In the end, the Notre Dame football team simply stole a page from the Navy playbook.
The Irish ran the football often and effectively — and they cashed in on virtually all their scoring opportunities (six for six the red zone).
And they won the time-of-possession battle by almost four minutes.
Even more impressive, the Notre Dame defensive game plan to start the football game could hardly have been more productive. The Midshipmen ran 24 first-half plays (to Notre Dame’s 39) and gained only 72 net yards. Navy averaged 3.3 yards per rush in those first two periods — at the same time Ian Book and his receiving corps were outpacing Navy 212-2 in passing yards. All that accounted for the outsized 27-0 halftime edge for Notre Dame.
Here’s what the Irish gained from their matchup with the Midshipmen:
Do as I say. Irish coach Brian Kelly talked all week about the importance of starting fast and taking advantage of chances to put points on the board. Apparently his players listened well. The first half alone produced touchdown drives of 73, 80, 67 and 83 yards for Notre Dame. Meanwhile, Navy’s second-period offensive output equaled 13 net yards. The Mids’ final three drives of the opening half amounted to nine plays for eight net yards. The Irish attention to detail on that side of the football — certainly aided by that extra week of prep — was obvious.
It wasn’t perfect, but … Sure, Miles Boykin fumbled on the first play from scrimmage. Jonathan Doerer missed an extra-point kick after the first Notre Dame touchdown. Ian Book threw an interception early in the fourth period to end a string of four straight point-producing possessions (three of those touchdowns). And Navy ran for 222 yards after intermission — so give the Mids credit for making some adjustments once they faced that four-score deficit. Yet the Irish really were never threatened thanks to the great start.
The run game. Notre Dame ran for 254 yards — and only against Stanford when they ran for 272 have the Irish accounted for more on the ground in 2018. Dexter Williams was the best back on the field Saturday night. He had runs of 33, 17, 12, 12, 11 and 11 and two for nine yards. He had plenty of help from sophomore Jafar Armstrong (52 rushing yards), who was the top Irish receiver with five catches for 64 yards — plus Book (50 rushing yards) and Tony Jones Jr. It probably marked the most balanced Irish offensive output in 2018.
By the Book. Ian Book continues to lead the country in pass completion percentage, having connected on 130 of his 170 throws for a .765 clip. That’s after his .818 rate (27 of 33) Saturday night that translated to a career-best 330 passing yards. In the second period alone Book completed 13 of 16 throws for 124 yards. On Notre Dame’s third touchdown march he was nine of 10 passing for 57 yards. Book now stands seventh nationally in pass efficiency at 170.2. He may threaten Jimmy Clausen’s Notre Dame single-season record of 161.42 from 2009 as well as Clausen’s season mark for completion percentage of .680 from that same year.
And now, flip to November. The Irish have four regular-season games remaining in the month of November, beginning Saturday night in Evanston against a Northwestern team that has won four in a row. Notre Dame is 18-14 in the Kelly era in November, including 9-11 in games away from Notre Dame Stadium (and the Irish have three of those on the docket against Northwestern, Syracuse and USC). The Irish last beat a ranked opponent in November in 2010 (Utah at Notre Dame Stadium) — and they have not defeated a ranked team on the road in November since a win at ninth-rated Tennessee in 2004.
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is the author, co-author or editor of 12 books (one a New York Times bestseller) and editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.