The Navy Midshipmen (6-2) responded perfectly after a demoralizing defeat at the hands of USF by rallying the troops and taking down a Notre Dame team that is reeling right now. The win secured bowl eligibility for the Mids.
PASSING OFFENSE: C+
It is a passing grade for a passing offense that was asked to do very little in the grand scheme of things against Notre Dame. The Mids had the running game going, so the pass was only used as a compliment to the ground game and as potentially a surprise attack. Will Worth was 5 for 8 passing for 48 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. The only criticism here would be that Navy could have used a big passing play at some point in the first half for a quicker score, but after the break it was all about burning clock.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A
The rushing offense gets an A for the second consecutive game as Navy dominated the contest on the ground. Worth was his usual grinder, carrying the ball 28 times for 175 yards and two scores. His big run of 60 yards was comfortably the longest on the day by either team. The fullbacks never really got going, Chris High ran for 28 yards on six touches, but the slot backs led by Calvis Cass Jr. and Toneo Gulley were important in keeping Notre Dame off balance. The running game was the reason that the Irish had just two possessions in the entire second half as Navy had drives of 3:52, 9:00, and 7:28 to close out the game.
PASSING DEFENSE: C
The passing defense was just okay against the Irish. DeShone Kizer was 19 of 27 for 223 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Notre Dame touched the ball just six times but scored on five of those six possessions. The one exception to that was a series at the start of the second quarter when the Mids forced Notre Dame to go three and out before punting the ball. That series featured two incomplete passes, including on an third-and-4, that proved to be the difference in the game.
RUSHING DEFENSE: B
After being run out of the building last weekend against USF (412 yards rushing) the Mids ground defense was much better against Notre Dame. The Irish ran the ball 29 times for 147 yards, but the big plays that just killed Navy against the Bulls did not happen again here. One of the big worries coming in was the Kizer would lay like USF quarterback Quinton Flowers did last Saturday, but the Mids swarming defense held Kizer to 52 yards and a long run of 18 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Special teams were pretty much a non-factor in this game with the exception of one play that fell in the Mids favor. With Navy about to punt on fourth-and-6 in the fourth quarter and Notre Dame up 24-21, the Irish were called for an illegal substitution for having 12 men on the field. Replays showed that a Notre Dame player had failed to make it to the bench before the ball was snapped and the five-yard penalty allowed Navy to go for it on fourth-and-1 with the conversion eventually resulting in a Mids touchdown. With just one punt in the game (Notre Dame) and limited opportunities for kick returns and place kicking on the Navy sideline, the special teams units almost didn't need to show up for this one.
When two teams have identical numbers of first downs (21), are basically even in yardage (370 to 368 to Notre Dame), and neither has a turnover, then it is coaching that will decide the outcome of the game. If Navy and Notre Dame played 10 more times the two schools would continue to trade jabs, but with a less talented roster that was expected to lose by more than a touchdown Ken Niumatalolo led his school to the win. The way the last couple of drives were handled to drain the clock from the free-scoring Irish was a masterclass in option football.
OVERALL GRADE: A
Again, Navy was supposed to lose this game by more than a touchdown on a neutral site. The illegal substitution penalty was huge, but the courage of Niumatalolo to then go for the first down and trust his players to execute was a fine example of why Navy is 6-2 on the year. Notre Dame should beat Navy given the difference in recruiting ability, but Navy closed that gap on Saturday to emerge with a hard-fought victory.