Despite having a clear understanding of how the Navy Midshipmen’s offense operates on a regular basis, the Notre Dame defense was still unable to clamp down and ended up on the short end of a 28-27 score. The defeat strips away much of the remaining chance that the Irish will go to a bowl game next month, considering they need to win their final three contests just to be considered for a mediocre bowl attracted by the allure of Notre Dame.
The Midshipmen have long relied on its running game to supply the bulk of its offense. Therefore, the fact that they ran the ball 88 percent of the time during this contest shouldn’t have been a surprise. Yet they still racked up 320 rushing yards and were especially effective starting a series, gaining 127 yards on 23 first down carries.
Navy’s quarterback Will Worth was clearly the focal point of the offense, yet he eluded enough defenders to finish the afternoon with 175 yards on 28 carries, crossing the goal line on two occasions.
Third Down Dread
Despite that heavy focus on the run, Navy was still strong when it came to delivering on third down. The Midshipmen’s 10.3 average on 11 third down runs were aided by two key plays that either resulted in a touchdown or set one up.
The first was a 37-yard run by Worth to cap the first drive of the second half and give the Midshipmen a 21-17 advantage. The second came during their next drive. Facing a third-and-seven at the Irish 28, Worth broke off a 27-yard run and soon after gave Navy the lead for good.
The Irish were flagged seven times during the game, three penalties coming on offense. All were false starts, but it was their defensive mistakes that helped the Midshipmen score a pair of touchdowns. In the first quarter, a 15-yard personal foul put the ball on the Notre Dame 16 and on the next play, Navy knotted the score.
Then, in the fourth quarter, two calls for 12 men on the field were called on the Irish during the same drive. The first was especially costly, since it turned a fourth-and-six into a fourth-and-one call. The Midshipmen converted and nine plays later, they took the lead for good.
The Stops That Never Came
After Brian Kelly made the decision to kick a field goal to cut the Irish deficit to a single point with 7:28 remaining, the Notre Dame defense needed to make a key stop at some point in the ensuing drive. That stop never happened, most likely due to the exhaustion factor catching up to the Irish defenders.
Navy had just three drives during the entire second half, yet they consisted of 37 plays and over 20 minutes worth of ball control. The first two drives ended with touchdowns and the last managed to eat up the remaining time on the clock. Ironically, the nail in the coffin came on fourth-and-six with 1:19 left, when the Midshipmen completed a 15-yard pass play.
With a minor bowl berth the lone motivation remaining for the 2016, the Irish will look to do better next Saturday with another branch of the armed services when they face the Army Black Knights. This latest edition of the Shamrock Series will take place at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The venue seems appropriate for Notre Dame since it marks the first of three last-ditch efforts to salvage their season.