Irish take down Midshipmen in balanced showing
Charlotte Edmonds | Sunday, October 28, 2018
SAN DIEGO — Despite a fumble by senior receiver Miles Boykin on the opening play of the evening, No. 3 Notre Dame handled the adversity in style with an efficient offensive display on a warm evening at SDCCU Stadium.
The debut of the Navy triple option in the subsequent play set the tone for both teams — run the ball. Both the Irish (8-0) and the Midshipmen (2-6, 1-3 AAC) turned to their feet in crunch time, with seven of the nine touchdowns in the matchup coming from the running backs.
Navy tried to capitalize on the opening mishap, but senior Zach Abey was stuffed on fourth down at Notre Dame’s 27-yard line to give the ball back to the Irish. Once the Notre Dame offense returned to the field, three-consecutive runs by senior running back Dexter Williams for a total of 46 yards and an 11-yard catch by junior receiver Chase Claypool brought the Irish inside the red zone. The veterans then decided to hand things over to Jafar Armstrong, making his first appearance for the Irish since Vanderbilt after being sidelined with a leg infection. The sophomore had three rushes on the drive, the third of which put the Irish on the board, in addition to his eight-yard catch. Ian Book would continue to look to Armstrong throughout the matchup for deep gains.
“As an offense, we knew we had a bad play,” the junior quarterback said on the fumble. “It’s about the next play. No point thinking about what happened when you have a whole game in front of you.”
In his first attempt stepping in for injured senior kicker Justin Yoon, sophomore Jonathan Doerer missed his first attempt at the extra point but returned immediately after to place the ball deep in Navy territory.
The Irish struck again to close out the first quarter, this time turning Book, who was incredibly efficient against the Midshipmen defense. A 18-yard pass to Claypool followed by a 12-yard keeper by Book brought the Irish to the midfield stripe. Book then delivered a five-yard pass to freshman receiver Kevin Austin, who scampered 33 yards before being brought down at the Navy 12-yard line. Williams’ 12-yard run put the Irish up by 12 and Doerer’s successful kick extended the lead to 13 going into the second quarter.
The second quarter continued along the same pattern, as the Irish essentially imposed their will on the Navy offense. The Midshipmen struggled to make significant gains, only rushing for more than six yards before halftime on two occasions.
Junior safety Alohi Gilman, a transfer from Navy, recorded seven total tackles on the evening. Gilman commented on the differences between his freshman year, when the Midshipmen beat the Irish and he made a career-high 12 tackles, and now.
“I’m just proud of my defense and my offense just as a team, being able to get this win,” he said. “I know we challenged each other before the game, just to stay together, to lay your heart on the line for your teammates. I have guys like Te’von [Coney], Dex, Ian, putting their hearts on the line. It’s really just about these guys here. This is what I’ll remember the most.”
Offensively, Notre Dame continued to march down the field behind the performances of the receiving unit of Claypool, seniors Chris Finke and [tight ends] Alizé Mack and sophomore Cole Kmet, before Book handed the ball back off to senior running back Dexter Williams for two more touchdowns.
Williams credited the offensive line with opening up the gaps to allow him to score.
“Well, today, just being out there with the offensive line, they were creating holes for me,” he said. “Also just being patient, just letting them set up the blocks, then I made the right cut, just really running hard for them because I know they’re going to block hard for me.”
These two drives to put the Irish up 27-0 heading into the half. Three times in the second quarter, Book converted on fourth down, either by hitting a slot receiver or creating with his feet to get the extra downs to keep the play alive.
But the 27-point lead wouldn’t remain for long, as Navy came storming out of the tunnel to open the half with a 58-yard run by junior quarterback Malcolm Perry. Abey eventually put the Midshipmen on the board following a one-yard rush to the end zone.
“Any time we play Navy, it is a chore for preparation,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “They’re very difficult to prepare for because you’re dealing with the most efficient and effective operation relative to the triple option in all of football.”
A 30-yard field goal by Doerer gave the Irish a 23-point cushion, proving useful when Navy responded with another touchdown, this time flashing some of the arm of senior quarterback Garret Lewis, who completed a 34-yard pass, the longest of the night for Lewis. Ultimately, Navy returned to Abey, who once again punched the ball in for one yard past the Irish defensive line to cut the Irish lead to 16.
With time winding down on the third quarter, the Irish added another score with a four-yard catch from Boykin, marking the first touchdown of the evening for Book. Although he completed 27 of 33 passes for 330 yards, Book’s interception to open the fourth quarter — his fourth in nearly as many games — gave Navy a chance in a game that still had plenty of time remaining. The Midshipmen made the Irish pay, scoring two plays later and converting the two-point conversion to cut the lead to 37-22.
But Notre Dame responded with a eight-play, 75-yard drive that kept the Irish comfortably ahead. On third down, Book threw a 27-yard pass to Armstrong to keep the drive alive. Three plays later, a 22-yard toss to Boykin in the end zone gave the Irish the extra insurance they needed. A Navy fumble and then an interception by junior safety Jalen Elliott on back-to-back drives guaranteed the 44-22 Notre Dame win to seal the win and the playoff hopes alive.
The significance of the 92nd meeting between the two programs was not lost on the players, as Book described the experience as an honor.
“Being able to play Navy is such an honor,” Book said. “Obviously we have a tradition that goes way back. We have so much respect for that team. Defensively we knew they’re a good team. We had to prepare well.”