WR Chase Claypool's four touchdowns allow Notre Dame to outmatch Navy
SOUTH BEND — Chase Claypool admitted he never caught four touchdown passes in a game before Saturday.
But that was only because the Notre Dame wide receiver didn’t need to score touchdowns on receptions as an eighth grader. Back then, he once scored 10 touchdowns in a game.
“It was against our rival, No. 1 team in the league,” said Claypool, a product of Abbotsford, British Columbia in Canada. “They ran a triple option, so similar to (Navy). We knew that every possession we got was kind of going to be important.
“I don’t know, we just had a good game plan. Kind of went out there and ran around a little bit.”
Navy’s secondary didn’t provide much of a deterrent for Claypool on Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium either. The 6-foot-4, 229-pound senior caught seven passes for 117 yards and four touchdowns in CFP No. 16 Notre Dame’s 52-20 dismantling of No. 23 Navy.
On one occasion, Navy (7-2) left backup linebacker Tyler Pistorio to try to cover Claypool. It resulted in an easy, 47-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ian Book. It was the second of Claypool’s touchdowns. He scored the first three touchdowns for the Irish (8-2) in the first 18 minutes of the game.
“We knew it was a mismatch or a miscommunication of some sort because we hadn’t seen that on film ever, and it hasn’t even happened this year, I don’t think,” Claypool said. “I think Ian knew it right away. I knew it right away. I was running down the field with a big smile on my face before the ball was even thrown.”
Claypool started the scoring for Notre Dame with a seven-yard touchdown reception to end the first Irish drive of the game. He caught a three-yard touchdown pass with 12:32 left in the second quarter. He finished his scoring with a 20-yard touchdown reception early in the third quarter to extend the lead to 45-3 and make way for the Irish play their backups.
The four touchdown receptions by Claypool tied him with Maurice Stovall, who caught four touchdowns against BYU in 2005, for the single-game record in Notre Dame history. Claypool became the first Irish player to catch three touchdowns in a single half since at least 1950.
“Chase always has the juice,” Book said. “He’s always talking, and he’s such a confident person like he should be. You can tell when he gets on a roll. You want to keep giving him the ball.
“Even though it might not be the clearest look, he’s going to come down with it, and that’s the best. Makes my job a lot easier. It’s amazing being able to throw to him.”
Claypool’s prolific performance continued a hot stretch for him since the start of the November. In the last three games, Claypool has recorded 20 catches for 332 yards and five touchdowns.
Something about November turns Claypool into a superstar. In 13 November games in his Notre Dame career, Claypool has caught 56 passes for 902 yards and seven touchdowns. That’s a large chunk of his overall career numbers: 133 catches for 1,890 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“I don’t think there is anything more to November other than last year I think Chase was finding himself as a receiver,” said head coach Brian Kelly. “This year Ian is playing at a high level right now — (nine) touchdown passes in the last two weeks.”
The Irish (8-2) had success beyond Claypool against Navy too. Book finished 14-of-20 passing for 284 yards and five touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Braden Lenzy showed his speed with a 70-yard touchdown reception from Book to give Notre Dame four touchdowns on its first four drives. The 70-yard completion is the longest of Book’s career.
“We have some guys that can really run on the outside,” Book said. “When Lenzy takes off it’s my job to throw it and make sure I get it to him.
“When you hit big plays it just opens up your whole playbook, opens up a lot of things offensively for us. So it’s a huge part of the game. We were able to have that work out (Saturday).”
The offense looked just fine with senior wide receiver Javon McKinley, who was sidelined with a mid-foot sprain in his left leg, Kelly said. Book became the first quarterback in school history to throw at least five passing touchdowns in three games in the same season.
Notre Dame’s defense stifled the Midshipmen with the help of four turnovers. Defensive end Khalid Kareem forced two fumbles, recovered respectively by linebacker Asmar Bilal and defensive end Jamir Jones, to end Navy’s first two drives of the game. By the time Navy possessed the ball for a third time, it already trailed 21-0.
“We talked about it this week,” linebacker Drew White said of forcing turnovers. “It’s critical. They eat the clock. It’s something they do. We really had to attack the ball, force turnovers, cause havoc. We did a good job this week.”
White led the Irish with 10 tackles and recovered Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry’s third fumble, which came in the second quarter. Even Notre Dame’s backup defenders contributed to the cause. Sophomore linebacker Paul Moala, a local graduate of Penn High School, deflected and caught a pitch from backup Navy quarterback Perry Olsen to slotback Myles Fells and returned the fumble for a 27-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Perry, who moved into third all-time in career rushing yards at Navy with 3,501, rushed for 117 yards on 25 carries, completed only three of his seven passes for 36 yards and took two sacks against the Irish. Notre Dame’s defense turned a potential headache of a day into an ideal one.
“The energy was awesome. It was just fun being out there with the guys,” White said. “The stadium was rocking too. Blue skies. It was a fun day.”
Notre Dame’s rushing attack didn’t provide much punch, but it wasn’t needed. Book led the way with 31 of the team’s 105 rushing yards. Senior Tony Jones Jr. paced the running backs with nine carries for 26 yards.
The importance of the running game typically increases late in the season with the weather turning colder. But if Claypool, who received the game ball, and Book can continue at this rate, defenses will have their hands full.
“He’s a guy that is difficult to defend because he can catch a drive route and score a touchdown,” Kelly said of Claypool. “He can catch a ball on the sideline. He can catch a vertical route in the seam, a fade.
“He’s virtually a guy that has all of the weapons, so why wouldn’t you throw him the football in those situations?”