Carson: Irish respond well in tough spots against Navy
Alex Carson | Monday, October 12, 2015
In the first 132 seconds, Navy kicked off, forced an Irish three-and-out and scored on a three-play, 70-yard drive to take an early 7-0 lead against No. 15 Notre Dame at Notre Dame Stadium.
It was the perfect start for the visitors, and the perfect way an upset might have gotten underway on a different day — a punch in the mouth not too long after the opening snap.
Last week at Clemson, the Irish suffered a similar start. But this time, they didn’t double down on it; sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer led the Irish straight down the field on a smart second drive, pounding it in from a yard out to knot the game at 7-7.
Notre Dame (5-1) wouldn’t trail again.
And while it wasn’t perfect the rest of the way, it’s hard to pick out too many serious flaws in Notre Dame’s play Saturday in a 41-24 win over the Midshipmen (4-1, 2-0 AAC) at Notre Dame Stadium.
When Navy mistakes gave the Irish opportunities, they took them — a first-half fumble inside Navy’s own 10-yard line was immediately followed by senior running back C.J. Prosise’s first of three touchdown runs, and when the Midshipmen fumbled on the opening kickoff of the second half, it took just two plays for Prosise to score once again.
It looked like Notre Dame had taken a good grasp on the game midway through the second quarter — after a pair of touchdowns, the Irish were out to a 21-7 lead with 7:10 left in the half.
Then Navy came back. It’s what solid opponents do. Despite senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds going down, the Midshipmen put together a pair of solid drives to knot the game at 21-21 with 24 seconds left in the first half.
But Notre Dame did what a good, veteran football team should: it didn’t let the game enter the break tied.
Prosise ran up the gut on a draw play to get the Irish 12 yards on the first play, then Kizer hit junior receiver Torii Hunter, Jr. for a 28-yard gain.
It put Notre Dame in range for freshman kicker Justin Yoon, who hit from 52 yards to send the Irish into halftime with the 24-21 lead and the all-important momentum the Midshipmen had taken back.
That’s the execution of a championship-caliber team.
Prosise’s second score helped the Irish hit back quickly after the half, and then he scampered in for an impressive 11-yard touchdown run to put Notre Dame up three scores.
From there, the Irish never looked back.
After rushing for 239 yards in the first half, the Midshipmen gained just 79 in the second. Notre Dame made adjustments, like bringing graduate student Jarrett Grace in for junior James Onwualu at linebacker to stop the dive play that burned the Irish for two scores, and came out with the attitude as if they wanted to put the game away as soon as possible.
When there was an opportunity for Navy to claw back into the game — driving down 17 with just over six minutes left — the Irish shut the door, unlike three weeks earlier against Georgia Tech. Senior safety Elijah Shumate notched an interception inside the Irish 10, and Kizer and Prosise ran out the clock to secure the win.
That’s what good teams do.
“I was so pleased with the way that they were focused, during the week, preparing for Navy, not worrying about anything else,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “They weren’t talking about last week, they weren’t talking about USC, they were focused on playing this football team.”
“Focused” seems to be a good word to describe Saturday’s performance. There were blips, but in some ways, focus is more about how you come back from those blips than avoiding them in the first place.
And I’m not sure anyone plays anywhere close to perfectly against the Midshipmen: just ask Ohio State’s title-winning squad last year, who had plenty of issues with Navy.
Now Notre Dame sits at the close of the first half of its schedule, in with a chance of making the playoff.
They’ll probably need to play better than they did Saturday once or twice — a trip to No. 16 Stanford immediately comes to mind — and they can’t afford to play much worse than they did against Navy.
But at the end of the day, nitpicking about every little thing in Notre Dame’s win Saturday isn’t what it’s about. There’s plenty of chaos left to happen this year.
Unlike last year, the Irish took a good first step on the road back to the top of college football. They can’t fully control their final destination, but they can control the route they take there.
One step down. Six to go.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.