Offensive MVP: The Running BacksSenior Theo Riddick (19 carries, 108 yards, 2 TD) and sophomore George Atkinson (9 for 99 and a 56-yard sprint-and-score) provided nearly all of the offensive fireworks. Riddick added 25 yards on two receptions and the pair lost just one yard on 28 rushing attempts en route to a robust 7.3 yards per carry average.
Offensive Game Balls: The offensive line, a unit that completely controlled the contest with the Irish 7 of 10 on third down and paved the way for a 6.3 yards-per-carry average from four runners.
Senior tight end Tyler Eifert had a quiet day but scored the eighth touchdown of his Irish career. His four receptions moved the 2011 All-America ahead of Anthony Fasano (2003-05) into third place on the position's career receptions list with 94. Fasano's successor, John Carlson (2004-07) is second with 100.
Defensive MVP: Stephon TuittHalf-man, Half-Mountain, and apparently the fastest 300-pounder in the free world. Tuitt scored on a 77-yard fumble recovery touchdown in which he outran the Navy offense, extending his lead on the initial Midshipmen pursuer.
He added a sack, QB hurry, and three tackles.
"Ishaq (Williams) sacked the quarterback, because without that, I'd have never had it," said Tuitt of his touchdown sprint. "I thanked him for that, but the running, the speed, that was all about (not wanting to get caught). "I really didn't know (that he out-ran Navy skill position players). I didn't see anything, my eyes were closed."
Defensive Game Balls: The Irish defensive front: sophomore Ishaq Williams forced two fumbles from a 4-3 defensive end position to go along with a career-high four tackles while junior nose guard Louis Nix made his presence felt in the backfield, recording a team-high 1.5 tackles for loss. The team's defensive line accounted for three sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, 17 tackles and a touchdown.
In addition to six tackles including three that limited the Midshipmen to no gain, one on 4th and 1 in the first quarter, senior linebacker Manti Te'o recovered the first fumble and intercepted the first pass of his career, the former setting up Notre Dame's third touchdown drive.
Special Teams MVP: NoneSenior placekicker Nick Tausch missed the season's opening point after attempt; his classmate, punter and holder Ben Turk later dropped a PAT snap. Freshman punt returner Davonte' Neal recorded an 11-yard return but also allowed a punt to bounce from near the Notre Dame 25-yard line inside its 5.
Turk dropped a punt inside the Midshipmen 10-yard line, but also shanked a 31-yarder from the shadow of his own goal.
George Atkinson's only kick return opportunity netted 13 yards from the Irish goal line while Navy averaged 23.4 yards per return on seven kick-offs. Notre Dame kickoff specialist Kyle Brindza recorded two touchbacks (out of the end zone) after a squibbed and/or botched 49-yard first offering.
On a day with much to cheer, Notre Dame's special teams were again left striving for mediocrity.
Quotes to NoteAtkinson's 56-yard touchdown run that included placement of the ball just inside the Navy goal. Said the sophomore of the highlight reel cutback run:
"I watch a lot of NFL guys, I like big runs. I saw (Tennessee Titans RB) Chris Johnson do it, I watch a lot of highlight tapes and I decided I wanted to do that when I scored a big one. I was just trying to imitate the guys in the pros."
Asked what words of wisdom running backs coach Tony Alford offered when Atkinson returned to the Irish sidelines after the pseudo-taunt, the sophomore replied, "Um, you know, not to do it again."
Atkinson finished with 99 yards on just nine carries in his first career start.
Brian Kelly on the team's perseverance: "Our guys have been tremendous. They've done everything we've asked of them. It's getting close to that time when they're going to start getting paid back."
Kelly on Tyler Eifert: His versatility and there's matchup problems because we have Troy Niklas on the field too. And we just make it really difficult, and obviously Ben Koyack as well. When you utilize (Eifert) as a wide receiver as well as someone that can come out of the backfield, you have a unique player. We think we have a very special player that we want to utilize his talent. That's why he does so many things and does them so well."
Manti Te'o on his first career interception: "It felt good. I almost got a 15-yard penalty on the play, too -- that wouldn't have felt so good."
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo: "I have no complaints on the atmosphere. We received unbelievable support from the people of Ireland. Everything that happened outside of the white lines on the field was great. Unfortunately for us, everything that happened inside the white lines wasn't as great."
The Numbers GameIn addition to Te'o's first career interception and fumble recovery was the first career fumble recovery by 5th-year senior safety Dan McCarthy.
- Tuitt's fumble recovery touchdown was the first of the 27-game Brian Kelly era, the fourth defensive touchdown during that period, and the sixth score not produced by the team's offense.
- Notre Dame punted twice, marking just the 6th and 7th punts by the program vs. Navy since and including the 2005 contest. 86 offensive drives are included during that span.
- Everett Golson was the program's 21st quarterback to make his first start since 1985. The team's record during that span is an impressive 15-6, though at one point, the first-time Irish signal callers could boast ad 12-1 mark. Notre Dame lost five straight with a new starting quarterback from 2001 (Carlyle Holiday) through the end of the Charlie Weis era. Kelly is now 3-0 with a first-time starter at the University.
- Senior slot receiver Robby Toma scored the first rushing touchdown of his career, a 9-yard scamper late in the 4th quarter with Riddick and Atkinson finished for the afternoon and sophomore Cam McDaniel slightly gimpy after turning an ankle. McDaniel's 59 yards on nine carries was a career-best. He added a 20-yard reception as well, the first catch of his college career.
- Also recording their first collegiate receptions were redshirt-freshman DaVaris Daniels (2-49 yards), sophomore Troy Niklas (1-29 yards) freshman Justin Ferguson (1-9 yards), classmate Davonte' Neal (1 for minus 5 yards on a shuffle pass), and junior Daniel Smith (1-1 yard from backup Andrew Hendrix).
- Smith was one of seven Irish players to make his first career start. Joining the South Bend Clay high school product were Golson, Atkinson, junior right tackle Christian Lombard, sophomore tight end Troy Niklas (Ben Koyack is officially listed but it appears Niklas took part on The Opening snap), redshirt-freshman Matthias Farley (at OLB) and true freshman Keivarae Russell (CB).
- Navy quarterback Trey Miller was held to 16 net rushing yards on 20 carries. Miller gained 46 but lost 30 including three sacks.
- 9 Irish freshmen made their college debuts: receivers Chris Brown, Justin Ferguson, and Davonte' Neal, offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, defensive end Sheldon Day, outside linebacker Romeo Okwara, safety Nick Baratti, and cornerbacks Keivarae Russell and Elijah Shumate. As noted earlier this week, Russell was the first true freshman cornerback to start the opener in team history.
- First-time redshirt-freshmen included Everett Golson, DaVaris Daniels, Ben Councell, Jalen Brown, Jarrett Grace, Connor Hanratty, Nick Martin, Matt Hegarty, Tony Springmann, and Matthias Farley, the latter joining Golson as as a starter.
- Notre Dame out-rushed Navy for the second time in the teams' last five matchups (2008), totaling 293 yards to the Midshipmen's 149 (their lowest output since December 2010).