'Perfect storm' for ND in Navy loss
Whether the Fighting Irish were looking past visiting Navy to their detriment is impossible to say. But with a possible run-the-table 10-2 finish and an ensuing Bowl Championship Series bid the subject of speculation this week, the opposing coach thought his team might be in a good position on Saturday. "We kind of felt like we had them in the perfect storm," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said after his team's 23-21 win. The Midshipmen (7-3) rolled up 348 yards on the ground and withstood a last-minute comeback. After Robert Hughes' 1-yard touchdown run brought Notre Dame to within 14-7 late in the third quarter, Navy answered with its second and final pass completion of the day: a 52-yard touchdown strike from Ricky Dobbs to Greg Jones. Notre Dame rallied back on a 12-yard scoring pass from Jimmy Clausen to Michael Floyd with 4:46 left in the game. The Irish got the ball back, but consecutive sacks deep in their own territory resulted in a safety and a seemingly insurmountable 23-14 deficit with a minute to go. But Notre Dame's Golden Tate recovered the onside kick and the Irish scored in lightning fashion, on a Tate 31-yard catch and run. Another onside try by kicker Nick Tausch bounced high in the air, and it appeared that Irish linebacker Steve Filer had a shot at it, but it went out of bounds. "I think it came down to red zone production for us," said Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, whose team had four drives inside the 20 that resulted in no points. Notre Dame moved the ball on offense all game long, not attempting a single punt. Clausen threw for 452 yards on 37-of-51 passing. All three numbers were career highs, and the 37 completions is a school record. His one interception came on a bizarre play near the goal line. Miscommunication led Floyd to believe he was blocking for a screen. Clausen hit him in the back with a pass, the ball popped into the air, and Navy linebacker Ram Vela caught it for a pick. Floyd caught 10 passes for 141 yards, receiving a loud early ovation from the crowd in his first action since suffering a broken clavicle against Michigan State in the third game of the season. Navy used its triple option to befuddle Notre Dame on the way to a 14-0 halftime lead. The Midshipmen got an early break when a replay review overturned a completion to Robby Parris. It was ruled a fumble, recovered by Vela near midfield. In typical Navy fashion, the Midshipmen used the run to grind out a 12-play, 51-yard drive that used up six minutes on the clock. Dobbs capped it off with a 1-yard touchdown run. After a missed field goal by Tausch, which ended the freshman's school-record streak of 14 straight, Navy was on the move again. Backup fullback Alexander Teich took an option pitch right and found open space, gaining 32 yards. A play after a Dobbs keeper on third and inches gained four yards, fullback Vince Murray got the handoff and ran untouched as the first man through on the option, scoring from the 30. Notre Dame drove down on the ensuing kickoff, but stalled near the end zone. The Irish tried a fade to Floyd on third and goal from the three, but the wide receiver got tangled up with the defender and the ball fell incomplete. Weis decided to go for the touchdown on fourth down, but Clausen, facing pressure, misfired on an end-zone pass to Duval Kamara. Another promising drive late in the second quarter ended without points for the Irish. A costly illegal formation penalty and two straight incompletions in the end zone intended for Tate led to a missed 30-yard field goal by Tausch. Navy had a chance to add to its lead at the end of the half, but Joe Buckley missed a short field goal of his own. Dobbs, who saw limited time last week because of injury, ran 31 times for 102 yards and managed a zero-turnover performance from Navy's offense. Murray found plenty of running room inside, finishing with 158 yards on 14 carries. "We had to take care of the fullback. That was a big part of our game plan, and I guess we just didn't execute it," Notre Dame safety Kyle McCarthy said. "They were mixing it up and showing us new looks," linebacker Harrison Smith said of Navy's frequent motion and unbalanced sets. Tate finished with 132 receiving yards on nine catches. Notre Dame (6-3) managed just 60 rushing yards on 20 attempts. Clausen gained eight on a third-quarter run to the Navy goal line, but was drilled by Kevin Edwards, who forced a fumble that was recovered by teammate Wyatt Middleton. Clausen was shaken up on the play, but after he regained his senses, he re-entered the game. Weis said Clausen was "sore all over" but his only lasting complaint was that his left hand bothered him. Tight end Kyle Rudolph was knocked out of the game in the second half. Weis said Rudolph should be fit for next week after an early report of a collarbone injury. Navy ended a 43-game losing streak to Notre Dame two years ago, and after falling 27-21 last year, has won two out of three over the Irish for the first time since the early 1960s. Notre Dame travels to one-loss Pittsburgh in a Saturday night nationally televised contest. Scrutiny of Weis' job performance is sure to intensify after this defeat. "That comes with the territory," Weis said of the pressure. "That's this job every week."
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