Notre Dame-Navy, As It Happened

In an incredible comeback that just fell short the Navy Midshipmen just missed starting a win streak of their own against rival Notre Dame. Matt Zemek fills us in as it happened.

14:40 remaining, first quarter: A 19-yard run allowed on the first play from scrimmage. No one said this was going to be easy for the Midshipmen. 
 
13:30: Third and six. We'll see Notre Dame's first pass of the day here. 
 
13:13: Maybe not. A devastating dead-ball offside penalty gives the Irish. It goes without saying that Navy can't give away any freebies whatsoever against this particular opponent. 
 
12:45: The Irish convert their first down with ease. That penalty shifted momentum, not to mention the down-and-distance situation. 
 
11:49: Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen threw a terrible ball, but instead of the errant pass falling to the ground for an incompletion, Navy's Ketric Buffin is able to make a sensational diving grab for a huge interception. Exactly the kind of above-average play that Navy will need again and again today. A very encouraging start. 
 
10:37: No life whatsoever on that first offensive series. A three-and-out deprives the Men of Ken from at least flipping field position.
 

9:46: With the Irish immediately back inside the Navy 40, it's reasonable to say that a field goal would represent a very good effort from Navy's defense. Field position's been awful for Navy so far, and the chance to receive a kickoff down 3-0 would represent a good exchange for the boys in blue. 

7:58: Navy linebacker Corey Johnson sacks Clausen from the blind side and rakes the ball loose, with the Midshipmen recovering at their own 34! Two turnovers on two drives in their own third of the field! If Jarod Bryant and the offense can provide their own fair share of playmaking, this day could be as successful as last year's slugfest in South Bend. 

7:15: Awww, man. Bryant had his pitch man available on that option play. A poor decision costs the Midshipmen a first down. 

6:40: Now Bryant pitches, but his pitch man doesn't have the same amount of speed, and he can't turn the corner. Punting time. 

6:03: The Men of Ken got two turnovers and were defying the odds, and sure enough, the law of averages came back to bite them in the backside. Unable to do anything with their pair of pilfered pigskins, the Midshipmen watch as a blocked punt turns into a Notre Dame touchdown and a 7-0 deficit. Two heroic defensive stands, and this team is trailing after roughly nine minutes of action. One side of the ball (either way) can't do all the heavy lifting.  
 
5:19: Didn't like the design of that passing route, even though I loved the change-of-pace play call. A receiver was running up the right sideline, so Bryant's pass—thrown near the right-side numbers—wasn't able to draw single coverage. The Notre Dame safety was able to make an easy adjustment since two routes occurred in the same general area of the field.
 

4:34: Notre Dame gifts Navy a first down on a fourth-and-1. Navy needs to turn this into points. 

3:48: The Irish are getting consistent defensive penetration. Ken Niumatalolo has to use misdirections and other wrinkles to slow down Notre Dame's front seven. 

2:38: As Navy punts again, it's a bit surprising to see that the Midshipmen are struggling more on offense than on defense. The view here was that a shootout was more likely than a defensive slugfest, but it's been tough sledding for the offenses so far. 
 
End of first quarter: The period ends in only 35 minutes. If Notre Dame's going to run the ball—and Charlie Weis has said he'd do exactly that—we're going to have a quick game on our hands. More importantly from a Navy standpoint, the shortened game gives Jarod Bryant and Co. a far smaller margin for error.
 

Start of second quarter: Artie Pauls knocks Notre Dame's Robert Hughes to next Tuesday, forcing the Irish to punt. Can't say enough about coordinator Buddy Green's defense so far. It's up to the offense to generate a big-time drive and break through in Baltimore. 

12:35, second quarter: Navy's been pounding the middle so far instead of working the edges. It's not succeeding. Repeat, wash, rinse. Notre Dame's too physical between the tackles, and the Midshipmen have to change things up. Too much vanilla. 

12:25: Notre Dame throws a screen pass for eight yards. A nice off-speed play that Navy would do well to consider when it has the ball. 

10:00: Is it just me, or is Charlie Weis playing for field position and afraid of having his quarterback throw an interception? Navy's defense is exceeding expectations today with a truly spectacular performance. 
 
8:35: There's a pitch-and-catch from Bryant to Mario Washington. Gotta see more of that.
 

6:51: Ever since that blocked punt, Navy's punt team has improved considerably. Great coverage, combined with a penalty, will pin Notre Dame inside its own 10. Despite a completely nonexistent offense, the Midshipmen stand a good chance of being down by just one score at halftime. That tells you how well the Men of Ken have done on defense. 
 
4:39: Another sensational defensive stop, a three-and-out, gives Navy a drive start on its own 42. Time to pounce.

4:34: Eric Kettani finally finds a 15-yard pop after being smothered for 25 minutes. Can this offense find more magic? 

3:30: Bryant keeps for a first down at the ND 29. Something's brewing. Like the inside-outside mix instead of all fullback, all the time. 

3:10: The fullback gains six. They have the Irish off balance. Guess a wrinkle or gadget play wasn't necessary. 

2:39: THERE IT IS! After establishing the fullback, Bryant executes a perfect pitch play, with Cory Finnerty cruising to the end zone along the left sideline. Classic triple-option football, as good as it gets, and sure enough, Navy takes advantage of the short field to tie things up at 7-all. Notice that Navy's offense has outscored Notre Dame's. Unless Jimmy Clausen can get off the deck, the Irish will be sweating until the very end of this contest. Tremendous response by an offense that clearly refuted me and other members of a panicky peanut gallery who felt that the Men of Ken had to do something drastically different. Establishing the fullback made this drive happen, even though the Midshipmen smartly mixed in some outside plays to the boundary. 
 
1:45: A delightful dose of déjà vu for Navy. Corey Johnson hits Clausen once again, creating a turnover, and Ketric Buffin picks off his second pass of the day. 
 
1:07: Oh, no. A fumble gives the Irish new life, while denying Navy a promising scoring opportunity. This heroic defense needs to make one more stand before the end of the half. 
 
0:39: Great tackle to force the Irish to call a timeout. Remember that the Irish have a poor long-distance field goal kicker in Brandon Walker. 
 
0:17: Huge missed tackle that turns a two-yard screen into a 15-yard gain. The Irish now in comfy field-goal range. 
 
0:11: Another good stick not only forces the Irish to call another timeout; it knocks Clausen out of the game. Evan Sharpley came into last year's game against Navy, so the Midshipmen should know a little bit about ND's backup.  
 
0:07: Seven seconds offers the Irish time for another shot at the end zone. Clausen back in. One more play…
 

0:02: The bad news? Mr. Buffin couldn't get interception number three, on a play when Clausen—pushed back by Navy's pass rush—threw a wounded duck into the end zone. The good news? Notre Dame doesn't get a backbreaking touchdown. All in all, Navy has to be happy about this turn of events. A field goal won't hurt too much. 

End of first half: The field goal is good, but Ken Niumatalolo has to be very happy to be down by only three after a half in which his offense produced just one drive worth remembering. Navy has everything to gain in the second half. 
 
Start of third quarter: Near disaster for Navy, but Shun White manages to re-recover his fumbled kickoff at the 6.  
 
14:21, third: White makes amends with a 13-yard run to the 19. Late in the second quarter, this offense began to find a rhythm. Sustained success is the desired goal right now.


12:40: No dice. I like the quick wide pitch—it hasn't been used much today—but the Irish sniff it out and stop Navy short.
 

12:22: Notre Dame's Golden Tate busts off a solid punt return to bring the ball to the Irish 45. Ever since White fumbled the kickoff, Navy—just like the first half—had to deal with bad field position. 
 
11:40: With Jimmy Clausen in the game but neither sharp nor fully healthy, Navy has to expect running plays and screens. Notre Dame's not going to air it out here. 
 
10:39: The Irish use a bubble screen. If ND is going to throw it, it's going to be an extended handoff in one form or another. 
 
10:09: Pure power, and the Irish are wearing down Navy with Armando Allen from a spread look.  
 
9:31: Touchdown, Notre Dame, with Allen taking the ball in. Notre Dame still running the ball, but from a different formation, and Navy simply wasn't able to adjust. Red alert now, with the Men of Ken trailing, 17-7. 
 
8:11: Notre Dame just too tough between the tackles, and Navy faces a fourth and 1 deep in its own territory. Niumatalolo might want to think about going for it. He needs a spark. 
 
7:55: Nope. A punt. One wonders how many chances Navy will have to get back in this ballgame.
 

6:08: If this were a boxing match, Navy would be bloodied and hanging on the ropes. The Irish are rearing back and punching the Midshipmen in the mouth. Power runs and screens are moving the ball downfield in a low-risk manner.  
 
3:29: Nothing's changing except the scoreboard. Power, power, and more pure power are just demolishing the Men of Ken. Old-fashioned smashmouth football is taking its toll on an undersized front seven, and it's now 24-7. Big trouble in river city.
 

2:00: New quarterback—Ricky Dobbs—but the same three-and-out downer for Navy's offense. With a 17-point deficit staring them in the face, the Midshipmen have to take chances at every turn. Normal percentage football doesn't apply here. 
 
End of third quarter: Notre Dame is running away with this game, but not running away, if you know what I mean. The Irish aren't hitting home-run plays with supreme speed. They're being content to pound out seven yards a pop, into the teeth of the Navy defense, and win this game with manly muscle in the trenches. The life is slowly but surely being squeezed out of the Navy sideline. 
 
Start of fourth quarter: Nine more yards on a billy-basic run for the Irish.  
 
11:17: Allowing just a field goal keeps Navy within three touchdowns. A touchdown would have produced a 24-point deficit, requiring three TDs and three two-point conversions. All in all, Navy's defense—by allowing just 20 points—has still performed with distinction today. Ask Niumatalolo before the game if he'd have taken just 20 points from Notre Dame's offense through 50 minutes, and he'd have taken that scenario.
 

9:45: Navy has to go for it now.  
 
9:07: Dobbs is a young pup, so he'll learn that if he runs a planned quarterback draw—as he did on that ill-fated fourth-and-3 play—he needs to convincingly sell the pass before running for the first down. Moreover, he also has to look for a running lane instead of reflexively going straight up the middle. Dobbs might have had an alley to the right side of Notre Dame's defense, but by staying in the tackle box, he penned himself in and reduced his options. The Irish get the defensive stand, and tuck this one away. 
 
9:00: Rain is falling in Baltimore, Clausen is resting on the bench, and it's all a matter of running out the clock now. No shame in losing to the Irish one year after that 43-game losing streak was snapped in Indiana. Navy's still on track for a winning season and the Commander-in-Chief Trophy. 
 
5:35: With that fumble recovery inside their own 10, Navy's dynamic defenders are rewarded for their refusal to give up the ship. They'll likely hold Notre Dame to 20 points on the day. Tremendous football from Buddy Green's guys. With a similar effort on Nov. 25, Navy's defense can take down Northern Illinois. I wouldn't expect Niumatalolo's offense to struggle against a Mid-American Conference opponent. 
 
1:39: Shun White sticks the pigskin in the end zone, as the Men of Ken, true to their character, never stop fighting. All things considered, the 13-point spread is a fairly accurate reflection of the difference between the two teams. Navy's offense wasn't good enough today, but the Midshipmen defense did not deserve to see a 20-point margin. 27-14 won't give Navy a win, but it represents a cosmetic but real bit of justice. At the end of the day, Mr. Niumatalolo can tell his team that it had only one really poor quarter (the third), and generally competed admirably against Notre Dame. The same effort against Northern Illinois would likely provide a victory two days before Thanksgiving. 
 
1:36: A recovered onside kick! How dramatic could this game become? 
 
1:29: MAYBE THAT DRAMATIC! Dobbs throws a beautiful ball to Tyree Barnes at the ND 1, as the Irish secondary—following a Charlie Weis timeout, no less—suffers an incredible breakdown. Oh, but looking at the replay, the foot looked out of bounds. Sigh. BUT THEY GIVE HIM THE CATCH ON REPLAY! Apparently, Barnes was viewed to have dragged his toe before his heel touched the ground. It's a strange ruling, but evidently on the books, and Navy's not about to complain. One more yard, and it's a one-possession game. 
 
1:21: TOUCHDOWN! One more onside kick, and we'd be talking a Temple-like comeback yet again, only against a program with just a wee bit more stature than Temple. 
 
1:21: A roughing the kicker call against Notre Dame on the PAT means that a recovered onside kick will put Navy on the ND side of the field again. 
 
1:20: What's the flag???!!! It came in late, and it wasn't for Navy being offside. THEY PICK UP THE FLAG! NAVY RECOVERED AGAIN! A PERFECT ONSIDE KICK! OH, MY GOODNESS! PANDEMONIUM IN BALTIMORE! 
 
1:09: Just get to the line, don't spike the ball. 
 
0:49: Shun White, all alone behind two Notre Dame defenders, drops a pass on the 11. Are you kidding me? Navy THAT CLOSE. 
 
0:39: Okay, now that you've gotten the first down, you can spike it at the ND 31. Try a wheel route with a running back. Gotta get first downs. 
 
0:33: Oh, Ricky, you can't take a sack there. Navy has no timeouts left. Wait, they're granting Navy a timeout. Bizarro world. And after a consultation, they still allow the timeout without any clock runoff or penalty against the Midshipmen. Gonna hear a lot more about that sequence after the game. 
 
0:22: After a pop fly into the end zone goes unanswered, a seam route is slightly overthrown, and it is finally, truly, over. Amazing fightback by Navy down the stretch, but the dream dies in the final few seconds. We were writing the obit for Navy early in the fourth quarter, and the Men of Ken respond by making this a game to the bitter end. Remarkably gutsy display, even if it doesn't earn a scoreboard triumph. Everyone in that Midshipmen locker room has to be very proud… and ready to run through a brick wall against Northern Illinois. This near-miracle against Notre Dame is not a setback or a downer; rather, it should only cause this program to gain even more self-belief… and it had a lot of that precious commodity going in. 
 
 


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