BALTIMORE – Charlie Weis' first game this season calling plays became very simple once he realized that Navy was going to do everything possible to prevent any deep balls. Weis was confident that the Midshipmen would try to defend them the same way that they defended Rutgers and he was right.
"In the first half we were trying to throw the ball down the field a little bit, but they were playing a soft shell and dropping eight a lot of times and there really weren't very many windows," Weis said. "So I came in at halftime and I told them now we're going to spread them out and we're going to run the ball until I get sick of running it and that's basically what we did."
The running attack proved effective as the Irish drove down the field for touchdowns on their first two drives of the second half and came up with a field goal on their third possession.
Notre Dame did not have a runner gain more than 80 yards, but James Aldridge had 80 and Robert Hughes and Armando Allen had 68 and 60 apiece. While Aldridge was the leading rusher, Hughes and Allen found the endzone.
Coming into the season the idea was that all three backs would get carries, but the Navy game was the first time that that was actually effective.
"Whenever you can get everybody in the rotation and get going in the run game it's always great," said Hughes. "It's never really a certain rotation that we can get into, it's however Coach calls it."
The Irish actually outrushed the Midshipmen, who came into the game ranked second in the country, 230-178.
"Our whole backfield is talented so when everybody is on the same page it really gives us opportunities to show what we've got," Allen said. "I think the most important thing that we proved to ourselves today is that if we all work on the same page, good things can happen."
Clausen was as excited as anyone about the success of the running game.
"It's real good, whenever you can run the ball the defense can't just stop the pass, they've got to stop the pass and the run, so that's great," he said.
Weis said that he has not decided whether or not he would call plays against Syracuse.
CLAUSEN'S STRUGGLES CONTINUE: While the Notre Dame running game carried the offense, Clausen had his fourth straight subpar game.
Clausen turned the ball over three times in the first half. His first pass of the game was intercepted and he was strip-sacked on the Irish's second drive of the game. Clausen threw his second interception of the game toward the end of the first half when he was hit as he tried to find David Grimes on a corner route.
"The first one the guy made a pretty good play. I saw it as cover-2, I looked at the hitch, he jumped it and as soon as I got my eyes back to David where I was throwing the ball, he made a good play coming off and picked it," Clausen said. "We just did a good job of overcoming that."
Still, while the Navy defense was able to take Clausen out of the game, that opened up other things for the Irish.
"Obviously we were getting flustered by this soft zone and right before halftime we finally found something to go to where we were going to just have to go to short passes or dump the ball off to the back because that was what they were going to give you," Weis said. "Going into the second half we didn't even mess around with those other things. Everything was if we were going to throw the ball it was going to be throw a quick pass or just dump it off to the back."
Weis essentially took the ball out of Clausen's hands in the second half. Clausen only threw eight passes after halftime, completing five for 37 yards. But the running game was going so well that it was unnecessary to force anything in the passing game.
Clausen missed a play toward the end of the half after taking a blow to the head on a scramble but returned for the final offensive play of the half.
"I tried to get as many yards as I could and I didn't slide, I dove headfirst and someone speared me right in the back," he said. "But I'm fine."
DEFENSE STAYS TOUGH: For the second straight game, the Notre Dame defense played exceptionally well. There were some concerns coming into the game about how the defense would hold up against Navy's triple-option attack, especially after giving up 46 points a year ago, but the Irish defense was dominant again.
It was the first game all season that Navy failed to score on its opening possession. The Irish held the Midshipmen to just a single first down in the opening quarter and just 107 yards of total offense in the first half.
But most impressively, Notre Dame was perfect on third down for most of the day as Navy did not convert a third down on its first 11 tries and finished with less than an 8% success rate.
The Irish held the Midshipmen to 178 rushing yards, Navy's lowest rushing total since the 2006 Rutgers game.
"They have one of the most precision running games there is in the country and for the most part, they stymied them pretty good," Weis said of his defense. "I think that obviously they had a good game plan, they executed it well and they played physically."
INJURIES HURT: The Irish suffered some key injuries in the game as receiver Michael Floyd left during the opening series of the game with a left knee injury while linebacker Brian Smith hobbled off with a right knee injury in the first quarter. Smith and Floyd both left the sidelines on carts toward the end of the half and neither returned.
Weis was unsure of the exact status for either player, but Floyd had a cast on his left leg.
"I don't know. There were guys going out left and right in the game," Weis said. "Michael Floyd went out, it looked like he tweaked his knee. I know that Brian went out, got illegal chopblock, I think he got a knee. I don't know the severity of these things right there, I just saw them in there showered up in street clothes."
Cornerback Terrail Lambert did not dress for the game and was on the sidelines with one crutch after suffering an ankle injury in practice on Thursday. Freshman Robert Blanton got his first career start in place of Lambert. Gary Gray started at corner in the second half.
WILD-IRISH?: The Irish unveiled a new look on offense as they lined up in the Wildcat on a third-down play to start the second quarter. Golden Tate lined up at quarterback with Clausen split out. But after taking the snap, Tate was stopped for a three-yard loss and the Irish had to punt. The Irish may have taken the element of surprise out by lining up in the same formation as time ran out in the first quarter.
IRISH BECOME BOWL ELIGIBLE: The win gives the Irish six and makes them eligible to be selected for a bowl game. Notre Dame's most likely destination would be the Gator Bowl, but if the Irish fail to get their seventh win of the season next weekend against Syracuse they may be headed to the Sun Bowl.
Weis has not mentioned the prospect of a bowl game to the team yet, but the players are already talking about it.
"We were just in there talking. We're bowl-eligible now and it's a good feeling," Clausen said.
OTHER TIDBITS: Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates were on hand for pregame ceremonies… For the second straight game Barry Gallup, Jr. was back returning kicks along with Tate… Saturday was the first time that Navy had forced the Irish to punt since the 2004 game. After going 247 offensive plays between punts against Navy, Eric Maust punted twice in five offensive plays in the second quarter… Maurice Crum had seven tackles in the game to move into the top ten of all-time Notre Dame tackles. Crum is tied for ninth with Brandon Hoyte with 297 career stops… The forecast called for rain, but it was pretty nice until it started pouring in the fourth quarter.