were able to stay on track. When they’re able to stay on track, it makes it hard to make the right call. They had a good plan. They had a plan for our pressures and our zeros,” Newberry said.
Notre Dame set the tone on the opening possession when it converted on three third-down situations. Offensive coordinator Gerrad Parker guessed the typically aggressive Navy defense would be in zero blitz on third-and-10 and called for a delayed handoff that Estime took for 11 yards. Moments later, Hartman tossed a short pass that Estime turned into a 22-yard gain on third-and-12.
While the Midshipmen struggled to get off blocks, their defensive struggles were exacerbated by shoddy tackling. Newberry and Volker stress the importance of rallying multiple defenders to the ball and getting guys on the ground, but that did not happen in this game.
“The disappointing thing on defense was the opening drive. We had them in third-and-long twice and don’t get off the field,” Newberry bemoaned. “Maybe that’s a different start to the game if we can get off the field there. I thought our tackling was as bad as it’s been in a long time. That’s something we have to work on.”
Busic echoed the coach’s sentiments and knew that area would be a major point of emphasis between now and the Sept. 9 home opener against Wagner.
“There’s no sugar-coating it. That was definitely the worst tackling I’ve seen out of our defense,” Busic said. “We were just talking in the locker room about what we can do better. I think every single player on our defense can agree that their tackling was not up to standard. That’s something we can fix.”
Navy quarterback Tai Lavatai, center, went 3-for-6 for 43 yards and ran 10 times for 23 yards in a 42-3 loss to No. 13 Notre Dame Saturday night in Dublin.
Navy quarterback Tai Lavatai, center, went 3-for-6 for 43 yards and ran 10 times for 23 yards in a 42-3 loss to No. 13 Notre Dame Saturday night in Dublin. (Peter Morrison/AP)
Things weren’t much better on the offensive side of the ball, although Navy did show some flashes. Senior Tai Lavatai got the start at quarterback and did a solid job of operating the triple-option, which produced almost 200 rushing yards before factoring in negative plays. The Mids finished with 126 net yards on the ground because of an errant snap by backup center Justin Self that resulted in a 26-yard loss.
Fullbacks Daba Fofana and Alex Tecza combined for 98 rushing yards with much of that coming off a quick pitch play that was effective in getting the ball to the perimeter. Massive nose tackle Rylie Mills, at 6 feet, 5 inches and 306 pounds, led the way as the Notre Dame defense also controlled the point of attack, making it difficult for Navy to run up the middle.
Sophomore slotback Brandon Chatman showed up strong in his first varsity appearances, gaining 30 yards on eight carries and also catching a 39-yard pass from Lavatai. That play, in which Lavatai stepped up in the pocket and found Chatman open along the left sideline, set up a 30-yard field goal by Evan Warren that provided the only points for the Mids.
“I thought we did some decent things offensively. I thought we moved the ball. We couldn’t sustain drives and hit big plays,” Newberry said. “We missed on some shots. We knew we had to take some shots and we had [people] open a couple times and didn’t hit them. You have to hit those in a big game like this.”
One of the most notable missed opportunities came on Navy’s opening possession. Facing fourth-and-3 from the Notre Dame 37-yard line, Newberry decided to roll the dice. Lavatai rolled out and had two potential targets open, but they were both in the same area. Wide receiver Camar Wilkerson ran into slotback Amin Hassan as the latter was attempting to make the catch and the ball fell to the turf.
“I felt like we just didn’t get any momentum early in the game,” Newberry said. “We would do some good things then shoot ourselves in the foot with missed assignments or missed tackles.”
First-year offensive coordinator Grant Chesnut had promised a more creative attack featuring a quick passing game and numerous other wrinkles. Navy fans are still waiting to see it. Sure, there were more formations and motion, but the overall play-calling didn’t seem all that different from the triple-option package employed by former coach Ken Niumatalololo.
Considering Navy fell behind big early and was playing catch-up the whole way, I expected to see more of the short passing schemes we’ve been hearing about. Lavatai completed 3 of 6 passes for 43 yards, almost all of which came on the deep ball to Chatman. Newberry was asked afterward why the quick passing game was missing in action. He noted the Mids only had eight possessions and were limited to seven plays or fewer on six of them.
“We were kind of staying on track. We were moving the ball decent,” he said. “I’ll have to go back and look at it. In retrospect, maybe we should have done more of that. We didn’t throw the ball much, but we didn’t run a lot of plays either.”

Latest Player Notes

How Wisconsin athletes are benefiting from a unique NIL deal with Madison's Exact Sciences

Feb 17, 2024MJ Hammill entered what can be a scary time of an athlete’s life in mid-December.She went into the volleyball ...

Mike Griffith: Texas is Georgia's primary focus this offseason

February 16, 2024The Georgia Bulldogs face three SEC contenders on the road next season in Alabama, Texas and Ole Miss. According ...

Navigating a season that could see Texas play Georgia more than once

February 17, 2024The Texas Longhorns and Georgia Bulldogs will play in Austin on Oct. 19. It may not be the only time they ...

After some key departures from the team, Dykes got busy in the portal this offseason.

5:11 PM on Feb 16, 2024Biggest unanswered question: Who will emerge as the clear WR1?Before last season, Williams was the ...

How Louisville football coach Jeff Brohm balances transfer portal, high school recruiting

Louisville Courier JournalCollege football used to buzz on the first Wednesday in February, but Louisville football's office ...

Bob Asmussen | Illinois defense counting on linebackers to plug the gaps

College Football Reporter/ColumnistCHAMPAIGN — A new linebacker coach is in place at Illinois, and Archie McDaniel said he ...

Where Alabama’s quarterback group stands before spring practice

Alabama football’s offense is going to look different this season. Kalen DeBoer has replaced the retired Nick Saban as head ...

Why did AJ McCarron return to the St. Louis Battlehawks?

When AJ McCarron joined the resurrected XFL last year, the former Alabama All-American hadn’t played since suffering a knee ...

Colorado football self-reported 11 minor NCAA violations from Deion Sanders’ first year with Buffs

1/26/2024The Colorado football program has self-reported 11 minor NCAA violations since the hiring of head coach Deion Sanders ...

What Steve Young said about today’s NFL quarterbacks

By Jackson Payne Steve Young may have enjoyed a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, but that doesn’t stop him from feeling just ...
See More Player Notes