TURNOVERS TELL THE TALE
Navy had executed 45 consecutive drives without a turnover entering its fourth drive Saturday afternoon in South Bend. They suffered miscues on three of their next eight thereafter, the first a fumbled pitch from quarterback Keenan Reynolds to Chris Swain recovered by Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith just seven yards from the Navy goal.
Navy turned it over twice more, both costly as the Irish scored from 26 yards out on the second, a fumbled kickoff to start the second stanza, then concluded the contest with the third, a diving interception by senior safety Elijah Shumate.
The Irish turned three turnovers into two touchdowns plus a clock-killing drive.
“We have been taking care of the ball and had three turnovers, and against this team, you can’t turn the ball over,” said Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo. “We had some penalties, some turnovers, some missed assignments that normally we’re pretty clean on both phases and against a good team like Notre Dame, that spells disaster.”
Navy’s first turnover was exacerbated by disadvantageous field position courtesy a Tyler Newsome punt that pinned the Mid’s inside their own 5-yard line.
(REALLY) SHORT PASSES TO PROSISE
How do you get your running game on track vs. an opponent hell-bent on winning the numbers game up front?
Well you can throw downfield, but that’s not playing to your strength. Instead, Kelly and quarterback DeShone Kizer chose the opposite.
They “threw” short. As in, a couple of inches, with Kizer shuffling the football post-snap to running back C.J. Prosise streaking across scrimmage immediately in front of him. If mishandled, it’s technically a forward pass and cannot thus be ruled a fumble.
“You just get to come around full speed and it’s hard for the linebackers to catch up with you,” said Prosise. “You have a lot of space outside to run.”
Prosise collected 56 receiving yards with none of his four receptions occurring past scrimmage. His 129 rushing yards marked his fourth in excess of 100 yards on the season. He added a 100-yard receiving effort last week at Clemson and has 779 rushing and 127 receiving through six contests.
“I think he’s still evolving within that role,” said Kelly of Prosise. “I thought his run late was extraordinary in the sense that we were backed up, he was very patient, waited for his tight end ton the kick out block.
“That just takes so much patience and trust in an offensive lineman and for him to show and exhibit that, I just think speaks volumes of the kind of player he is.”
Prosise compiled 95 of his 129 rushing yards in the second stanza.
THREE…AND THEY’RE OUT
With less than 30 seconds remaining in the opening half, Navy backup fullback Quentin Mizzell scampered through Notre Dame’s defense for his second unfettered touchdown run of the second quarter.
The trips to pay dirt erased a 21-7 Irish advantage and set up what appeared to be a tied score heading into the break.
Then Justin Yoon hit a bomb. Or more accurate, C.J. Prosise gobbled 12 quick yards; Kizer to junior Torii Hunter, Jr. accounted for 28 more, and Notre Dame’s freshman kicker thanked them for their efforts with the second-longest field goal in program history as time expired.
“At that moment I was thinking, this is an amazing opportunity coach is giving me,” said Yoon. “I love the fact that he put all his trust in me. It makes me a big important part of the team.”
Notre Dame capitalized on the end-half boost with a 14-3 third quarter advantage over their visitors, the 38-21 deficit too much to overcome.
“When we’re behind, it’s tough for us,” said Niumatalolo. “That’s not how we’re built as an offense, so being behind kind of takes us out of our rhythm.”
ALL DAY AND THE SAVING GRACE
Senior defensive tackle Sheldon Day was in on five of his defense’s 17 stuffs (tackles for loss, no gain, or within two yards of scrimmage that don’t yield first downs). The final stat sheet shows nine total tackles for Day, a career high.
“I don’t think I would miss it,” joked Day of his final of six collegiate outing against a triple-option offense. “But I guess since it’s my last time…”
Sophomore linebacker Greer Martini tied Day with a game-high nine tackles, three of them qualifying as Stuffs as well.
-- Fifth-year senior Jarrett Grace likewise made a contribution from scrimmage, replacing James Onwualu as an edge linebacker to give the defense added bulk after it was gashed by Navy’s fullbacks in the second quarter.
“I had practiced it a little bit,” said Grace, normally Joe Schmidt’s backup at Mike linebacker. “The coaches do a great job. We had a lot of film study, extra meetings (this week). The first time I was out there I was hesitant. I didn’t feel comfortable at all. It was totally new, but it worked out okay.
“James was fantastic,” Grace added. “I was dialed in on him, giving him feedback, being (each other’s extra set of eyes.).”
Kelly offered that Grace’s insertion was a direct result of Navy game-planning to avoid Notre Dame’s best defender.
“They were not running it to Jaylon (Smith), they were running it to James Onwualu’s side.” Said Kelly. “They obviously checked away from Jaylon every time, and James was trying to get down and he was getting knocked off. So we went with Grace in the second half, a bigger body (253 pounds), and he was able to get himself down onto that fullback a little bit better in the second half.”
Navy managed just 95 yards on 27 second half snaps.
ON THE MIC
A collection of post-game commentary:
-- “Huge, huge possessions. We were able to gain more possessions in this game than any other game that we played against Navy. I think those obviously meant a lot in this game.” – Kelly on Navy’s two lost fumbles in a nine-minute span.
-- “He’s got a really good understanding of his job, and he’s a disciplined player, so when we ask him to do his job, he’s going to get it done.” – Kelly on Martini who amassed a combined 17 tackles (including six Stuffs) vs. Navy and Georgia Tech (Sept. 19).
-- “I can’t remember one, but I was sure happy to give one to him, that’s for certain.” – Kelly on “SWAG” team QB Robert Regan, the recipient of the game ball Saturday night.
-- “When I saw him in person, he’s bigger than our linebackers. I mean, geez, I knew he was big on TV, but didn’t realize he was that big.” – Niumatalolo on 6’5” 230-pound DeShone Kizer.
-- “I don’t know how to explain it, he kind of reminds me of (the late) Chuck Muncie, just real slithery and the next thing you know, he’s gone.” – Niumatalolo on C.J. Prosise (Click here for Muncie’s collegiate highlights).
-- “It takes a special attention, a special mental attitude to defend against it. I’m just really glad to be done with it.” – Junior defensive end Isaac Rochell on the triple-option.
“Obviously that’s a rivalry that’s been around for longer than any of us. We’re going to prepare like it’s the last game of the season, because that’s how every week is going to have to be for us to try to achieve the goals that we set before the season.” – Kizer on next week’s matchup with USC.