Sam Hartman let out a “Go Irish” and walked off into the Dublin night, reuniting with his teammates to celebrate a convincing Notre Dame victory over long-running rival Navy in Ireland. The new Fighting Irish quarterback has been the topic of off-season conversation around the South Bend-based team, but on Saturday night at Aviva Stadium, his play did all the talking.
Sam Hartman Leads the Notre Dame Fight in Ireland
Already a record-setting quarterback before touching down in Ireland from his five seasons at Wake Forest, Hartman opened his sixth season as he’d finished his last. With four touchdowns in his first start for Notre Dame, he equaled the program record for passing touchdowns in a debut performance.
During his college football career, Hartman has established himself as the epitome of a leader. At Wake Forest, he would routinely carry a team on his back. The standout of a consummate offensive performance that complemented a ferocious defensive onslaught that limited Navy to three points, Hartman flashed his leadership qualities off the field as well.
“Hats off to our coaches,” Hartman began as he answered media questions in the wake of a 42-3 Notre Dame victory that mirrors previous successes when making the trip from South Bend to their spiritual home of Ireland. “We’ve been prepping for Navy. We know what a challenge they present on defense.”
“We had a great plan and we went out and executed it, not relying solely on my abilities. It was more about the guys around me. It starts up front, having plenty of time to go through my reads, progressions, and to feel comfortable.”
Hartman shunned the limelight and turned it to his teammates around him. Teammates like true freshman wide receiver Jaden Greathouse, who turned in a sensational performance in his college football debut, snagging two of the Fighting Irish’s four touchdown passes while tallying 68 receiving yards.
Teammates like Joe Alt, Blake Fisher, and an interior offensive line that had faced questions before the game but answered them with aplomb on the global stage in front of a sold-out crowd of 49,000 in Aviva Stadium.
While this might be the best offensive line he’s played behind, there were more than one occasion where he had to create his own time, and boy did he. Navy didn’t log a single sack, and while he wouldn’t take the credit in front of the media, Hartman’s ability to move, maneuver, and manipulate in the pocket helped keep that zero in the sack column by the end of the game.
The Notre Dame quarterback was cool, calm, and collected as he operated in a new system, abandoning the comfort blanket of the slow-mesh offense at Wake Forest and embracing a change. The writing was on the wall from the moment Hartman unfurled a 19-yard dime to Jayden Thomas on the very first pass attempt of his Fighting Irish career.
What followed was 23 passes of accuracy, precision, and poise. Was it perfect? No, it wasn’t, but how often does a quarterback deliver true perfection? He could have been picked off on one occasion, but ultimately Hartman completed 83% of his passes for 251 yards and the record-tying four touchdowns.
“I thought the quarterback, Sam Hartman, played extremely well,” Navy head coach Brian Newberry reflected on Hartman as he met with the media in the depths of Aviva Stadium. “I don’t know if he missed a whole lot tonight.”
“He’s a really good player,” Newberry continued. “We knew that going in. He’s like a coach out on the field. He ran their offense well, he was super efficient.”
The latter two points are important in understanding what Hartman brings to a Notre Dame that somewhat underwhelmed in head coach Marcus Freeman’s first season in charge. He’s efficient, accurate, but he brings something else to the offense, to the team, that will contribute substantially to making the Fighting Irish nationally relevant this fall.
The best quarterbacks have the ability to read the game at such a high level that they can act like a head coach out on the field. Hartman’s five years of experience combined with an impressive football IQ enable him to operate at a high level in this regard.
Not to say that Notre Dame hasn’t had that in previous years, but Fighting Irish head coach Freeman was effusive in his praise of the mental attributes that Hartman showcased during their emphatic Week 0 win.
“This moment isn’t too big,” Freeman said about his quarterback’s debut on the global stage. “It’s about him going out there and executing. What I really thought he did well was putting our offense in a really good position to execute a play.”
“There were a couple of calls we had that depended on what the defense was showing,” Freeman continued. “Just hearing the communication between him and our coaches to ensure that Sam was putting our offense in a really good situation to succeed was really encouraging.”
Although Notre Dame coaches and players spoke highly about their opponent in Ireland, a sign of the mutual respect between the two great rivals, there will be tougher tests to come in 2023.
However, Hartman passed his opening challenge with flying colors and put himself in the Notre Dame history book—likely not for the last time in this fledgling college football campaign.