Navy Humbles Inept Irishposted by John Vannie
The Irish were completely undisciplined on defense. It looked as though there was no plan other than to allow bigger, stronger and faster athletes to chase smaller and slower Midshipmen. Navy’s execution flummoxed Notre Dame throughout the contest, and the Irish failed to adjust to the fullback dive play or cover the pitch man.
Offensively, Notre Dame made numerous unforced errors and blew several scoring opportunities with a combination of poor play calling and mental breakdowns. Four first half possessions ended badly as the Irish dug a 14 point hole. The game plan was built around the pass and failed to take advantage of the tremendous physical advantage enjoyed by the offensive line. The result was a mere 60 yards in 20 carries. Conversely, Navy gained 348 yards on the ground in 56 attempts.
The Midshipmen scored on their first two possessions while Notre Dame fumbled and missed a field goal. Fullback Vince Murray’s 25 yard burst on the first play of the second period made it 14-0, and the Irish continued to shoot themselves in the foot. The next drive stalled when Notre Dame reached the two yard line but could not score in four plays, and Tausch missed another three pointer a few minutes later. Navy’s Joe Buckley returned the favor with his own missed 30-yard field goal to end the first half.
Robert Hughes’ one yard run capped the first scoring march for Notre Dame early in the third quarter, but it took Navy only a few plays to respond. When Ricky Dobbs executed a perfect play action fake and found Greg Jones on a 52-yard strike over the confused Irish secondary, Navy’s lead stood at 21-7.
Jimmy Clausen led the offense downfield as the quarter came to a close, but the drive abruptly ended in disaster. On first down from the Navy ten, Clausen scrambled and took off toward the end zone. He was met at the one yard line by the Midshipmen and coughed up the ball as he went down in a heap. Although the Irish quarterback recovered quickly on the sidelines, Murray carried Navy out of the shadow of its goal with a 39 yard rumble through the Notre Dame defense.
The Irish finally held and Clausen returned to try again, but another miscue in the red zone resulted in a turnover. Michael Floyd was blocking downfield on what he thought was supposed to be a screen pass, and Clausen’s throw hit him in the back. The ball popped into the air and into the arms of Navy‘s Ram Vela with ten minutes left in the game.
Driven by desperation, Notre Dame’s defense finally dug in and stopped the Midshipmen. Clausen then wasted little time in passing the Irish 91 yards for a score to cut the deficit to 21-14 with just under five minutes remaining. The defense did its job once again, but a 55 yard punt put the hosts in another deep hole. This time, Navy’s defense answered the mail with two consecutive sacks. The second, by Craig Schaefer, resulted in a safety with 1:04 on the clock. Although Notre Dame managed a late touchdown after recovering an onside kick, it served only to make the final margin 23-21.
Navy’s offense clearly outplayed Notre Dame and the Midshipmen deserved to win because its defense made plays in scoring territory when it mattered most. The Irish defenders were repeatedly out of position and the staff failed to make adjustments to an embarrassingly poor plan. The loss cannot be written off to bad luck despite the turnovers and missed opportunities. Navy is not in Notre Dame’s class from a talent standpoint, but they were fundamentally superior and the better coached football team.
The result supports the notion that Notre Dame’s prior success this season was built on a weak schedule and Clausen’s brilliant play. Any of the victories against Purdue, Michigan State, Washington and Boston College could have gone the other way, and wins in the next three games are far from certain even if the team is at full strength.
Let’s take a look at a few questions that helped to determine the outcome:
Will Notre Dame be able to sustain drives by avoiding penalties and methodically moving downfield? Not really, since far too many drives ended in frustration.
Can the Irish safeties keep Navy from making long scoring plays? No, the pass from Dobbs to a guy who had only three receptions coming into the game was just plain inexcusable.
Will Dobbs be forced to put the ball in the air 20 times or more? No, but Notre Dame threw it 51 times.
Can the Irish special teams keep Navy from starting drives in good field position? It was Navy’s special teams that kept the Irish in a hole. Notre Dame never punted but still could not win.
Will Notre Dame exceed 200 yards rushing? The worst part is they didn’t even try.
Will Michael Floyd’s presence allow Tate and Rudolph to take advantage of single coverage? The passing game worked well between the 20’s, but that wasn't enough.
Can the Irish offensive line keep Clausen from hitting the turf? Not at the end when Navy iced the game.
Will Notre Dame secure the outcome in strong fashion or will they have to hold on once again? What was I thinking?
The next opportunity is at Pittsburgh, and the program must not allow a repeat of last November’s slide that nearly cost Charlie Weis his job. It may already be too late, but another loss will surely convince those still firmly entrenched in denial to finally accept the very painful reality of another failed regime.