NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Navy ran through Notre Dame’s defense for three touchdowns in the first half.
The first series featured three runs to the left, capped by Toneo Gulley’s score from 13 yards.
But the other two scores told a different story. Navy gashed the Irish up the middle with fullback Quentin Ezell. He scored from 45 and 22 yards to eventually make it a 21-21 game late in the second quarter.
“The fullback was hitting wider,” said head coach Brian Kelly. “We couldn’t get our five-technique down, so consequently when we tried to get into our front that put our Sam and our Will on the dive, we just couldn’t get there. They were not running it to Jaylon (Smith). They were running it to James Onwualu’s side. They obviously checked way from Jaylon every time. James was trying to get down to it and he was getting knocked off. We went to Jarrett Grace in the second half, a bigger body. He was able to get himself down onto that fullback a little better in the second half.”
Just how well did that adjustment bottle up the Navy offense?
It managed just 79 rushing yards on 21 carries in the second half, a 3.76-yard average.
That’s after going for 239 yards on 28 carries in the first half, an average rush of 8.5 yards.
First Down Prevention
Navy entered Saturday fourth in the nation in converting third downs (53.8 percent). Notre Dame held the Midshipmen to just 2-of-11 in that category. The Irish have averaged a 28.4 percent success rate this season.
Navy was a perfect 4-of-4 on fourth down. Each of those fourth downs required less than three yards.
Until six minutes to go in the game, Navy faced second or third down 27 times, and it reached the first down marker on just six of those tries (4.5 percent). On tackles that prevented first downs on those snaps, KeiVarae Russell led the way with three. Sheldon Day and Joe Schmidt each had two.
Best Unit (Offense) - Running Backs
Running back C.J. Prosise compiled 192 all-purpose yards (136 rushing, 56 receiving) and three touchdowns. It was his fourth 100-yard game this season. Prosise's nine rushing touchdowns haven’t been topped by an Irish back since Jonas Gray (2011). Everett Golson led the Irish with eight rushing touchdowns last season.
“I didn’t think that was possible,” Prosise said when asked about his continued success. “But at this point, I’ve just got to keep it moving.”
Part of Notre Dame’s game plan was getting Prosise on the perimeter. He was utilized frequently via jet sweeps and shovel passes.
"It’s fun because you get to come around full speed,” Prosise said. "It’s hard for the guys inside to keep up with you, so you have a lot of space on the outside to run.”
Best Unit (Defense) - Defensive Line
Brian VanGorder got strong work from his defensive line, headlined by Sheldon Day’s nine tackles, which tied for a team high with linebacker Greer Martini. Five of Day’s stops were solo and he chipped in two tackles-for-loss.
Day had to prepare for blocking schemes unique to the Navy option offense.
“It’s just reps in practice,” Day said. “We kinda saw how much the tackle was going down on us and scramble blocks and things like that. We just practice that all week and make sure we kinda perfected that.”
Isaac Rochell added six tackles and one tackle-for-loss. Romeo Okwara had a sack and a tackle-for-loss.
Best Drive (Offense) - Fuller Caps Explosive Drive
Notre Dame’s best offensive drive was also its most explosive — a five-play, 84-yard trip to the end zone that took 2:01 to complete.
DeShone Kizer hit Prosise for an eight-yard completion to get it started. The following play was a Kizer pass to Chris Brown down the sideline for another 29 yards.
Prosise followed up an incomplete pass with a 32-yard run. Three plays later Will Fuller hauled in a 30-yard touchdown as Kizer scrambled. Fuller adjusted to that movement.
“On the play I had a dig,” Fuller said. “I’m just running through the windows. I saw him scramble so I just kept moving. He looked down field and saw me. He just put it on me and I got in the end zone.”
Getting in the end zone gave the Irish a 21-7 lead in the second quarter and Fuller the 23rd touchdown of his career, which moves him into sole possession of fourth on the all-time Notre Dame list. He passed Rhema McKnight and Derrick Mayes, who each had 22.
Best Drive (Defense) - Shumate And Smith
In a tie game early in the second quarter, Navy faced 2nd-and-2 at its 11-yard line. Safety Elijah Shumate brought down Navy’s DeBrandon Sanders behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of one. Linebacker Jaylon Smith recovered a fumble on the next play, giving Notre Dame’s offense 1st-and-goal at the Navy 7-yard line.
Shumate said the tackle for loss was a result of being out of position.
“I actually messed up on that play,” Shumate said. “That’s the crazy thing. I was supposed to get that corner route, which was wide open. We practiced all week, they were gong to do that switch route. As soon as I turned, I saw wide open, and I’m like, man if I don’t make this play right here, I’m going to get into much trouble. So I was convinced I had to make that play.
“It was big for momentum. Last week, we started off slowly, and we couldn’t have another repeat of last week. That was definitely a momentum-changer.”
Best Play (Offense) – Prosise’s 11-yard touchdown
Prosise put Navy away in the third quarter with an 11-yard touchdown run to give Notre Dame a 38-21 lead. Prosise shook multiple defenders as he bulldozed up the middle en route to the end zone. It was one of his most impressive scoring runs in his Notre Dame tenure.
"I don’t ever want one guy to tackle me,” Prosise said. "I hate it when one guy tackles me. I always want to make it so three or four has to come on and try to make the tackle. I bounce off tackles, get low and make people miss.”
Best Play (Defense) – Kickoff Coverage Turnover
Justin Yoon gave Notre Dame a 24-21 lead heading into halftime with a 52-yard field goal. Special teams delivered again on the other side of the break.
Reserve linebacker Nyles Morgan forced a Navy fumble on kickoff to start the third quarter. Backup cornerback Devin Butler came up with the recovery, flipping the momentum in an instant.
“We feel good coming out of halftime and that opening kickoff took the wind out of our sails,” said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo. “We were in good shape, down three. We get the ball to start the second half. We deferred on purpose to get the ball to start the second half. We liked where we were at, then we give the ball to them deep in our territory twice. When we’re behind it’s tough for us. That’s not how we’re built as an offense.”
Notre Dame took over at the Navy 26-yard line and scored in two plays — a Kizer pass to Amir Carlisle for four yards and a 22-yard Prosise touchdown run — to extend its lead to 31-21.
Navy would muster just three points in the second half.