The day after

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Five day-after thoughts on Notre Dame's 38-34 win over Navy.

1. It would be remiss if point No. 1 didn't belong to freshman running back Tarean Folston.

The Florida native rushed 18 times for 140 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Not to mention, he set up fellow running back Cam McDaniel for the goal line punch-in earlier in the fourth quarter with runs of 15, 15, and 14 to get the Irish operating inside Navy territory.

Folston averaged 7.8 yards per carry, with his longest carry being just 15, so no outlying rush spiking that impressive average. Most of his carries came from under center. After the game, predictably, Folston drew the largest crowd of cameras and reporters.

"I just go into every week and play my hardest," Folston said. "This is the outcome and I feel good… I wouldn't say I was anxious. Everybody's time comes, and my time came today. All I can do is continue to work hard. I've come a long way."

Brian Kelly still seemed hesitant to give Folston bouts of praise, but that shouldn't be too surprising considering Kelly's intentions, generally speaking, to keep the one-year removed high school stars close to earth. When first asked about Folston yesterday in his post-game conference, Kelly offered two sentences:

"He was running well, and just felt like we'd stick with him in terms of the way he was running. And they were blocking very well up front for him."

And, when further pressed to talk about Folston's performance, Kelly did speak to Folston's ability to stay north-south and make people miss, but not before pointing out a "negative play," which still earned the Irish a new set of 10.

"I think -- I would say, generally speaking, there was only one run that I did not like, where he did not go north and south, bounced one out on the left side, and still got the first down, but we want to keep it going north and south, and I thought he did that very well, saw the holes very well. And we're looking for guys to go north and south and make people miss, and I think if you look at all his runs, he by and large did that."

… And, it wasn't just Folston with the impressive ground game against Navy. George Atkinson III carried seven times for 74 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown run, where he motioned into pistol, broke a tackle and then simply did what GAIII does best – turn on that straight-line speed. He averaged double-digits in yards per carry, 10.6.

Kelly noted Atkinson's score after the game:

"If you look at George's touchdown run, that was a heck of a run. That was a north and south run. He supplied the power to the power, all the things that we've been asking him to do. So there were some good runs out there."

Cam McDaniel also carried the ball seven times for 52 yards and a touchdown, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. Also worth pointing out that Irish running backs did not have one negative rushing yard, and for that matter, neither did the entire team.

So, why wasn't Folston getting more carries up to these last couple of games? Well, Kelly said it was all physical.

"I think he's conditioned better," Kelly said. "I don't know that he would have made that many carries early in the year. He wasn't conditioned well enough to be in there. He always had the mental makeup. We felt that from the very beginning, that he had that. I think this is more about his physical conditioning and really just having a hot hand."

After Air Force last week, Kelly also made reference to the importance of Folston protecting the ball. But, whether it was his physical condition, tendency to fumble in practice, or Kelly's stubbornness to keep experience running the game (pun intended), a new era in Notre Dame's backfield has been born.

2. The multiple tight end look that we thought would disappear this year with the loss of Tyler Eifert to the NFL might be re-surging.

Ben Koyack has three touchdowns in the last four games, and Troy Niklas has been virtually unstoppable on play action. Yesterday, on Koyack's 17-yard touchdown reception, Niklas was a driving force as a blocker. Niklas had an impressive swat of a defender in the first half to pick up 16 yards, but obviously his most impressive play was on 3rd-and-8 just past midfield in the fourth quarter when he grabbed the ball over the middle for a 28-yard gain after holding off a plethora of Navy defenders.

3. Navy had just 26 yards through the air until the under-13 mark in the fourth quarter, but that's not the point...

Early in the fourth quarter, Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds found Marcus Thomas on third-and-seven for 18 yards to cross midfield. Four plays later, Reynolds hooked up with another Navy wide out for a 34-yard touchdown, and the Irish (Matthias Farley and KeiVarare Russell) had blown coverage three ways to Sunday. Navy only had 88 yards passing, but Reynolds went 6-of-9 and had no interceptions. Veterans cornerback Bennett Jackson and safety Matthias Farley have struggled in coverage this season, and last night the story was much the same.

I don't want to take away what safety Eilar Hardy did though; he fit the mold of ‘next man in' last night, not giving up any huge plays and grinding out a big play on a tackle for loss in the fourth quarter, and then combining with Jaylon Smith to keep Navy at bay on fourth and four to secure victory.

4. The respect Notre Dame had for its opponent last night was obvious.

After joining Navy for its alma mater after the game last night, the players in the locker room weren't hesitant to give the Midshipmen some well-deserved praise.

"I'm so happy I'll never play them again," senior linebacker Dan Fox said. "I'm just glad they're fighting for our country. They are bad-ass players. The way they play and how hard they run the ball, they are one of the toughest opponents I've played at Notre Dame."

"It's an honor," freshman linebacker Jaylon Smith said. "Any football game you want to win, but knowing the guy across from you is potentially going to serve and fight for our country is a blessing."

Freshman wide receiver Corey Robinson tweeted after the game: "Great win tonight! Navy played a great game and I have all the respect for them and what they do for our country."

5. Already without Louis Nix, Ishaq Williams, Elijah Shumate, Jarrett Grace (season) and Danny Spond (season) on defense going into Navy, Notre Dame was without Ben Councell, Kona Schwenke, Austin Collinsworth and Sheldon Day on Navy's last drive.

And on that last drive, on a day when Navy was having its way driving up the field for scores, Notre Dame turned to reserves up front, Tyler Stockton and Justin Utupo to carry a large load.

On pushing the depth due to injures on defense, Kelly said:

"We reached it and surpassed it. We're past it. We're -- you know, I'm reminded of that scene in -- I think it was Apollo (13), where there's a scene in the movie where they're having troubles in the capsule because there's CO2, and they have to figure out a way to bring that level of CO2 down. I showed a clip of it. They throw all this stuff on the table to all of these guys in mission control, and they say, you guys have got to figure out with all this stuff here, how to get this done.

"That's what we did this week. We threw it all on the table, and we figured out how to get it done. That's why I'm proud of the guys. We didn't complain about it. It's part of the game. Injuries happen. You've just got to find a way to get it done, and they did. We'll find a way to get it done. And that's my answer to the question is we've got a lot of moving parts here with guys playing different locales. We had Ben Councell with his hand on the ground. And Romeo Okwara playing a five back deep for the first time. So we were figuring it out as we went."

Kelly should be able to offer more information today, and on Tuesday, on the injuries from yesterday. Top Stories