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Teich me how to Navy

Douglas Farmer | Tuesday, October 26, 2010

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When Notre Dame marched 71 yards down the field on its opening possession Saturday, the Irish sideline simply wished it had been a 72-yard drive.

Irish junior quarterback Dayne Crist could not gain the last yard of the drive, as the Midshipmen stopped his fourth-down dive inside the one-yard line to prevent Notre Dame from scoring first during Navy’s 35-17 victory.

“We outman them by 70 pounds on average up front,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said during his postgame press conference. “If you can’t get a foot on the one-half yard line, you get what you deserve.

“If you can’t punch it in to start the game from the foot-line with the big guys we have up front and a 230-pound quarterback, that says something right there.”

Navy took that opportunity to cover 99 yards in only six plays. Midshipmen fullback Alexander Teich accounted for 90 of those yards, 59 rushing and the remaining 31 on a touchdown pass from quarterback Ricky Dobbs. Teich ended the day with 210 rushing yards on only 26 carries and 31 receiving yards.

“We knew they were going to run the ball,” Irish sophomore linebacker Manti Te’o said. “We knew they were going to hand it to the fullback. We just needed to execute.”

Te’o led the Irish in tackling with 13 tackles, including one for a loss. Many of Te’o’s tackles came on plays when Teich ran up the middle, a maneuver not often seen in Navy’s version of the triple-option offense. Midshipmen coach Ken Niumatalolo and his staff altered that triple-option for the Irish, emphasizing the inside running game more than usual, while not forgetting about the outside pitch.

“We always have new wrinkles,” Niumatalolo said. “We do the same thing over and over but there is subtle stuff. That is what we are, an option team. Yes, we run the triple but we have a ton of different variations on running it. We had to have some wrinkles because they’re a good football team.”

Kelly said Navy’s aptitude at adjustments proved to be a deciding factor Saturday.

“Navy is well-schooled at all variations, and they needed to be credited for their execution today on a scheme that they haven’t run,” he said. “My hat goes off to coach Ken and his staff. We had no answer for them today.”

Nonetheless, Kelly said Notre Dame should have been able to overcome any scheme with simple strength.

“You still have to get over the one-on-one matchups. You still have to win some of those … Scheme is one thing, but you still have to win one-on-one matchups. You get what you deserve. We got beat today. Navy was the better football team today.”

The Midshipmen scheme carried them to a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter, after Irish senior kicker David Ruffer converted a 45-yard field goal on Notre Dame’s second possession. Crist then led the Irish offense 72 yards on 13 plays — the final play a 16-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver TJ Jones in which Jones broke two tackles to reach the endzone — to bring Notre Dame within four points.

“I was hoping that [score] would be a game-changer in a sense,” Jones said. “That we could get up and come back and win it.”

Crist’s touchdown pass was offset a few minutes later when he threw the first of his two interceptions with less than two minutes left in the first half. Navy only had to drive 30 yards to make the score 21-10 at halftime.

“I guess just trying to do too much,” Crist said of his two turnovers. “At the end of the day, it falls on me. I can’t get those back. You can’t give the ball back to Navy,a team that really shortens the game. Knowing that we needed to score on every possession, that falls on me.”

Navy received the opening kickoff in the second half, and proceeded to increase its lead to 28-10 on another Dobbs touchdown run. Dobbs added one more touchdown — to bring his total for the day to three rushing and one passing touchdown — before the end of the third quarter to set Notre Dame back by 25 points.

“They put 14 points on the board in the third quarter, which put us in a tough position,” Kelly said. “There’s going to be enough criticism for the coaches and players to go around.”

With 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Kelly sent freshman quarterback Tommy Rees out under center, electing to keep Crist on the sideline in the blowout. Rees led the Irish on a 76-yard scoring drive, capped by a one-yard run from sophomore running back Cierre Wood.

Crist was not alone on the sideline, as junior tight end Kyle Rudolph, junior receiver Michael Floyd and sophomore receiver Theo Riddick did not play a single snap. Rudolph is out for the season after undergoing season-ending surgery on his hamstring nearly two weeks ago. Concerning Floyd, though, Kelly decided minutes before kickoff to only use Notre Dame’s leading receiver in an “emergency situation.”

“He didn’t practice very much at all this week, and we weren’t going to play a guy who wasn’t 100 percent,” Kelly said. “He wasn’t 100 percent.”

Even without the trio that accounted for 66.3 percent of Notre Dame’s receptions this season, Kelly said any failings Saturday were not a result of a negative attitude from the Irish.

“I didn’t sense at any point that our guys were not emotionally or enthusiastic or flat,” he said. “Last year [this team] lost to Navy, and then lost the rest. That means this football team broke apart. We aren’t going to let this team break apart.”