My first reaction is to say that I’ve sat through more enjoyable root canals. This Irish team came out with an intention that was not defined by their actions. Any team that loses the week before the way that Notre Dame did intends on righting the ship. A three and out, a fumbled punt return, and a lackluster defensive effort early on set the tone for the day. We were going to be in a dog fight. An ugly one.
Navy did what Navy does. They ran the ball, triple option style. They even threw the ball. Most of all, they did what they do best. The played keep away. They did that so well, in fact, that the first half was a blur, although it seemed to last forever while it was going on. This is assignment defensive football, and Notre Dame isn’t built that way. The Irish have an aggressive, attacking defense, that plays very physical. This type of game demands that defenders remain patient, and wait for their offense to get “off schedule”, then attack.
It wasn’t until the second half that we saw this happen, which finally swept the Navy offense off its stride. With the exception of a fine throw by Abey for a touchdown in the third quarter, the Irish pressed the Midshipmen into positions that they were not comfortable with. Most of all, playing from behind.
After the Irish took the lead early in the fourth quarter on an underneath pass from Wimbush to Stepherson, the defense was able to force their first turnover. However, after regaining possession with hopes of increasing their lead, Notre Dame went three and out and punted with a bit over 6 minutes left in regulation.
With Navy starting at their own 32, it seemed likely that the Irish would not get another possession. Aided by a personal foul for a horse collar tackle by Julian Love, Navy traveled into Irish territory with 3:40 left to play. This is when defenses, regardless of how they played all game, earn their stripes. With 1:30 left to go and the ball at the 25, the Irish put the final drive in the balance by putting Navy at 4th and 5. On a Navy’s attempted toss and pass, the ball floated near the Navy receiver, and ultimately fell to the ground.
As I stated from the outset, this was a difficult game to watch. I saw an uninspired Irish team with a serious hangover start the game. The meat of the game was a flat out dogfight. In the end, it was a calmer Wimbush, and the star of the game, in my opinion, Kevin Stepherson coming through. There is a lot more to mull over with this game, that’s for sure. I’d prefer not to dissect this game because, as they say, a win is a win. I’ll leave this by saying that we did not take a step forward. We simply did what we needed to do to win. With a little help from a missed field goal and an opportunistic defense.