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Week Eight: Navy

Sam Gans | Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Irish faced a tumultuous seven days prior to their game against Navy on Saturday. Notre Dame lost to its archrival the previous week, senior starting defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore suffered a season-ending detached MCL and Irish coach Brian Kelly apologized to his team Friday for comments he made to the media the day before. Yet despite these potential challenges and distractions, the Irish (5-3) rolled to a dominating 56-14 win over the Midshipmen (2-6).

A well-balanced offensive attack led the way for Notre Dame, as the Irish accumulated 260 passing yards and 182 rushing yards, finishing with a final advantage of 442-229 in total yards.

The Irish started the game quickly when sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees hit senior receiver Michael Floyd on Notre Dame’s first play from scrimmage on a quick pass which Floyd turned into a 25-yard gain. Senior running back Jonas Gray eventually capped the opening 70-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.

On Notre Dame’s next possession, Rees again opened the drive with a pass for big yardage when junior receiver Theo Riddick took a screen for 37 yards. Junior running back Cierre Wood ended the drive by scoring on a 1-yard sweep to give the Irish a 14-0 lead after the first quarter.

“We felt in the first couple of drives. It was important to get off to a good start after not getting off to a good start against USC,” Kelly said. “We scripted some plays out, some plays that we wanted to and we were able to get to them and have some success early on.”

Gray finished the day with 69 yards on 12 carries and three scores, while Wood ran the ball 11 times for 66 yards and two touchdowns, after the duo combined for just 43 yards on nine carries in the loss to USC a week earlier.

While Gray and Wood ran the ball hard, Gray was willing to give enormous credit for the success the backs had to the offensive line for creating holes.

“[The offensive line] manhandled the guys up front,” Gray said. “We talked during the week about breaking the wheel with our toughness. We knew it started up front. Those guys were hungry to get us to run the ball.”

After an Irish turnover early in the second quarter set Navy up with strong field position, the Midshipmen were able to cut the deficit to 14-7 when sophomore quarterback Trey Miller found junior running back Gee Gee Greene in the end zone on a 9-yard touchdown pass.

But the Irish didn’t take long to bring the margin back to 14 points. On the first play of the following drive, Floyd, who finished with six receptions for 121 yards, broke behind the Navy secondary and caught a 56-yard touchdown.

“The safety bit and I was wide open on the post,” Floyd said. “I was surprised [at how open I was].”

The ensuing kickoff from freshman kicker Kyle Brindza fell uncaught and was kicked near the Navy 20-yard line, eventually being recovered by freshman linebacker Troy Niklas at the 22-yard line. Four plays later, Gray added a 2-yard touchdown run to make the score 28-7 with 9:07 remaining in the first half.

The Irish entered the half up 35-7 when Wood added his second 1-yard touchdown run of the game with 3:37 left in the second quarter.

While the Irish offense had a strong first half, the defense was equally effective, limiting Navy to 100 yards of offense after the first 30 minutes thanks in large part to junior linebacker Manti Te’o’s seven first-half tackles, including 1.5 for a loss.

“Manti is going to make plays when he gets the chance to make plays,” senior safety and captain Harrison Smith said. “He has such a nose for the ball.”

The score became 42-7 when Floyd caught a lateral from Rees for a 10-yard touchdown run with 2:59 left in the third quarter. Gray scored his third and final touchdown of the game to make the score 49-7 with 13:38 left in the contest.

After Navy sophomore quarterback Jarvis Cummings scored on a 12-yard touchdown run, Irish senior quarterback Dayne Crist entered the game for the final Notre Dame drive. Crist went 3-for-3 on the drive, which ended when freshman running back George Atkinson ran in the game’s final score.

“It was great to see [Crist] out there,” Rees said. “He’s been through a couple of tough times, but to see him bounce back like that and go down the field, I feel great for him.”

While the Irish cruised to victory, it didn’t appear it would be so easy after a potentially divisive comment by Kelly when meeting with the media Thursday.

“You can see the players that I have recruited, you know who they are,” Kelly said Thursday. “We’ve had one class of kids that we’ve recruited that I’ve had my hand on. The other guys here are coming along. It’s a process. It can’t happen overnight. They’re getting it. They’re making good progress.”

Following a series of responses on Twitter from some of the team’s upperclassmen, Kelly apologized in a team meeting Friday.

Any division in the locker room appeared unnoticeable Saturday, and Kelly said he and the team have moved on.

“I can tell you that as a family, we all have good days and bad days,” Kelly said after the game, “and you work through that as a family.

“But at the end, like all families, if there’s a disagreement, if there’s any kind of need to communicate, it needs to get done and we did that. We communicated with each other as a team and as a family and you saw it today. You saw a team that played together.”

Smith reiterated the team — the family — has moved past Thursday’s controversy.

“When you have a family environment, when guys all buy into, ‘One team, one cause, one family,’ things like that don’t break us up,” Smith said. “They don’t get us off track. If anything, they bring us together. That kind of showed itself by what we did on the field today.”

As the Irish look toward next Saturday’s game at Wake Forest, they look to continue fostering that family atmosphere and strong all-around production as they did against Navy.

“Our big players played big,” Kelly said. “[We] controlled the line of scrimmage and played great defense. It’s a good recipe for success.”