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Notre Dame-Navy: What the Irish Learned

Nov. 20, 2017

By John Heisler

No matter the result, Notre Dame’s home matchup with Navy Saturday figured to be a fascinating watch, if only because it would answer a handful of critical questions.

Here’s what the Irish found out Saturday in South Bend in their come-from-behind 24-17 victory over the Midshipmen:

  1. Here were those key questions:
    –How would the Irish players and coaches react on the field coming off a one-sided defeat at Miami and the suggested end of serious Notre Dame College Football Playoff hopes? Irish coach Brian Kelly loves to talk about grittiness, and there was that in abundance Saturday in the cold and rain.
    –How would the emotion of the final Notre Dame Stadium appearance factor for Irish seniors? No one handled that better than offensive lineman Sam Bush who did a cartwheel on his way to midfield.
    –What about the annual challenge of facing the Navy option attack, remembering that a year ago a bare minimum of possessions had contributed to a one-point defeat? The Irish knew what was coming and they handled it with aplomb.
    –What effect, if any, would a less-than-ideal weather forecast have on the outcome? For all the proponents of grass, imagine what the Notre Dame Stadium playing surface might have looked like Saturday without artificial turf.
  2. The Irish took care of business. There was no particular drama involved, even in the face of some adversity — and a pair of seven-point deficits (once in the second period and again in the third quarter). First Brian Kelly’s squad did just enough on defense to hold the Midshipmen at bay. Then the Irish on offense stuck with Josh Adams who had only 37 first-half yards but struck for 48 over four consecutive carries in the middle of the third period. With the Mids having to devote more attention to Adams, Brandon Wimbush found Kevin Stepherson on the very next play for 30 yards and the tying touchdown. Stepherson ended up with a career day (103 receiving yards on five catches, with a pair for TDs).
  3. These guys can run, but Notre Dame’s defense was stout. These were two of the top six rushing teams in the country coming in — with Navy leading the way at 369.8 yards per game and the Irish sixth at 303.2. So Notre Dame responded by limiting Navy to 318 net yards in total offense, the Mids’ lowest total since 2011. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s 24 points were the fewest it had scored against Navy in two decades. And Navy’s time of possession advantage (the Mids held onto the football for more than 42 minutes) marked the most lopsided in nine seasons. The Irish knew their possessions and possession time would be limited, but they didn’t let any of that faze them.
  4. Numbers don’t mean everything. Notre Dame allowed 277 net rushing yards, 38 more than any other 2017 opponent had achieved (Wake Forest had 239). But that figure represented almost 100 fewer than Navy had been averaging. The Mids came in averaging 5.9 yards per carry, Notre Dame held them to 3.8 — and that helped drop Navy from first to second (behind Army) on the NCAA FBS team rushing chart this week.
  5. Reclaiming home field. Notre Dame won six home games in 2017 and barely missed winning a seventh after that early one-point loss to Georgia (after winning only twice at home a year ago). It’s worth noting that the only other seasons where the Irish have won six times at Notre Dame Stadium have been in 1988 (seven wins that year), 1998, 2006, 2012 and 2015.