To modify, if I am permitted, the official unofficial motto of the season — “winning is hard” — beating Navy is hard. It’s only easy in hindsight, in the cold review of the final scores. More often than not, the result comes down to a couple of plays that, if they went the other way, would have turned the result on its head.
Such was the case on Saturday, when Notre Dame met the United States Naval Academy in San Diego. The moment Miles Boykin became separated from the football in the game’s opening play, a nice thirteen yard pass from Ian Book, I experienced a feeling of horror and dread I reserve for the Navy game’s fourth quarter. You know the one, where Notre Dame is driving, down by four and you just know something awful is going to happen.
The mood passed, thanks to Notre Dame’s defense and a Navy offense that was as limited as North Carolina basketball player forced to take a test by himself. Navy didn’t score a point in the game’s first half. After recovering the Boykin fumble — a turnover that resulted in exile so swift that Stalin would have blushed — Navy failed to convert on fourth down. Their next four possessions resulted in punts and the half was over. This gave the CBS crew, that consisted of Aaron Taylor — who apparently ran an illicit pizza scam out of Flanner Hall — Rick Neuheisel and some other guy who struggled to keep the verbal monkeys in the barrel of sanity, ample opportunity to blather. Say what you want about the NBC crew, but CBS clearly reserves its talent for the SEC game o’ the day.
CBS also hates Halloween, which the Disney/ESPN/ABC family of networks now owns forever.
Back to the game. Notre Dame’s defense was the star of the first half. Forcing Ken Noodleroni to punt is an accomplishment. To stuff Navy on their first drive and then force them go punt-punt-punt-punt-end-of-half is extraordinary. Then, to put your offense on the good side of the “punt-for-touchdown” trade, you increase your win probability by a lot.
And that’s just what the Irish did. Scoring more points in the first half than they did all game last year, Notre Dame put itself in a position to survive a shaky start to the second. Book, the first half Ian Book, was very effective at exploiting Notre Dame’s size and speed advantage. Whether it was a run game fueled by the return of Jafar or the power of Dexter Williams or a passing game that distributed the ball among a legion of receivers, the Irish were mostly unstoppable. Book would finish the game with 330 yards through the air, two touchdowns and one pick.
That Notre Dame won by such a margin is a credit to Clark Lea’s game plan and the roster’s depth. Specifically, the defense survived the loss of Drue Tranquill and everyone survived the absence of Justin Yoon. His understudy, Jonathan Doerer everyone, missed his first PAT since high school, but was perfect from thence forward, going 5/6 and hitting a thirty yard field goal. Tranquill got his ankle rolled up and was carted off. Per Coach Kelly after the game, Tranquill was ambulating without a boot and may not miss a game.
Navy adjusted to the Irish defense and tore off opening drives of seventy plus yards each, but even though they scored, even though some bad things happened, the result was never really in doubt. On the point of Notre Dame’s second half defense, Coach Kelly blamed himself and the staff for changing from man coverage to zone.
Notre Dame scored enough though — seventeen second half points. Now 8-0, they face the Wildcats of Northwestern in Chicago at 6:15 pm, a game that no one will watch once LSU kicks off at 7:00 pm against Alabama. Tuesday, the Irish learn what the selection committee thinks of their record and schedule to date.
Northwestern knocked off ranked Wisconsin on Saturday and they beat Purdue and narrowly lost to Michigan. They also narrowly beat Rutgers and Rutgers is as bad as week old crab salad. Notre Dame should win comfortably, but it’s Northwestern and many of you won’t know how to balance your dinner reservation with the late kick. Who knows, though, maybe we’ll get an appearance by midget zombies or stoned Eminem. Come on ESPN. You can do it.