Notre Dame escapes with win over 'flawless' Navy

Notre Dame escapes with win over 'flawless' Navy
November 2, 2013, 5:45 pm
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The relief was apparent on Dan Fox's face as he lounged in a chair talking to reporters following Notre Dame's 38-34 win over Navy.

Most likely, some of it had to do with winning a game in which he and his defensive mates gave up 331 rushing yards. But turning an eye toward his future, the fifth-year senior was relieved to be done with facing Navy's chosen offense.

"I'm just glad I'll never do the triple option ever again," Fox said. "Being a fifth year, I'll never have to go against that. I'm pretty pumped about that."

That option attack gave Notre Dame fits, both up the middle and to the edges. Navy converted 10 of 16 third downs, rushed 70 times and held the ball for 37 minutes and 36 seconds. The game devolved into an odd sort of shootout in the second half, with Notre Dame and Navy trading touchdowns on five straight possessions.

"I'm ecstatic about getting out of here with a win in terms of the way they played today," coach Brian Kelly said. "I mean, they were flawless in terms of their execution."

Fortunately for Notre Dame, its offense stepped up and made play after play in the second half. Freshman running back Tarean Folston led that charge, rushing 18 times for 140 yards and scoring the game-winning touchdown. Tommy Rees made a number of key throws and avoided turning the ball over in the final 30 minutes.

And eventually, Notre Dame's defense came up with a stop.

After Folston's go-ahead score with three minutes and 47 seconds left, Navy took the ensuing kickoff to midfield. But the Mids made a rare mistake, with quarterback Keenan Reynolds' errant pitch pinning them back for a third-and 14 on the Irish 41. A 10-yard pass followed, setting up a fourth-and-4 situation with about 75 seconds left.

Navy ran a reverse to receiver Shawn Lynch, who was tripped up by safety Eilar Hardy and dropped by linebacker Jaylon Smith, securing Notre Dame's victory.

"I knew it was fourth down and I knew they couldn't get four yards," Smith said.

After seemingly making strides against Arizona State, USC and Air Force, Navy steadily gouged the Irish defense in the way a well-executed option can do. It's worth noting Notre Dame was without nose guard Louis Nix, and lost defensive end Sheldon Day, linebacker Ben Councell and defensive tackle Kona Schwenke throughout the afternoon.

"We didn't complain about it," Kelly said. "It's part of the game. Injuries happen. You've just got to find a way to get it done, and they did."

At 7-2, Notre Dame's BCS bowl goal is still on the table. The narrow win won't look good with voters or computers, but how Notre Dame wins against Navy and Pittsburgh next week isn't too important. Wins over BYU and Stanford could take care of apprehension of Notre Dame's BCS deservedness.

Plus -- and this is a lesson perhaps forgotten after blowout wins the last two years -- beating Navy isn't always easy. Especially when they're executing the option at a near-perfect rate.

"Every play is a battle," Fox said. "That's what it comes down to. It's a fight for every single inch. They're great, they're so tough.

"I'm just happy they're fighting for the U.S., because they always came out and battle."