Troy Niklas getting after it. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
It might have been a surprise to some, but Notre Dame struck early and often against Navy---sending the Middies home to Anapolis with their biggest loss in 9 years.
The Irish 56-14 victory was the largest margin of defeat for Navy since their 65-19 loss to NC State in 2002.
This was also the biggest win for a Notre Dame team over Navy since the 9th ranked Irish beat the Middies 56-13 in 1987.
Despite some more fair catches in the punt return game, we saw a high level of play from all units for the Fighting Irish. Rankings coming after the jump.
Offensive Line: A
As hard as it is to believe, Notre Dame's offensive line has struggled with Navy in the recent past. Last year the Irish didn't run the ball particularly well, and the year before that it was more of the same with the added embarrassment of getting consistently beat off the edge and allowing Navy to pressure Jimmy Clausen.
This year, Notre Dame put together a dominant performance.
The run blocking was very good and for the most part there were big holes for Irish running backs to run through. What's more, the pass blocking was nearly perfect as Navy didn't even come close to sniffing Tommy Rees, let alone getting their hands on them.
Tight End: B+
Eifert had a quiet day as a receiver (just one catch for 17 yards), but this was his best game as a blocker in his young career. Speaking of young career, it's unlikely that Eifert leaves for the NFL after this season but is he gone after 2012? Could you imagine two more years with Eifert, plus the games he still has left this year?
Kelly is getting more comfortable with putting the big true freshman Ben Koyack out there as a blocker---and he performed very well, including a couple tremendous blocks that led to big gains on the ground. Redshirt freshman Alex Welch also caught a pass late in the game from Dayne Crist, adding to a very solid day from the tight ends.
Wide Receiver: A-
As is often the case, this unit's grade is bolstered by the play of Michael Floyd who finished with 6 catches for 121 yards and one touchdown. Floyd also scored on a screen pass that was ruled a rushing attempt from 10 yards out, and continued his beastly ways in the blocking game.
Overall this was a good game from Theo Riddick (4 catches for 58 yards), but it would have been nice if he could have outraced a Navy defender for a touchdown on his first 37-yard reception.
TJ Jones continues to be pretty average (3 catches for 28 yards) and is still struggling with some of the more physical aspects of blocking. I'd like to see a little bit more playmaking ability from the young sophomore.
Speedster Robby Toma rumbled for 12 yards on a reverse early in the game, while senior John Goodman got into the action late with a couple of catches. Big-bodied Daniel Smith saw his first action of the season but did not tally a reception.
Running Back: A-
Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood combined for 135 yards on 23 carries for a solid 5.8 yards per carry average. It wasn't a dominating performance but both runners allowed the offense to stay balanced with a lot of nice gashes of Navy's defense. A total of five touchdowns between Gray and Wood was a nice treat for players who have deserved it.
True freshman George Atkinson III got his first extended action at running back and he showed some flashes of his skills, but also showed why he's very inexperienced. Atkinson ripped off a 15-yard run, but then managed just 13 yards on his other 6 carries.
Cam McDaniel has been seeing some time on special teams, but I would think about getting him some more carries at running back during the rest of the season.
Tommy Rees put in a good effort finishing with 72% accuracy on 22 attempts and 237 yards with a touchdown---but this wasn't as good of a performance as some of the numbers would indicate.
Given the pristine protection, Rees still missed on some throws and tossed a pick late in the game on a poor decision. I'd put the fumbled swing pass more on Riddick, but that was another mistake on the afternoon as well.
It was yet another day feasting on a bunch of short-to-intermediate passes with a couple longer balls chucked out to Floyd in single coverage.
Dayne Crist came in and looked sharp (3 of 3 for 23 yards) while driving the team for a late-touchdown.
I'm kind of puzzled as to why Hendrix didn't see the field at all in the second half.
Defensive Line: A
Cwynar bounced back from a poor performance against USC and was physical up front, as was Louis Nix---who has quietly been one of the most consistent players on defense.
Stephon Tuitt was praised by Kelly for his best game of the season and I concur. He was tasked with stopping the run up the middle and excelled at it, while also being a menace in pass rushing as well.
After being abused last year by Navy's fullback, the defensive line came through with a great effort, limiting Alexander Teich to just 62 yards on 15 carries.
The Irish went with a different formation against Navy putting OLB Prince Shembo at defensive end, moving safety Jamoris Slaughter to outside linebacker, and sliding MLB Dan Fox also to outside linebacker.
This allowed Manti Te'o to stay deep in the middle, read the play, and react accordingly. As such, Te'o had a big day finishing with 13 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and half a sack in three quarters work.
On the outside, Fox and Slaughter played well and were able to contain Navy on the edges. They seemed to slow play the QB on the pitch play at times, but then also attack the QB right away too. Not a traditional way of playing but it seemed to work as QB Trey Miller gained just 62 yards at 2.9 per rush, while the pitch play rarely picked up big yards.
The players here weren't tested much through the air (5 completions for 33 yards) and there wasn't a whole lot of work for the corners on the day. Still, Gray and Blanton played physical and made some nice stops.
The safeties played well, but were probably the weakest unit on the field. Harrison Smith was his usually self, coming up to the ball carrier and laying some big hits. Zeke Motta is still struggling and doesn't play with very good instincts.
Special Teams: B
Ben Turk had a decent punt (his only of the day), but David Rufffer didn't attempt any field goals but converted all of his PAT's.
George Atkinson continues to run well on kickoffs, and Austin Collinsworth had a nice return as well. Once again, there were no punt returns for the Irish.
Coverage teams were pretty good on the day, but Brindza's kickoffs tended to be on the shorter side.
For all intents and purposes this was a thorough domination of Navy. The offense had a nice day (anytime you throw 56 points on the board that's a good day on the field) but the defensive performance and physical domination were the two main ingredients to this beat down.
Kudos to Bob Diaco for implementing a terrific gameplan and having the defense ready to play despite missing two starters at key positions to defend the option.
If you can believe it, Navy had only 143 total yards of offense after three quarters before the defensive starters were replaced by backups. With the first team on defense, Navy ran for just 113 yards on 38 carries.
Navy converted their first three third-downs during their first drive, but then went 5 for 13 the rest of the game, while also failing to convert both of their fourth down attempts.
The Midshipmen also scored just 7 points on Notre Dame's first-team defense.
Any way you slice it, this was one of the best performances against the option that we've seen in some time at Notre Dame.
No, Navy is not a good football team right now, but winning by 42 points was a big statement game for the Fighting Irish and a great way to bounce back from the disappointment of last weekend's loss to USC.
With three very winnable games coming up (@ Wake Forest, vs. Maryland at Fed Ex, vs. Boston College) Notre Dame has an opportunity to head to Palo Alto with a 8-3 record. Suddenly, the season doesn't look as hopeless does it?
Fun Facts & Figures from the Game:
- Michael Floyd's 56-yard TD reception was the longest completion on the season---this is crazy.
- 7 rushing touchdowns is the most since the 1992 Purdue game.
- Chase Hounshell should be ready to go this week after injuring his shoulder.
- Jonas Gray has scored a touchdown in 5 straight games.
- Notre Dame went the entire month of October without giving up a sack.