Michael Floyd and Jonas Gray scored in a span of 1 minute, 59 seconds Saturday, and Notre Dame rolled from there, rebounding from its rough week with a 56-14 thrashing of Navy. The Irish (5-3) rushed for seven touchdowns, most in 19 years, while limiting Navy (2-6) to a season-low 229 yards of total offense in the Midshipmen's sixth straight loss.
"As a family, we all have good days and bad days. And you work through that as a family," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "We communicated with each other as a team and as a family, and you saw it today. You saw a team that played together. I told our team, that's the best collection of plays relative to all 11 players playing together."
A lopsided loss to USC last Saturday night pretty much ended Notre Dame's chances of a BCS bowl for yet another year, and tensions within the team apparently flared after Kelly talked about having to "retrain" the players he inherited from Charlie Weis. Some of the veterans, including star linebacker Manti Te'o, expressed their displeasure with his comments on Twitter, and the Chicago Tribune reported Saturday that Kelly apologized to players during a team meeting Friday.
But winning cures all kinds of ills and the Irish looked like a happy bunch Saturday, exchanging flying chest bumps after TDs and dancing on the sidelines.
Notre Dame scored on five of its first six possessions, and had two running backs score multiple touchdowns (Gray had three, Cierre Wood had two) for the first time since 2001. Floyd also had two TDs, scoring on a 56-yard catch and a 10-yard lateral for Notre Dame, which beat Navy for only the second time in five years after winning 43 straight from 1964 to 2006.
The game was so out of hand, the starters spent the fourth quarter on the sidelines.
"I'm not going to get into the specifics of it, but we just had to go out there and play unified," Gray said. "Let the outside distractions be just that, outside distractions. Obviously, when you look at us on the field, that was a unified team, no doubt."
Not that everything was perfect.
Notre Dame has struggled with turnovers all season, and its sloppiness cost the Irish again in early in the second quarter. Theo Riddick couldn't get his hands on a swing pass from Tommy Rees, and Navy end Jabree Tuani scooped the ball up. Though the play was initially ruled a lateral and, thus an incomplete, that was overturned, giving the Middies the ball at the Notre Dame 27.
Six plays later, Gee Gee Greene scored on a 9-yard pass from young quarterback Trey Miller, playing in place of Kriss Proctor, to cut Notre Dame's lead to 14-7.
Instead of falling apart, though, the Irish roared back with two touchdowns in a 2-minute span.
George Atkinson III, who returned his second kick for a score last week against Southern California, gave the Irish great field position, putting the ball at the Notre Dame 44. Rees then found Floyd, who took advantage of Navy's defensive breakdowns and strolled into the end zone untouched for a 56-yard score.
"He was great," Kelly said of Floyd. "He had talked about it all week, coming out this week and having a great game, and you know, he was not going to be denied today."
Navy then botched the kickoff return, with Marcus Thomas never getting up to the ball and watching helplessly as it bounced off the ground. He gave chase, but Troy Niklas beat him to the ball to give Notre Dame back possession at the Navy 22. Four plays later, Gray scored on a 2-yard run to give Notre Dame a 28-7 lead.
"Coach Kelly did a great job getting his guys ready, bouncing back after the USC game," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "They came prepared and focused and they got after us ... offensively, defensively and special teams. Just a total butt whipping."
Though there was still almost 40 minutes left to play, the game was effectively over.
The Irish defense hounded young quarterback Trey Miller, who was playing in place of the injured Kriss Proctor, all afternoon. Miller finished just 5-of-13 for 33 yards, and Navy could only manage 196 yards on the ground - well below their average of 325 yards.
Fullback Alex Teich, who ran roughshod over the Irish last year for a career-high 210 yards on 26 carries, was held to just 62 on 15 touches.
"You have to give those guys some credit," Teich said. "Last year ... it was like night and day. Those guys just flat got after it."
Notre Dame is now 13-8 under Kelly. While that's not nearly good enough for zealous Irish fans, it's the same record Lou Holtz had in his first 21 games at Notre Dame.
"We want a consistency about how we play each and every game," Kelly said. "We've got to play together, play a brand of football that I'm starting to see. Today was a great example. Everybody was playing together, everybody was playing hard for each other, and that's what we expect."
Navy falls at Notre Dame, 56-14
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