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Notre Dame routs Navy as Claypool, Book lead on offense

| Saturday, November 16, 2019

The feelings of uneasiness were palpable on Saturday in South Bend.

In the 93rd continuous meeting between Navy and Notre Dame, the third longest streak in college football, the Midshipmen came into Notre Dame Stadium as the No. 23 team in the nation. With weapons like senior quarterback Malcolm Perry, and the traditional anxieties that accompany the triple option, a bit of worry crept into some of the minds of Irish (8-2) fans.

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Senior quarterback Ian Book hands off the pass to senior running back Tony Jones Jr. during the Irish’s 52-20 victory over the Navy Midshipmen on Nov. 16 at Notre Dame Stadium.

All of this worry reached a culmination on Navy’s (7-2) fourth down attempt during its first drive of the game. When the Midshipmen got the first down, potential trouble loomed on the horizon. It didn’t take long until the momentum shifted toward the Irish after a Malcolm Perry fumble, however — and it would remain in favor of the Irish for the rest of the afternoon. 

The Irish offense wasted no time in its first possession of the game. Senior quarterback Ian Book connected with senior wide receiver Chase Claypool for a gain of 23 yards, then soon followed with a pass over the middle to graduate student wide receiver Chris Finke. Finke managed to evade a defender and stretch the gain to 14 yards.

But that offensive momentum reached a halt after a false start penalty brought the Irish back. Book was forced to scramble in the pocket on two consecutive snaps, the second of which would give the Irish an opportunity on fourth and a yard, where the Irish would blow forward with a rush from senior running back Tony Jones Jr. Book ended the drive with a short pass over the middle to his favorite target, Claypool, to start the contest with a scoring drive.

But Navy’s standout quarterback wasted no time on his first drive, either. The quick and agile Perry showed off his footwork early with a few big gains, evading Irish linebackers with swift jukes.

The Irish defense buckled down as the Midshipmen advanced into Notre Dame territory, bringing on a 4th and three for Navy, which the Midshipmen would attempt. It felt like an attempt which would set the tone for the game, an indicator of how this Irish defense might handle the triple option during the afternoon.

The play ultimately ended in a first down for the Midshipmen, but Perry fumbled on the very next play. Graduate student linebacker Asmar Bilal recovered the fumble to hand the Irish offense the ball for a drive which would end in a 47-yard touchdown pass from Book into the hands of Claypool.

The quick turnaround for the Irish was what set the tone on Saturday afternoon in a game which was understandably surrounded by a sense of angst.

The Irish forced four total turnovers throughout the game, and head coach Brian Kelly discussed just how vital those those turnovers were with a team like Navy. 

Any time you get Navy to turn the football over, they’re going to be huge for you,” Kelly said. “But, yeah we were active, we were fast, we were physical. They haven’t played a team quite like that all year, and it’s difficult. We talked so much about our inability to map the speed of the triple option, well they can’t map the speed of our defense. And so it worked well for us today that we played fast and physical.”

On the following drive, Perry fumbled once more to hand the Irish a prime opportunity on the Navy 39. And the offense only continued to capitalize on Book’s connections with Claypool. 

The drive ended in a three-yard touchdown pass to the corner of the end zone, where Claypool’s physicality proved too much for the Navy corner. Just like that, a gutsy 1st down by Navy in the first quarter turned into a 21-0 deficit with 12 minutes to go before the half.

From there, it was smooth sailing for the Irish.

Book connected with sophomore wide receiver Braden Lenzy for a monstrous 70-yard touchdown pass. Irish junior kicker Jonathan Doerer nailed a 32-yard field goal minutes later to extend the Irish lead to 31-0.

Before the half ended, Jones Jr. helped out with a 2-yard rush that was ruled a touchdown after review. The Midshipmen put some points on the board with a 27-yard field goal by Bijan Nicholas, but even still it was too much too late. The Irish entered the locker room with a comfortable 35-3 lead at the half.

The Irish offense kept things moving in the right direction in the second half. After the defense forced Navy to punt, the Irish took over on their own 22; Book went three for six, ending the drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Claypool. It was Claypool’s fourth touchdown of the day. With it, the atmosphere settled down at Notre Dame Stadium as a win was all but certain. 

The Midshipmen turned to the air in the following drive, but it was ultimately to no avail. Perry managed to connect with wide reciever Mychal Cooper for a nice 16-yard pass over the middle, but the Irish would force a punt once more. 

From there, the Irish took Book out of the game and allowed junior quarterback Phil Jurkovec to take some snaps. Jurkovec connected with Lenzy for a 17-yard first down, but the Irish were ultimately forced to punt on the drive in their first punt of the evening.

Navy took over on its own 26, and Perry managed to find Cooper for a 43-yard touchdown pass to give Navy its first touchdown of the day. But by then, it was once again too little, too late. 

After the game, Kelly lauded Book’s throw and his throwing abilities in general. 

“He can throw the ball deep, so we can take that one off the list,” Kelly said. “… He’s capable of making all the throws, and it’s good to have some speed back there, Lenzy being able to give us that stretch vertically. It was a beautiful throw, and it’s nice to see those plays hit. We kind of missed some of those earlier in the season, so it’s good to see them come together.”

In light of criticism the senior quarterback has received this season, Kelly asserted his confidence in Book remains strong.

“I knew what we had,” Kelly said. “I knew what he was going to give us. I mean, if it’s major league baseball, he had a little slump. I knew what he was capable of, we maintained confidence in him. The only thing I ever said to him is, ‘Don’t lose confidence in yourself.’ He works so hard, he does all the right things. It was just a matter of there was too much noise. And he had to find a mechanism as the quarterback at Notre Dame, to eliminate all of the noise that comes with it. He has and he’s found it, and he’s in a great spot and he’s going to continue to impress.”

The Irish extended their lead when sophomore linebacker Paul Moala returned a fumble for a touchdown. As Moala’s first career touchdown at Notre Dame, the sophomore’s excitement was palpable after the game.

“It was an exhilarating experience,” Moala said. “It was just a testament to how well our defense played altogether. To have that opportunity to score was just a surreal moment.”

For the Midshipmen, Perry went on to score a rushing touchdown and they tallied a field goal as well. But the 20-point total wasn’t nearly enough to overcome the Irish, who would be the victor by a score of 52-20 when all was said and done.

Claypool finished the game with seven receptions, four of them touchdown receptions, and 117 yards receiving. Kelly discussed how big a part Claypool plays in the Irish offense. 

“Well, I mean, Chase is an important part of our offense, so he is going to get the football,” Kelly said. “He probably got it a couple of times when the ball needed to go somewhere else today, actually, and that didn’t happen very often. I think Ian [Book] was 14 for 20. He’s an integral part. He got the game ball. He is a guy that is difficult to defend because he can catch you on a drag route and score a touchdown, he can catch a ball on the sideline, he can catch a vertical route in the seam, a fade. He’s virtually a guy that has all the weapons, so why wouldn’t you throw him the football in those situations?”

After the game, Kelly expressed his satisfaction with the win and solid execution for the program.

“To watch our players play at such a high level, for them to execute a great game plan, that’s what we do,” Kelly said. “You talk about success, it doesn’t have to have a quantitative bowl game or championship. It has to do with days like today where you see it all come together. … Fun day for everyone associated with Notre Dame. Certainly probably not so on the other side, but we have a great deal of respect for Navy. It was our day today.”

With the win, the Irish move to 8-2 on the season. They will take on Boston College in their last home game of the season next weekend.

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