One Irish unit is performing well, executing at a high level, and has pretty much all season. The other unit performs well at times, but not enough to be a good team, especially on the road. Until both units play well, the Irish will struggle to beat good teams.
The score read 27-21 at the end of regulation, but the difference between Notre Dame and Navy was vast. The Irish dominated the line of scrimmage on defense….end of story. The ND defense forced nine three-and-out series against Navy. At one point the Midshipmen were 0-for-10 on third down. It was a total domination and the Irish defense essentially pitched a shutout for 57 minutes of a game.
The Irish offense also dominated the line of scrimmage. They amassed 230 rushing yards and pushed Navy around like the many ND teams of old did in the 43 previous wins against the Midshipmen until last season. But mental mistakes killed this unit again on Saturday, and those mental mistakes are what cost the Irish games, and almost did again on Saturday.
The Irish offense, once again, lacked focus early in this game. In the first series the Irish drove to the Navy 37-yard line only to have Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen throw an interception on his first pass attempt of the game.
On the next Irish series the Irish then drove to the Navy 29-yard line only to have Clausen sacked, and fumble, blowing another solid early drive by the Irish.
If Notre Dame just held onto the football in those first two drives, they likely score and this game is heading for a blowout. But that didn't happen.
Later in the second quarter, after Navy put together their only solid drive against the Irish first string defense for a score to tie the game 7-7, Clausen once again threw an interception on the very next drive. Clausen, under heavy Navy pressure, had his arm hit as he was throwing the ball, which landed again in the arms of a Navy defender killing yet another Irish drive.
Three turnovers in the first half usually spells doom for any team, but fortunately for the Irish, they were playing Navy. The previous week they weren't, and it cost them the game.
The second half saw a much more motivated Irish offense. One that was executing and firing on all cylinders for the first three drives of the second half. The Irish put together three quick drives for scores, increasing their lead 27-7, and put the game out of reach, or so many would think.
But then the Irish offense starting making mistakes again and quickly let Navy back in the game. The Irish scrimmaged their next possession at their own 35-yard line, marched it down to the Navy 4-yard line, only to fumble, again.
The next series, Irish quarterback Evan Sharpley fumbled the snap on the very first play. The Irish recovered, but it put Notre Dame in a second-and-long situation killing another drive.
When all was said and done the Irish threw two interceptions, fumbled the ball four times, and lost three of them. Five turnovers made a game that should not have been close a nail-biter at the end.
And that's been the problem for the Irish all season. The Irish offense is talented. They make plays. They can score points. But they also have lapses in focus. They turn the ball over. They let teams back in the game. Until that stops, the Irish will struggle to beat good teams. Fortunately for the Irish, Navy wasn't a good team, at least not on Saturday.
What's puzzling is why the Irish offense continues to make so many mistakes this late in the season? The Irish have 13 turnovers in the last three games—that's more than four a game. They have 19 in the last five games. Against Navy, Boston College, Pittsburgh and North Carolina, the Irish committed 18 turnovers. It's no wonder why they lost three out of those four games.
One unit, the defense, continues to shine and actually improve. The other unit, the offense, continues to stumble, and their lapses in focus continue to cost this team games, or almost cost this team games.
Until this is fixed, Irish fans will keep on watching frustrating Notre Dame football. If the Irish simply hold onto the football in any of those four games mentioned above, they win them all.
Attention to Detail.
The Irish need to find some on offense. Just hanging onto the football would be a good start.
A Tip of the Hat
My tip of the hat this week goes to Brandon Walker. Walker essentially was the difference in the game on Saturday. After the Irish fumbled their chances away often in the first half, Walker lined up to kick a critical field goal with two seconds left to go before halftime to give the Irish the 10-7 lead. The junior kicker was "iced" twice, but nailed the kick right down the middle. He later nailed a 36-yard field goal after the Irish stalled at the Navy 21-yard line to extend Notre Dame's lead to 27-7 at the time. Walker has hit nine out of his last 10 field goal attempts and has really become a solid kicker for the Irish. And, as the score suggests, he was the difference in this game.
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