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Navy vs. Notre Dame: Biggest Takeaways from Irish's Narrow Victory

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 02: Cam McDaniel #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a touchdown against the Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium on November 2, 2013 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Navy 38-34. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Steven CookContributor IIINovember 2, 2013

Navy made Notre Dame earn every bit of it, but the No. 25 Fighting Irish escaped a pesky Midshipmen team and squeaked out a 38-34 victory at home on Saturday.

While there were nearly as many negatives as positives for Notre Dame, the result wasn't short on implications moving forward. The same can be said for Navy, who surprised the college football world by nearly knocking off a big name.

Let's break down the three biggest takeaways from South Bend.

 

Tarean Folston Is the Real Deal

Nov 2, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Tarean Folston (25) celebrates in the second quarter against the Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 38-34. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame hasn't had to rely on freshman Tarean Folston in the backfield this year but went his way early and often on Saturday, and it paid dividends.

Folston finished with 18 carries for 140 yards—both career highs. In fact, he topped his career high in rushing yards by nearly 100 yards. 

He didn't break off any huge plays—his longest rush was for 15 yards—but that only paints the picture even more of how effective he was in each and every carry. He was a chain-moving machine on the night when the Irish sorely needed help. 

As if being incredibly efficient in moving drives along wasn't enough, Folston plunged into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown with less than four minutes to go.

It's unclear whether Folston did enough to get him to the top of the pecking order over George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel, who finished with seven carries apiece. But if anything, it was a promising sign for Notre Dame.

 

Tommy Rees Regressing After Recent Emergence

Nov 2, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees (11) throws for a touchdown in the second quarter against the Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees has struggled mightily when called upon to be a gunslinger, but he had turned things around impressively in recent weeks.

Saturday's pedestrian performance squashed that. Rees threw two picks despite only being asked to throw 20 passes on the night. 

After taking care of the ball in a 14-10 win over USC and ripping off five touchdowns last week at Air Force, things were starting to turn around for Rees. He was taking care of the ball and showing flashes of his potential.

But unfortunately for the Irish, Rees looked more like the quarterback we saw in the Michigan and Oklahoma games—which he combined to throw for five interceptions in. Both were losses.

Rees was effective in stretches and threw a couple of touchdowns, but you'd expect that against a team like Navy. The interceptions weren't quite as expected.

 

Navy's Run Game Works Just as Well on Good Teams

Nov 2, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Navy Midshipmen wide receiver Shawn Lynch (87) carries the ball as Notre Dame Fighting Irish safety Eilar Hardy (16) attempts to tackle in the fourth quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 38-34. Mandatory Credit:
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

A simple glance at the stat sheet proves just how reliant Navy is on the run game. They rank 10th in the FBS in rushing yards per game, but just 120th in passing. 

For Navy to have any chance in South Bend on Saturday, it needed to find success on the ground early and often. And it sure did.

The Midshipmen rushed for four touchdowns and ran the ball 70 times, amassing a gaudy 331 yards rushing. Three players had 16 carries or more. 

Sure, Notre Dame's defense isn't as dominant as it was a season ago. But it's by far the best unit the Midshipmen will see all year.

And just as they've done against the rest of their opponents, they ran all over them.

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