Vorel: Forget 'pretty' in Notre Dame's gritty one-score win over Navy

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Forget about “pretty.”

“Pretty” is for prom dresses and priceless paintings. “Pretty” describes the fall foliage at Notre Dame more than what happens inside the stadium.

Nothing about No. 9 Notre Dame’s 24-17 victory over Navy on Saturday was pretty. The weather conditions at kickoff — 41 degrees, spitting rain and gusting 19 mph winds — were ugly. The football was ugly.

Heck, those brown Rockne Heritage cleats were unabashedly ugly, too.

“Pretty” doesn’t beat Navy (6-4). “Pretty” doesn’t snap a streak of nine losses in the previous 10 one-score games.

So, no, it wasn’t pretty — and that doesn’t matter. Forget appearances.

It was a win.

“Our kids played really hard. They really cared about their teammates and wanting to win this football game,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “I loved the way they kept fighting. We may not have won this game last year.”

May not? Let’s be clear: the Irish didn’t. In a remarkably similar football game, Notre Dame fell to Navy 28-27 in Jacksonville, Fla., on Nov. 5, 2016.

But this was a different setting, a different team … and a different result.

“Welcome to Midwest football in November,” Kelly announced after the game.

Welcome, Brandon Wimbush. Notre Dame’s junior quarterback — who completed 47.6 percent of his passes, threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and was briefly benched in last weekend’s 41-8 loss at Miami — completed just 1 of 5 passes in the first quarter, then bounced back. Trailing 10-3 with 1:08 left in the first half, Wimbush completed two 23-yard passes, then dragged a defender into the end zone for a 2-yard score with eight seconds left.

In the second half, the junior from Teaneck, N.J., ripped a pair of touchdown passes through the relentless rain to sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson.

He wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t consistently accurate or mechanically precise. He wasn’t the second coming of Brady Quinn, and on Saturday, he didn’t need to be.

He was gutsy. He was tough, and that was enough.

“I thought he settled down into the game,” Kelly said. “What we're looking for is a guy that will take what's happened early and kind of reset a little bit, which he did, and refocus, and he came back and made some really big plays for us.

“So the conditions weren't great to throw the football today, but I thought he was gritty, hung with it, and we went back to some tough throws, too, that he had to make. And I was really proud of the way he responded.”

Welcome, Josh Adams. So good to see you again! After being limited to 62 rushing yards in the previous two games, Adams — a 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior — delivered 106 tough yards on 18 carries on Saturday, churning his legs through waves of pesky Midshipmen.

There were no holes the size of major highways, as there had been against Miami (Ohio) or N.C. State or USC.

The yards Adams gained, he earned.

“Any time we take the field as an offense, it’s time to get physical,” Notre Dame graduate student left tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “That’s who we are. That’s who we’ve been. We take a lot of pride in being able to pound people, and Josh is as big a part of that as anybody.

“He’s certainly done a great job for us all year. He was starting to run people over, and it was great to see.”

Welcome, Notre Dame defense. On Saturday, gone was the group that allowed 476 rushing yards and 5.8 yards per carry against Wake Forest and Miami. The Irish held Navy’s option offense — which entered the game ranked No. 1 nationally in rushing (369.8 yards per game) and ninth in yards per carry (5.9) — to 277 rushing yards and 3.8 yards per carry. Mike Elko’s group didn’t surrender a run longer than 19 yards.

No, it wasn’t pretty. Navy possessed the football for 42 minutes and 42 seconds, peppering the Irish with a thousand piercing jabs. The Mids collected a mountain of 4- and 5-yard runs, and they converted 4 of 6 fourth down attempts.

But not enough, and not when it mattered. When the Irish needed a fourth quarter stop, they got it — whether it be a Troy Pride Jr. interception or a trick play incompletion with 1:21 left.

Now, they need ice packs, and bandages, and ideally some comfortable beds.

“I’m pretty banged-up, I’m not going to lie,” said smiling sophomore cornerback Julian Love, who started at the safety position and finished with 14 tackles. “You realize it after. Tomorrow won’t be good for me.”

But Saturday, at least, was satisfying — because of Wimbush, because of Adams, because of the seniors, because of the defense. It wasn’t beautiful; this wasn’t 60 minutes of pigskin ballet.

It was painful, sloppy and a far cry from pretty.

But here’s the difference between this season and the last one: it was a win.

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s Julian Love (27) brings down Navy’s Darryl Bonner (29) during the Notre Dame-Navy NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN