Highlights: Notre Dame 42, Navy 3 — Sam Hartman, Jaden Greathouse lead Irish in Ireland

Aer Lingus College Football Classic - Notre Dame v Navy

All offseason, it was easy to refer to Sam Hartman as the “ACC career passing touchdowns leader” or say he holds “a pile of ACC records.” One game into his Notre Dame career and similar phrasing can already be applied to the sixth-year Wake Forest transfer.

By throwing four touchdown passes in the 42-3 Irish victory against Navy on Saturday, Hartman tied the record for most touchdown passes in a Notre Dame quarterback’s debut. Ask someone at any Irish pub to name the three quarterbacks who are tied for that record and perhaps win yourself a beer by naming Jack Coan in 2021 and Ron Powlus in 1994.

“Out wide, those guys just made plays in space,” Hartman said late Saturday night in Dublin. “I don’t know how many deep competitions I had. It was a lot of just getting the ball in space, which we wanted to do.”

Without even consulting tape, Hartman’s assessment rings true. Junior receiver Deion Colzie’s longest catch, a 25-yard score, was caught at the line of scrimmage. Junior running back Audric Estimé’s 22-yard catch on the game-opening touchdown drive was a checkdown from Hartman that led Estimé to a crease.

There may have been only two true deep shots, and both were arguably underthrown. Hartman looked for sophomore receiver Tobias Merriweather on a skinny post route, but Notre Dame was already at the plus-32-yard line; Hartman needed another 10 yards to throw the ball deep enough to hit Merriweather in stride. Instead, he gave Merriweather a chance to catch the ball in bounds, though that also gave the Navy defensive back a chance to break up the pass as he did.

And then on the next Irish possession, Hartman found freshman receiver Jaden Greathouse down the middle of the field, connecting for a 35-yard touchdown with the ball traveling 29 yards through the air past the line of scrimmage. Hartman could have led Greathouse further up the field, rather than drifting him a few feet horizontally. Safety Rayuan Lane could not replicate his breakup from the Merriweather attempt, not turning his head to locate the ball.

Otherwise, Hartman took what Navy gave him, efficiently so.

With just one or two more games like that, Hartman will immediately put himself into contention for some other records, so let’s consider this an unofficial and informal records watch.

He has now thrown 114 career touchdown passes, moving to No. 13 all-time, tied with Danny Wuerffel (Florida, 1993-96). Hartman trails No. 1 by 41 touchdowns still, but No. 3 by just 20. With 251 yards on Saturday, Hartman also moved past Aaron Murray (Georgia, 2010-13) and into No. 18 all-time in career passing yards, still 3,428 passing yards from reaching the top three.

Greathouse caught two touchdown passes in his first career game as a freshman. Across the last six seasons, Notre Dame freshman receivers have combined to catch three touchdowns.

“It really just felt like another day,” Greathouse said of his three catches for 68 yards and the two scores. “We have a great defense that we go against every practice. Really having that high level of competition really prepares you for the team you’re going to play. I’ve never gone up against like this, so being able to go against each other every single day and really push each other to be our best obviously pays off.”

He even sounded like a veteran in the post-game. As he should, given that was Greathouse’s second postgame media appearance though it was only his first game. Greathouse was the star of the Blue-Gold Game back in April and ended up on the podium after that, too.

Running back Jeremiyah Love was not on the Irish roster yet at that point, a summer enrollee as a freshman. But he took four handoffs for 40 yards against the Midshipmen, part of a group effort supporting junior Audric Estimé. The four backs competing to be Estimé’s backup, including Love, combined to take 15 carries for 98 yards, part of how Notre Dame averaged 5.97 yards per rush.

Estimé was on the sideline for a notable stretch after he lost a fumble out of bounds, but Irish head coach Marcus Freeman did not assign that rest to a reminder of ball security. A running back rotation was always likely.

“We had planned to get all the running backs in the game,” Freeman said. “... There is one ball and there are a lot of talented individuals, and this is just Week 0. That’s what you have to be able to do, is have a team that is full of unselfishness.”

Logically, playing five backs each week will not be sustainable, perhaps making it all the more important that each got at least one carry in the blowout.

“That’s the worst thing you can do to a kid, you’re going to play and you don’t play,” Freeman said. “The ability to say, all five of you are going to play, and they all play.”

Round up that 5.97 yards per rush to 6.0 and it represents an added dimension to what will be a season-long referendum on the Hartman to South Bend transfer and how much Wake Forest’s offense deserves credit for Hartman’s past successes.

The Demon Deacons’ unique slow-mesh offense alters the entire run game, but there is a rather simple fact of, defenses did not fear Wake Forest’s rushing game like they will need to Notre Dame’s, and that could open up the passing game for Hartman as much or more than that slow-mesh read did.

Sophomore running back Jadarian Price was once a Blue-Gold Game star, getting the Greathouse treatment in the spring of 2022 before a summer Achilles injury cost him all of last season. He began making up for lost time with his first touch Saturday, springing a 19-yard touchdown.

Notice Price had to power through one Navy defender’s attempt at an arm tackle of Price’s right leg at the line of scrimmage, but he was otherwise untouched, and that thought of a tackle was unlikely at best. Credit Notre Dame’s offensive line, including first-timers Rocco Spindler at right guard and Pat Coogan at left guard.

They were playing an undersized defensive line, but it was still an impressive debut, one that also helped along sophomore Gi’Bran Payne as he took six carries for 31 yards.

“We found out those two guards can play,” Freeman said. “We knew three of those [offensive linemen] had game experience, but Pat and Rocco both stepped up and did a really good job. Navy’s defense is almost as exotic as its offense. You don’t see some of the things they do, so for them to execute and run the ball and to play physical, credit to [offensive line coach Joe Rudolph] and credit to those guys for what they’ve done in their first game.”

Defensively, Ohio State transfer Javontae Jean-Baptiste had four tackles, sophomore defensive end Joshua Burnham had three with one sack, and sophomore linebacker Jaylen Sneed not only made two tackles but also started.

No. 13 Notre Dame (1-0) will catch an early flight out of Dublin — staying the night on the road after a game is rare and warrants noting — and trust that jet lag is lessened when traveling west.

The Irish will then face Tennessee State on Saturday at 3:30 ET on NBC, the first time in the modern era that Notre Dame plays an FCS-level opponent. When the pandemic canceled the Irish date in Dublin against Navy, Notre Dame gave up a home game for this trip, announcing it late in 2021. That created a hole in the Irish schedule that would be more difficult to fill than usual, either take an idle week on Week 1 or find an opponent that did not have a season opener scheduled less than two years in advance.

That dilemma left Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick two options: Endure the competitive disadvantage of effectively wasting an idle week or reach out to an FCS opponent to fill the hole in the schedule.

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