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Notre Dame can’t stop triple option, falls to Navy 28-27

| Saturday, November 5, 2016

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Notre Dame’s season has often been defined by quick strikes — long passes completed by the Irish offense, or long passes allowed by a beleaguered defense. In the 28-27 loss to Navy on Saturday in Jacksonville, though, it was slow, slogging drives by the Midshipmen that did the Irish in.

Notre Dame (3-6) had the ball for fewer than 10 minutes in the second half, when Navy (6-2) outscored the Irish 14-10 with one scoring drive of four minutes, one of nine minutes and a closing drive that ran the clock from 7:28 to zero.

“We had six possessions the whole game,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “Any time you’re limited to six possessions, you have to be extremely efficient. … Not much I can really pick at from a head coach’s perspective.

Junior quarterback DeShone Kizer drops back to pass during Notre Dame's 28-27 loss to Navy. Kizer threw for 223 yards and three touchdowns on the game.Emma Farnan | The Observer
Junior quarterback DeShone Kizer drops back to pass during Notre Dame’s 28-27 loss to Navy on Saturday in Jacksonville. Kizer threw for 223 yards and three touchdowns in the game.

“I love the way my team battled. Navy was just a little bit better today, by one point.”

Senior captain and receiver Torii Hunter Jr., who finished with over 100 yards and a touchdown, said the team knew ahead of time that possessions would be at a premium.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” Hunter said. “We were asking a lot of ourselves, trying to put up touchdowns every time we got the ball because we knew it would be that type of game. It’s tough.”

At first, Notre Dame’s offense hustled down the length of EverBank Field, taking just 3:30 to run 10 plays and score a touchdown for a 7-0 lead. Junior quarterback DeShone Kizer, who finished 19-of-27 with 223 yards and three touchdowns, found Hunter wide open in the end zone for the 26-yard score.

But Navy, no stranger to hustle, did what it does best with its triple option offense, averaging 6.4 yards per carry on a nine-play scoring drive on its first possession to tie the game.

After that, though, the expected back-and-forth between the two high-production offenses slowed down. Notre Dame was held to a field goal, then the Irish defense forced a turnover on downs. The Midshipmen responded by forcing a punt.

The scoring started up again when Navy senior quarterback Will Worth, who threw for 48 yards and ran for 175, rushed for a touchdown following his 60-yard sprint upfield a few plays before. The Irish sapped up 7:13 on the ensuing touchdown drive, the longest of their season so far in terms of time of possession.

Kelly called for an uncharacteristic 12 running plays and just two passes — both of which were screens — on that drive, which gave his team a 17-14 lead going into halftime. Sophomore running back Josh Adams posted 73 yards on the day, while Kizer added 52 on the ground.

“I like the fact that he finished off his runs today,” Kelly said of Kizer. “There’s certain parts of his game that I’m really pleased with because he’s showing some of the gritty toughness that in that position I like to see.”

The Midshipmen, receiving the ball to open the second half, struck back with a 37-yard run into the end zone to cap a 7-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Navy’s 21-17 lead didn’t last long, though, as Notre Dame’s offense marched down the field in just over five minutes. Sophomore receiver and occasional acrobat Equanimeous St. Brown flipped into the end zone on a 13-yard catch-and-run.

The Irish seemed primed to widen the 24-21 lead when Navy sent its punt unit out to its own 40-yard line following a third-down stop by Notre Dame’s defense. However, the Irish were penalized for 12 men on the field and Navy capitalized by converting the ensuing fourth-and-1 – the latest chapter in the saga of Notre Dame’s special teams struggles this season.

Irish senior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. takes a hit form a Navy defender during Notre Dame's 28-27 loss to the Midshipmen. Hunter Jr. had 104 yards receiving and one touchdown in the contest.Marek Mazurek | The Observer
Irish senior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. takes a hit form a Navy defender during Notre Dame’s 28-27 loss to the Midshipmen on Saturday in Jacksonville. Hunter Jr. had 104 yards receiving and one touchdown in the contest.

The Midshipmen ended up scoring a touchdown on the drive to earn a 28-24 lead, using up a total of nine minutes in the process.

On the following possession, Notre Dame was facing fourth-and-4 at the Navy 14-yard line. Kelly elected to settle for 31-yard field goal by sophomore Justin Yoon, giving Navy the ball back with a one-point lead and 7:28 remaining.

“We certainly thought about going for [a touchdown],” Kelly said of the fourth down field goal that left the Irish a point behind. “But 28-27 made sense to me at the time. Even if they score a touchdown, we still have the opportunity to score and make a 2-point conversion.”

Navy, which averaged 5.7 yards per carry overall, drove downfield and ran for a first down on fourth-and-1, then again on third-and-3, forcing the Irish to use all three of their timeouts as the clock ticked under 2 minutes.

Then, on fourth-and-6 with 1:16 left, Navy completed a first down pass to effectively end the game.

“I don’t question the decision to go for the field goal other than the fact that we couldn’t get the ball back,” Kelly said. “ … If we get the ball back with 1:14, I’m feeling pretty confident we’re going to find a way to score.

“They made a couple of big plays that they needed to hold onto the football. That was the difference.”

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About Renee Griffin

Notre Dame senior, formerly of Farley Hall. Originally from Lake Zurich, IL, majoring in American Studies with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. Enjoys talkin' about practice.

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