In November 2007, Navy won the hearts of non-Notre Dame fans nationwide with the program’s first win over the Irish after 43 consecutive defeats. Two years later, the Midshipmen returned to the Midwest as an underdog, but never embraced that role in a 343-yard ground game destruction that helped effectively ended the Charlie Weis era in South Bend.
Today, in New Jersey, the better team won. Not the better team today, but the better college football team, as Navy’s ground game once again shredded a befuddled collection of Irish defensive players, 35 to 17 at the New Meadowlands.
Navy head coach Ken Niumatulolo surprised new Irish head man Brian Kelly with the split-veer option rather than the standard triple-option look the Midshipmen have perfected over the last decade.
An option by any other name apparently works just as sweet.
Navy’s rushing game produced a staggering 367 yards on 60 carries with scoring drives of 99, 77, 30, 73 and 77 yards vs. the tentative, ill-prepared Irish defense. Quarterback Ricky Dobbs executed an economical 2 for 2 effort through the air, the first a 31-yard touchdown on a well-designed screen play to give the Midshipmen a 7-0 lead.
Junior quarterback Dayne Crist suffered his worst game as a signal-caller, completing 19 of 31 passes for a mere 178 yards with two interceptions vs. just one score. He suffered through a horrendous middle quarters’ performance, missing eight of 14 passes with both picks during a mid-game stretch as the Middies increased their lead from 14-10 to 35-10 entering the final period.
Navy struck a decisive pair of early blows, first stopping the Irish inside the one-yard line at the tail end of a 13-play, 71-yard opening drive. Backed up to their own goal, the Midshipmen changed field position with a 54-yard burst by senior fullback Alexander Teich and capitalized later with the aforementioned Dobbs to Teich screen pass for a 31-yard score and 7-0 edge.
After an Irish field goal, Navy added a short Dobbs run for a 14-3 edge. The Irish responded with their best drive of the afternoon, a 13-play, 72-yard march that culminated in a Crist to T.J. Jones touchdown from 16 yards out.
The Midshipmen struck near the end of the half, first picking off a Crist pass at the Notre Dame 30-yard line at the 2:00 mark, then methodically marching to the end zone as the half clock clicked away, scoring on an acrobatic dive by Gee Gee Greene following a 1st and Goal option pitch for a 9-yard TD to the left pylon.
A 9-yard Dobbs TD to begin the second half and another by the Irish-killing senior quarterback, this time from 1-yard out, extended the Navy lead to 35-10 and erased all doubt as to who was the top Independent in the land.
Dobbs finished with 90 rushing yards on 20 carries. His three touchdowns tied him with former Navy triggerman Chris McCoy for 10th all-time among FBS quarterbacks with 43 rushing scores.
Crist was pulled from the contest at the 10:21 mark of the final quarter. Freshman Tommy Rees gave the Irish life, leading a 10-play, 76-yard scoring drive that ended with a Cierre Wood touchdown plunge from two yards out. Rees completed 6 of 7 on the march but never attempted another pass as head coach Brian Kelly elected to forgo the necessary onsides kick at the 6:12 mark, effectively waving the white flag in the 35-17 humbling.
The Irish offense was without the services of wide receivers Michael Floyd (hamstring) and Theo Riddick (ankle) as well as tight end Kyle Rudolph, who’s out for the season after hamstring surgery.
Navy was short a piece of offensive hardware as well: sometime-starting fullback Vince Murray, he of the 158 rushing yards vs. the Irish last November. His position mate Alexander Teich handled the lead role well, erupting for a career-best 210 yards on 26 bruising carries in addition to his early 31-yard touchdown catch-and-run.
Notre Dame managed just 106 rushing yards on 30 carries and lost the game’s total yardage battle vs. Navy for the first time since 1997, bloodying Bob Diaco’s defense for 438 yards on the afternoon while Kelly’s offense managed 363 over 68 frustrating snaps.
The 4-4 Irish return home to entertain the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (4-3) next Saturday in South Bend. The 5-2 Midshipmen will host Duke, the first of four home games in five contests to conclude their regular season.