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Football: Exhausting Navy’s Options

Eric Retter | Monday, October 30, 2006

BALTIMORE – Notre Dame scored on five of its first six possessions, but that wasn’t good enough for quarterback Brady Quinn.

“[We wanted to go] six of six and make them all touchdowns,” Quinn said after Notre Dame’s 38-14 victory over Navy Saturday in Baltimore -its 43rd straight over the Midshipmen. “That’s our goal every time, especially when we’re in the red zone.”

In the seven Irish possessions with Quinn in the game, Notre Dame scored six times – five touchdowns and one field goal. Notre Dame’s only non-scoring drive during the stretch occurred when running back Darius Walker was stopped on a fourth-and-goal from the three-yard line at the start of the fourth quarter.

“I think you see a lot of frustration on some guys when we don’t score a touchdown when we’re in the red zone,” Quinn said.

Notre Dame finished with 471 total yards on offense, and Quinn had another standout day for the Irish, completing 18-of-25 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns. He also added a 19-yard rushing touchdown midway through the third quarter.

“I thought [Quinn] played pretty darn well,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “He’s not [just] one of the best quarterbacks in college football, he’s one of the best players in college football.”

Notre Dame opened the game with a seven-play, 40-yard drive that resulted in a career-long 40-yard field goal by Carl Gioia. The possession – which stalled on the Navy 23 yard line – was the only Quinn-engineered drive that didn’t advance into the red zone.

It didn’t take long for the Irish to fix that problem.

Notre Dame pushed the score to 10-0 with on the following drive, as David Grimes capped off the possession with a 36-yard touchdown reception – his first career score. Weis said the play was especially important because the Irish faced third and 18 at the time.

“That early touchdown was a really big play in the game, because it was third and forever,” Weis said. “I was hoping to just get some of it back so we could kick a field goal, but Brady stepped over to the left and saw him over there. … This is a couple games in a row now that [Grimes] is making some plays for us.”

Navy broke onto the scoreboard on its second drive, marching 80 yards on nine plays using its patented triple-option attack. Quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada finished the drive with a one-yard sneak.

But Notre Dame responded with its own nine-play, 80-yard drive, when Travis Thomas – who starts at linebacker -scampered into the end zone from 16 yards out to make the score 17-7.

The touchdown run was his first carry since a one-yard score against Penn State on Sept. 9.

Notre Dame established its running game – which has been inconsistent for much of the season – early on Saturday. The Irish ran the ball 37 times for 176 yards, compared with just 41 yards on 35 carries last week against UCLA. Quinn was sacked only once on Saturday, while UCLA got to him five times.

Darius Walker led all rushers with 20 carries for 106 yards, his third 100-yard game of the season and the 11th of his career.

“I was much more pleased with how things went in the running game,” Weis said. “I think that across the board we were more physical at the line of scrimmage … I had a lot more hardball runs where you go smash them in the mouth.”

Navy again replied to a Notre Dame score with a sustained drive, covering 65 yards in 13 plays. Kaheaku-Enhada finished Navy’s scoring drive with another one-yard touchdown run to make the score 17-14 with 2:43 left to play in the half.

Notre Dame scored the final points of the half on its last possession. The Irish covered 80 yards in just 1:24 playing mostly out of the no-huddle, with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Quinn to receiver Rhema McKnight with 1:19 to go in the half giving the Irish a 24-14 advantage.

It was the sixth time in eight games this season that Quinn has led the Irish to a score on their last possession of the first half.

“Our entire offense is pretty comfortable with [the hurry-up offense],” Quinn said. “We’ve been used to coach Weis’s style and philosophy for the past couple years now. I don’t want to say it’s a backbone for us, but we definitely feel comfortable in the two minute [offense].”

While effective offensively in the first half, Notre Dame struggled to stop Navy’s option attack early in the game. The midshipmen picked up 211 of their 271 rushing yards in the first half, and they had a running play of ten or more yards on nine separate occasions before the half.

“You just got to get caught up with the speed of the game, how fast they’re pitching that ball [and] getting outside,” Irish safety Tom Zbikowski said.

Notre Dame made adjustments at half time, limiting Navy’s production in the second half and not allowing a score. Meanwhile, the Irish offense kept moving.

Notre Dame put together a nine-play, 69 yard drive on its first second-half possession, capped off by Quinn’s touchdown run.

And after Walker failed to punch it in on fourth and goal from the two-yard line, Quinn responded with a six yard touchdown strike to McKnight to make the game 38-14 on the next possession.

“I’m really happy to be leaving here the way things played out today,” he said. “I was happy the way our defense sucked it up in the second half and played well. I thought the offense played pretty good most of the day … and we’re looking forward on moving on to North Carolina.”