While most of the talk surrounding the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the offseason was about suspensions, police trouble, injuries and the ever present quarterback controversy, the only thing anyone will be talking about over the coming week will be the physical manhandling the Irish gave the Navy Midshipmen in their season debut.
Notre Dame eschewed the spread offense that made head coach Brian Kelly famous during his stops at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati, and instead attacked the Navy defense from multiple tight end one-back sets with a heavy emphasis on downhill running.
Quarterback Everett Golson played until garbage time, and completed 12 of 18 pass attempts for 144 yards, one touchdown and one interception. In a stark departure from previous seasons under Kelly, Golson lined up directly under center for most of the game, with Notre Dame only occasionally using shotgun and almost never spreading the field with a true spread look.
Instead, the Irish attack focused on physically manhandling Navy's defensive front seven, and rammed it down the Middies' throat. Notre Dame ran the ball 46 times for 293 yards. Cierre Wood was not missed, as primary back Theo Riddick rushed 19 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns. Change of pace back George Atkinson JR rushed 9 times for 99 yards and two touchdowns, with a 56 yard run in the first quarter on a simple toss sweep that set the tone early in the game. Even fourth string running back Cam McDaniel added another 59 yards on 9 carries in the second half.
Navy's flex bone spread option attack that has baffled many of their opponents and helped the school stand toe-to-toe with much more talented teams over the years was almost completely shut down by the Notre Dame defense. The Irish extended their physical domination in the trenches to the defensive side of the ball as well, giving up only 149 yards to the Navy attack.
If there is any negative to take from the Irish's defensive performance, it's that the usually anemic Navy passing attack managed to complete 14 of 20 passes for 193 yards and their lone touchdown. Navy completed two 40 yard passes, and even managed to move the ball against the Irish when they moved to an up tempo shot gun passing attack late in the second quarter. The secondary had the most question marks going into the game, and will remain a question mark going forward.
All in all, it was a dominating performance for the Fighting Irish, who in the words of hall of fame Oklahoma Sooners coach Barry Switzer, "hung half a hundred" on Navy for the second year in a row. Blowing out Navy should not suddenly change your mind about Notre Dame; it was to be expected. But on a day in which numerous big name programs had rough outings against small conference competition, Notre Dame made a strong statement to the college football world.
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