Quinn, Second Half Defense Carry Irish

BALTIMORE- This morning, ESPN's popular pre-game show, Game Day, did a segment on the inconsistencies of the Notre Dame offense this season. It's been tough to put a finger on the up-and-down nature of a unit that returned so many starters from a 2005 group that averaged 36 points a contest. On Saturday, the Irish offense flexed its muscle and put in some major work.

Insert whatever word comes to mind: dominating, efficient or lethal. They all describe the offensive performance for Notre Dame as the Irish overwhelmed the Midshipmen 38-14 in Baltimore. It was the 43rd straight time that Navy has been unable to defeat Notre Dame. In front of 71,851 fans at M&T Bank Stadium, Brady Quinn accounted for four scores as the Irish looked as good as they have on offense this season. A tell tale sign that the Notre Dame attack was hitting on all cylinders: punter Geoff Price could have stayed at home in South Bend because the Irish did not punt in the game.

"The first five times on offense we got the ball, we scored," head coach Charlie Weis said. "That's always a good thing. To be honest, that was our intent heading into the game. On offense, we haven't been running the ball. We haven't been consistent. What we had to do was have one of those games where we come out and score early and often. Fortunately, that's how it panned out. For the most part, I was pleased with how we managed our possessions with the shortened clock."

Big picture: the victory improves No. 9 Notre Dame to 7-1 on the season and in line for a titanic showdown with currently unbeaten USC at the end of the year. Right now, the Irish are one spot away in the BCS rankings from an automatic spot. They are miles away from being in the top two and playing for the national championship game.

"I don't like where we're positioned at because we got our butts kicked against Michigan," Weis said. "The facts are the facts. Too many times, people don't like it when you speak the truth. That's the reality of the matter. We have to take care of the next game and beat North Carolina. Along the line, hopefully we'll get some help but we'll worry about North Carolina. I'm very practical as to that. I'd love to be in that position but I think we're going to have to have some good things happen to us."

The defense had a big hand in putting the game out of reach. After surrendering 211 rushing yards in the first half to Navy's option attack, they forced the Midshipmen into a three-and-out on the opening possession of the second half. The stop allowed Notre Dame's offense back on the field and they did not disappoint. The Irish went on a nine-play, 69-yard game-killing drive capped when Quinn ran 19 yards to the end zone for the touchdown. It moved the Notre Dame lead to an insurmountable 31-14. It was also Quinn's longest touchdown rush of his career. The senior signal caller was on fire Saturday afternoon, going 18-of-25 for 295 yards and four touchdowns, three through the air and one on the ground.

"I thought the quarterback played pretty darn well, to tell you the truth," Weis said. "He was 18-of-25, just under 300 yards and three touchdowns and ran one in on top of that today. He was darn good today.

"I think he's one of the best quarterbacks in college football. It's tough not to like the way that kid from Ohio State is playing. Every time you turn him on, he's productive. But he's (Quinn) not one of the best quarterbacks in college football. He's one of the best players in college football. Period. I wouldn't trade him in for anyone. I'm prejudiced."

"He's a physical specimen," Navy head coach Paul Johnson said about Quinn. "He's bigger than anyone we have on defense. We might have two guys who are heavier than he is, but no one bigger."

The Notre Dame defense saw the option for the first time this season. Early on, it was big play after big play for the Midshipmen offense. Navy was well on their way towards obtaining their 316 yards per game average on the ground when the Irish stiffened once again in the second half. Most importantly, they allowed zero points in the final 32:43 on the game and just 60 yards on the ground in the second half. For the contest, Notre Dame held the Midshipmen to 45 yards underneath their rush yards average.

"We've had multiple games this year where the first half, things didn't go as well and after they came in and settled down and made some adjustments at halftime, good things, ended up happening," Weis said. "A couple of three-and-outs happened in that third quarter. It got us a chance to pull away. Rick (Minter) and the defensive staff tweaked a few things at halftime to try to take away some things that were burning us bad in the first half."

This was a contest for a half. Notre Dame struck first when Carl Gioia hit a 40-yard field early in the first quarter to give the Irish a 3-0 advantage. Navy returned the favor by marching down the field on the ensuing possession and got inside the Notre Dame 10-yard line. But the Irish's Victor Abiamiri recorded a third down sack on the Midshipmen's Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada and Matt Harmon missed a 32-yard field goal wide left. Abiamiri had a successful homecoming to his native Baltimore, registering two sacks and six tackles on the day.

Notre Dame increased the lead to 10-0 on a nice hookup from Quinn to David Grimes. On third down, the Irish quarterback was flushed out of the pocket and lofted a pass down the sidelines for the sophomore wide receiver. Grimes made a great play on the ball, nabbing it for a 36-yard touchdown even with a Navy defender called for pass interference. It was Grimes's first career score in a Notre Dame uniform.

"That touchdown was a big play in the game because it was third-and-forever," Weis said. "I was hoping to get some back on the play so that we could kick a field. Brady stepped over to the left and saw him open. David adjusted and got a score. This is a couple of games in a row that he's made some plays for us."

As was the case in the first half, it was a game of one-up between the offenses. Navy cut the lead to 10-7 when Kaheaku-Enhada scored from a yard out on a quarterback keeper. Answer for Notre Dame: a seven-play, 76-yard drive completed when Travis Thomas busted his way through the Midshipmen line for a 16-yard touchdown to make it 17-7 Irish. Weis made it a point of emphasis this week to establish the running game and it successful, totaling 176 yards, including a 103-yard performance from Darius Walker.

Answer for Navy: a masterful 13-play drive capped once again when Kaheaku-Enhada crossed the goal line from a yard out to make it a field goal contest at 17-14. Answer for Notre Dame: Quinn going 4-for-5 on the next possession and ended when he found Rhema McKnight on a jump ball touchdown to give the Irish a 24-14 halftime lead. McKnight had a productive afternoon, snagging six balls for 94 yards and two scores, including a fourth quarter six-yard touchdown that gives him team-high nine on the season.


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