Irish season in review: Notre Dame 50, Navy 10


Irish season in review: Notre Dame 50, Navy 10

Four months ago, the focus was on Notre Dame not because of any championship aspirations, but because of a slew of suspensions and controversial comments made by a radio announcer.

The focus swiftly changed over the next few months, but on Sept. 1, Notre Dame had plenty of distractions involving those who wouldn't play a role in the team's season opener against Navy in Dublin, Ireland. Tommy Rees and Cierre Wood were suspended for the game, taking out the team's starting quarterback and leading rusher from the 2011 season. Radio broadcaster Allen Pinkett was pulled off the trip after saying the team needed more criminals, sparking plenty of debates that had nothing to do with the on-field product at Notre Dame:

Piling on that, Notre Dame had to deal with a secondary most feared would be the team's weak link. Lo Wood's ruptured Achilles' tendon meant KeiVarae Russell, who hadn't played a down of cornerback in his life, would start for the Irish. And Everett Golson was set trot out on the pitch at Aviva Stadium as Notre Dame's starting quarterback with nobody really knowing how he'd fare in that role.

"It can all be decided and look perfect in practice, and when the lights go on -- we all know from being around this game that, when the lights go on, kids react differently," offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said before the season. "Some kids play better than they ever play, and some kids play worse."

All this added up to a ton of excess baggage following the Irish across the Atlantic Ocean. But in 60 minutes in Dublin, Notre Dame dispatched Navy with ease, blowing by the Midshipmen 50-10.

"We put 50 points on the board, so that's a pretty good start," coach Brian Kelly aptly summed up.

A year after opening the season with torrent of turnovers in a loss to South Florida, Notre Dame forced four turnovers and only committed one, a sign of things to come in the regular season. Stephon Tuitt's 77-yard touchdown on a fumble recovery punctuated a suffocating defensive effort, while Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III scored a pair of touchdowns apiece, easily making up for the production lost without Wood in the lineup.

Golson wasn't flashy, but he was efficient running a limited playbook, completing 12 of 18 passes for 144 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Ultimately, Notre Dame's win over Navy wasn't a barometer for the rest of the season. Fifty points was Notre Dame's season high, and Atkinson was eventually phased out of the team's playbook as the season wore on. But Riddick emerged as a legitimate threat out of the backfield after his previous foray into receiving, and he would hold on to that No. 1 running back role throughout the season.

What Notre Dame's season opener did do was set the tone for a team which greatly improved its turnover ratio from 2011. A year after coughing up the ball 10 times in its first two games, Notre Dame largely held on to the football while forcing plenty of turnovers from its opponents.

And overall, the easy 50-10 win was the first inclination that this wasn't the same Notre Dame team that went 8-5 in the previous two years.

Stay with every weekday through the end of January for game-by-game reviews of Notre Dame's run to the BCS Championship.

Schedule watch: The curse of beating Notre Dame grows in strength

Schedule watch: The curse of beating Notre Dame grows in strength

The five teams Notre Dame has lost to this season are a combined 10-19 when they don't play the Irish after yet another week in which Texas, Michigan State, N.C. State and Stanford lost in various levels of embarrassing fashion (Duke was spared on a bye week). Notre Dame can point to its narrow losses all it wants, but it hasn't played a difficult schedule at all to date. 

Before running down the action from Notre Dame’s bye week, your weekly Irish opponent power rankings:

1. Navy (5-1)
2. Virginia Tech (5-2)
3. USC (4-3)
4. N.C. State (4-3)
5. Miami (4-3)
6. Stanford (4-3)
7. Syracuse (4-4)
8. Texas (3-4)
9. Duke (3-4)
10. Army (4-3)
11. Nevada (3-5)
12. Michigan State (2-5)

On to the games:

Texas: Lost, 24-21, at Kansas State

The Longhorns are 3-4 and Charlie Strong’s job is very much in jeopardy. It wouldn’t be altogether surprising to see them hit the seven-loss mark by mid-November with games against Baylor, at Texas Tech and against West Virginia looming. 

Nevada: Lost, 42-34, to Wyoming

The Wolf Pack are 3-5 and need a major turnaround to reach a bowl game. 

Michigan State: Lost, 28-17, at Maryland

Michigan State’s only wins are over FCS side Furman and Notre Dame. Their losses are to Wisconsin (by 24), Indiana (by three), BYU (by 17), Northwestern (by 14) and Maryland (by 11). The Spartans have to two of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State and not lose to Illinois and Rutgers to make a bowl game. In short: It’s not happening. 

Duke: Bye week

The Blue Devils had the week off before a trip to Georgia Tech that’ll probably determine whether or not they reach  bowl game this year. 

Syracuse: Won, 28-20, at Boston College

Full credit to Dino Babers’ Orange for another win — getting to four this early in the season is a nice accomplishment in Year 1 heading things up at a difficult place to win. After a bye week, though, Syracuse gets Clemson, N.C. State, Florida State and Pitt, so getting to six wins is hardly a guarantee. 

N.C. State: Lost, 54-13, at Louisville

A week after nearly knocking off Clemson, N.C. State was carved up by Lamar Jackson (20/34, 355 yards, 3 TDs, 17 carries, 76 yards, 1 TD), but more surprising was how ineffective the Wolfpack offense was. Ryan Finley threw two picks while the team combined to rush 25 times for only 14 yards. 

Stanford: Lost, 10-5, vs. Colorado

Christian McCaffrey’s return (21 carries, 92 yards, 2 receptions, 26 yards) didn’t make a difference as Stanford reverted back to its baffling struggles a week after beating Notre Dame. After the game, David Shaw took responsibility for Stanford’s issues, saying “our personnel doesn’t reflect our production, and all the fingers point to me. That’s on me. That’s my responsibility to get the most out of the players we have.”

Miami: Lost, 37-16, at Virginia Tech

Notre Dame should heed these numbers:

Meanwhile, Miami has fallen hard since starting the season 4-0. A one-point loss to Florida State and a seven-point loss to North Carolina weren’t awful, but getting blown out by three touchdowns on the road at Virginia Tech effectively took the ‘Canes out of the ACC Coastal race. Miami’s losing streak is now longer than Notre Dame’s coming into Saturday, for what it’s worth. 

Navy: Won, 42-28, vs. Memphis

Navy rushed for 447 yards on 74 carries and quarterback Will Worth had 201 yards and three touchdowns as the MIds powered their way to another solid win. A tricky Friday trip to South Florida awaits before Navy faces Notre Dame in Jacksonville in early November. 

Army: Lost, 35-18, vs. North Texas

A home loss against North Texas might be the death knell for Army’s hopes of reaching its first bowl game since 2010. The Black Knights’ remaining games: At Wake Forest, vs. Air Force, vs. Notre Dame. vs. Morgan State and vs. Navy. At best, there are only two wins in there, one would think.

Virginia Tech: Won, 37-16, vs. Miami

This was a nice rebound game for the Hokies after losing last week to Syracuse. Jerod Evans completed 21 of 33 passes for 259 yards with two touchdowns and ran 19 times for 98 yards with a score, while Virginia Tech’s defense held Miami running backs Joseph Yearby and Mark Walton to 87 yards on 20 carries — with 41 of those yards coming on one Yearby carry. 

USC: Bye week

With a home game against Cal on Thursday coming up, USC got Saturday off to rest up for what should be a high-scoring evening in Los Angeles. 

Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick tells ESPN Brian Kelly will be back in 2017

Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick tells ESPN Brian Kelly will be back in 2017

Brian Kelly's job at Notre Dame apparently is not in jeopardy despite the team's 2-5 start to the 2016 season. 

Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick told that Kelly "will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year."

Kelly has come under fire for his perceived penchant for criticizing players before himself as well as his behavior on the sidelines as Notre Dame's chances of becoming bowl eligible have slipped this season. The seventh-year Irish coach, though, was praised for his relationship with his team by Swarbrick, who told ESPN it's "probably as strong as any that I've seen with him at Notre Dame." Multiple players said after Notre Dame's loss to Stanford last weekend that they didn't believe Kelly had lost the team

Kelly and Notre Dame agreed to a six-year contract extension in January that runs through the 2021 season.