Notre Dame football: Timing cost Navy on final play
SOUTH BEND -- Needing four yards to extend its final drive, Navy drew up a trick play.
Instead of pounding the ball through the middle or executing the option, quarterback Keenan Reynolds tossed the ball to wide receiver Shawn Lynch on a reverse. At first look, nothing but muddy grass separated Lynch from gaining the necessary yardage on 4th-and-four from the Notre Dame 31-yard line.
Then Notre Dame’s defense — first safety Eilar Hardy, then linebacker Jaylon Smith — swarmed Lynch to tackle him for no gain.
A powerful Navy offense ended its 419-yard performance with a dud in a 38-34 loss at Notre Dame Stadium.
“I thought it was a great call by (offensive coordinator) Ivin (Jasper),” said Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo. “They made the play. You have to give Notre Dame the credit. They tackled us for the win.”
Niumatalolo pointed to small mistakes in execution that may have changed the outcome.
“We might have taken a tad too long on the reverse there,” he said. “We felt like it was open. I've got to go back and look at tape, but I think we're one block from breaking it.”
On the previous 69 rushing attempts, the Navy offense had rushed for at least four yards 47 times. But the 70th attempt netted nothing. The Navy coaching staff took the ball out of the hands of six backs that combined for 331 rushing yards and gave it to a wide receiver.
Both Reynolds and fullback Chris Swain expressed disappointment after the game on the play’s execution, but supported the call.
"I trust coach Jasper's play calling,” Reynolds said. “He felt like that play was going to work so I was all ready for it. I'm not the one sitting up in the booth. He saw something and he felt like that would have been a good play. I trusted it and I went with it.”
Swain thought the play was destined for the end zone.
"It was pretty disappointing,” Swain said. “I thought personally that it was going to go for a touchdown. I wasn't thinking they were expecting it. But everything doesn't go your way.”
The regret for Reynolds came two plays earlier when an errant pitch from Reynolds to slotback DeBrandon Sanders resulted in a nine-yard loss.
"It's a scenario you want: on the road against Notre Dame driving to win the game,” Reynolds said. “There's nothing better than that. That's a dream come true. Unfortunately, we didn't make enough plays to finish the drive. I have to do a better job. If I would have made a better pitch, things probably would have been different.”
Moral victories are no longer enough for a Navy team that’s seen victories over Notre Dame in three of the last seven meetings.
"It really hurts inside, especially since we play these guys every year,” Swain said. “We were just so close. It really hurts.”
Long drives by Navy’s offense limited the possessions for Notre Dame, but the Midshipmen defense repeatedly came up short Saturday. On nine possessions, the Irish scored five touchdowns and one field goal. Navy successfully stopped ND twice with interceptions and the final possession ended with the Irish running out the clock.
Safety Parrish Gaines, who caught the first interception of Tommy Rees, said the Irish did little to surprise the defense.
"At first they kept their receivers in tight along with their tight ends and kept play-passing out of that formation — really nothing that we haven't seen before,” Gaines said. “In the second half, it was just smash-mouth football."
The Midshipmen ceded 506 yards to the Irish, including 264 rushing yards. Freshman running back Tarean Folston tallied 140 yards.
“No. 4, their starting running back, he's a great player,” Gaines said of George Atkinson III. “That's what we've been expecting all week. I guess he didn't get as many carries. I actually don't know why. We just had to stop the run. It really didn't matter who was running the ball."
Reynolds keeps scoring
Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds entered the day tied for second in FBS with 11 rushing touchdowns. Reynolds made a push to take the nation’s lead with three more scores on the ground against Notre Dame.
“I thought Keenan played great in a hostile, tough environment to play,” Niumatalolo said.
The sophomore quarterback, who finished with 53 yards rushing and 88 yards passing for another score, credited his offensive line for clearing the way for him.
"I don't think there's a tougher line in the country,” Reynolds said. “Those guys are battling. I don't think anybody on the line isn't banged up right now. They just keep fighting and keep fighting.”
*Navy’s 311 rushing yards was only its fourth-best rushing performance of the season. The Midshipmen ran for more yards against Indiana (444), Toledo (419), and Delaware (352).
*After three quarters, Navy had possessed the ball twice as long (30:57) as Notre Dame (14:03).
*Navy’s 28 first downs on Saturday was more than it’s compiled in any of its previous 86 games against Notre Dame.
*Navy forced two interceptions for the third time this season. The Midshipmen also did not turn the ball over for the third time this season.
TJames1@SBTinfo.com 574-235-6214 Twitter: @TJamesNDI