Notre Dame didn't allow Clemson to beat it twice

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Upon further review, it was a pretty good response to a tough situation.

Notre Dame’s 41-24 win over Navy Saturday, elongated and protracted by what had to be a college football record of official reviews (eight, to be exact; it seemed they reviewed everything but DeShone Kizer taking a knee at the end of the game), was a positive answer to how the Irish would handle last week’s loss to Clemson.

That being said, now it gets interesting.

The next week, with Southern Cal on the horizon, will be devoted to Notre Dame’s version of the curse of the billy goat, or, in this case, the Navy goat.

It’s the “Navy Hangover.”

In the last eight years, Notre Dame is 2-6 in the game after Navy. The only wins were narrow escapes from a couple powerhouses — Purdue (three points in 2012, after returning from Ireland) and Wake Forest (seven points in 2011).

Is it the physical punishment from those hard-nosed Midshipmen? The mental overload of the option?

If history means anything, it doesn’t bode well for a very winnable game against a struggling bunch of Trojans.

When a defense can hold Navy’s triple-option offense to 79 yards rushing and three points in the second half, that’s saying something.

“We beat a very good team by 17 points,” said Irish coach Brian Kelly. “That's a validation. I was so pleased with the way that (the players) were focused during the week, preparing for Navy, not worrying about anything else. They weren't talking about last week; they weren't talking about USC; they were focused on playing this football team. That's really all you can ask for as a coach.”

There were two critical times for the Irish:

• Their second offensive series was monumental. After a three-and-out on its first drive, Notre Dame yielded a three-play, 70-yard touchdown march. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds made the big dent with a 51-yard burst up the middle.

Remember Deshaun Watson? That was a similar scenario the Clemson quarterback did last week. Only difference, Notre Dame didn’t respond.

“We responded very well offensively,” Kelly said of the early adversity.

There had to have been an “uh-oh” moment, déjà vu all over again.

“That response is scoring right away,” Kelly said. “(It) settled everybody down.”

This time, the Irish went 75 yards to tie the game and prove there’s still some life in them.

• The second decisive play came on the opening kickoff of the second half. Dishan Romine coughed up the ball and Notre Dame’s Devin Butler recovered. Two plays later, the Irish were up by 10 and the game was over.

“We (felt) good coming out of halftime (trailing by just three),” said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo. “That opening kickoff took the wind out of our sails.”

When players from both teams wear the same Under Armour underwear – out of respect for each other – you know it’s a big game, dripping with tradition.

Notre Dame’s most encouraging statistic to come from the victory was in terms of turnovers.

The basic premise of the Navy offense doesn’t lend itself to allowing the defense to apply significant pressure. The Irish who have had just nine sacks all season, had one against the Midshipmen.

However, the Notre Dame defense came up with two fumble recoveries (both were deep in Navy territory and led to TDs) and an interception by Elijiah Shumate that ended a threat.

Without the pressure, turnovers have been hard to come by this season (the Irish have four fumble recoveries and three picks).

It’ll have to be better next week. Southern Cal quarterback Cody Kessler can pick a defense apart if given the time and the space.

Even with the disjointed, often-interrupted offensive scheme, Notre Dame generated 459 yards and 41 points against a Navy defense billed as the best the academy has had to offer in the six years of Kelly’s tenure.

C.J. Prosise rushed for 129 yards and three TDs, and DeShone Kizer padded his stats (22 of 30, 281 yards) with several little forward flips that were runs statistically camouflaged as passes that allowed the receivers to do all the work.

No drops this week. The two-yard pitches are easy to handle, but even the long ones were a lot cleaner than last week. Whether it was the weather or the stage, the crisis appears to be averted.

In other words, the Irish didn’t allow Clemson to beat them twice.

No matter how many times it’s reviewed.

Notre Dame’s Elijah Shumate (22) brings down Navy’s DeBrandon Sanders (21) during the Notre Dame-Navy football game on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN