Smooth sailing: Irish get back on track, pull away from Midshipmen behind second half adjustments
Benjamin Padanilam | Monday, October 12, 2015
Notre Dame’s offense totaled 459 total yards on Saturday, leading the way in its 41-24 victory over Navy.
While the defense came out of the gate slow against the difficult triple-option scheme of the Midshipmen (4-1, 2-0 AAC), the offense of the No. 15 Irish (5-1) picked up the slack until the second half, when the rounded team effort allowed them to pull away in the second half.
The Midshipmen got on the board first, after the Irish offense went three-and-out on its first possession — the only time it did so all game — and downed the punt at the 29-yard line. Midshipmen senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds took the first play of the drive 51 yards on a keeper, which set up junior slotback Toneo Gulley to score two plays later on a 13-yard scamper.
The Irish responded quickly with a quick score of their own. After a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer and senior running back C.J. Prosise connected on two consecutive plays, picking up 10 and 25 yards to push the ball into Navy territory. Three plays later, Kizer hit senior receiver Chris Brown for 18 yards to convert a third and long. Then, after converting a fourth-and-two the play before, Kizer capped off the 12 play drive with a one-yard touchdown run to tie the game up.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he was very pleased with his offense’s response following the quick score they allowed to Navy on their first drive.
“I thought we responded very well offensively,” Kelly said. “And I think that response [of] scoring right away, kind of settled everybody down.”
Following the scoring drives, each team’s following drive ended in a punt. Notre Dame was able to win the field position game during that stretch, however, as they downed a punt by sophomore Tyler Newsome on Navy’s 3-yard line. After two short runs, Navy faced third down from their own 10. Reynolds pitched it to senior fullback Chris Swain, but Swain fumbled the ball, and Irish captain and junior linebacker Jaylon Smith recovered it at the Navy seven. On the ensuing offensive possession, Prosise took the handoff on the first play and found a hole into the end zone, giving the Irish a 14-7 lead.
After forcing a three-and-out from the Midshipmen on the next possession, the Irish offense wasted no time extending its team’s lead. After starting at their own 16-yard line, the Irish took only five plays to go 84 yards, as Kizer found junior receiver Will Fuller down the field and Fuller worked his way into the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown, putting Notre Dame up 21-7. After the game, Fuller said Kizer was able to keep the play alive after the protection broke down.
“I had a dig [route], so I’m just running through the window,” Fuller said. “Then I saw him scramble, so I just kept moving, and he looked down field and saw me. [He] just put it on me, and [I] got in the endzone. … I’m happy that he did everything he was supposed to do, and the play worked out well.”
The lead did not last very long, however.
Following a touchback on the kickoff, Midshipmen junior quarterback Tago Smith — who replaced Reynolds for the remainder of the first half after he sustained a shin injury — led the team down the field, and senior fullback Quentin Ezell broke off a 45-yard touchdown run to close the gap to 21-14.
Then the Irish committed their only turnover of the night after getting the ball back. On third-and-eight, Kizer’s pass to Fuller was picked off by Midshipmen junior cornerback Brendon Clements. After two short runs and its first completed pass of the game, Navy converted a fourth-and-three to keep its drive alive inside Notre Dame territory. Two plays later, Ezell scampered for 22 yards and his second touchdown of the game to tie the game up with 24 seconds left in the half.
Despite the short time, the Irish were able to get a score before the end of the half. After returning the kickoff to their own 25-yard line, Kelly called a draw for Prosise, who was able to slip through the hole and gain 12 yards on the play. After a timeout, Kizer found junior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. for a 28-yard gain, setting up a 52-yard field goal attempt for freshman kicker Justin Yoon with four seconds remaining.
Yoon had just enough on the kick and sent it through the uprights to give the Irish a 24-21 lead as the clock expired. Kelly said he trusted Yoon would be able to make the kick, despite it being the longest attempt of the season for him.
“We had a little bit of a breeze there, and his max distance was right at that number,” Kelly said. “So, we were confident that if the mechanics were good and the snap was good and the hold was good, that he could make it.”
After a tight first half, the Irish were able to pull away in the second half. On the kickoff, Midshipmen junior slotback Dishan Romine fumbled the return after being hit by Irish sophomore linebacker Nyles Morgan, and Notre Dame recovered and took over at the Navy 26-yard line. On the second play of the drive, Prosise bounced a run to the outside and took the ball 22 yards into the end zone to extend Notre Dame’s lead to 31-21.
With Reynolds back in the game on its next possession, Navy drove down the field in an attempt to respond. Senior kicker Austin Grebe missed his 44-yard attempt, however, leaving the Midshipmen empty-handed on the possession.
Taking over at its own 27 following the miss, Notre Dame began another march down the field. The ten-play drive was capped off by an 11-yard touchdown run by Prosise, giving him his third touchdown on the day. Kelly said he liked what he saw from Prosise on the run.
“I thought his run late was extraordinary in the sense that we were backed up, he was very patient, waited for his tight end on the kick-out block,” Kelly said. “That just takes so much patience and trust in an offensive lineman and for him to show and exhibit that, I just think speaks volumes of the kind of player he is.”
The Irish defense was strong the rest of the way, and the offense was able to run the clock in the fourth quarter. The teams traded field goals at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter, bringing the game to its final score of 41-24.
After the game, Kelly said he was pleased with his team’s performance following the tough loss to Clemson last week.
“We beat a very good team by 17 points,” Kelly said. “I think that’s a validation. … I thought their focus was outstanding. And it paid off.”
Next up for the Irish is a matchup with USC on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. Kizer said the team can focus on the Trojans after closing out Navy.
“We haven’t really talked too much about USC,” Kizer said. “In the position we’re in now, it really allows us to go from week-to-week and from game-to-game. … So we’ll grind down tomorrow, put the USC film on, and get ourselves ready for another big one.”