Notre Dame-Navy: Who'll Stop The Rain?

Matt PoloniCorrespondent INovember 15, 2008

Early in the fourth quarter with the score 27-7 in Notre Dame's favor, I turned to my dad and said, "Hopefully, this one is well in hand."

With nine minutes left, the storm came. About six minutes and 30 seconds later, the Midshipmen stormed back and nearly pulled it out.

By the time Navy recovered their second straight onside kick, hope was all I had to hang onto.

There's more to this story than the final minutes, though. Before the rain it didn't look too bad.

Before the Rain (Offense)

It was this week, when Charlie resumed play calling duties, that he was finally able to pound the ball. The team combined for 230 rushing yards and two touchdowns, the only offensive touchdowns of the game for them. Aldridge, Hughes, and Allen ran for 80, 64, and 60 yards, respectively.

At times it seemed as though Navy wouldn't even be able to stop the running attack if they had extra men on the field. The Hughes touchdown drive was a perfect example.

On that drive, Allen had runs of four and eight yards before Hughes took over with runs of 11, 15, nine, three, four, and seven yards.

Instead, it was the passing game that held the Irish back today. While Jimmy Clausen did complete 15 of his 18 passes for 110 yards, he also threw two interceptions and lost a fumble on a sack.

Allen was the leading receiver with 60 yards on six catches, the result of Clausen continuously checking down. David Grimes came in second with 22 yards on three catches.

No other receiver had more than one catch or totaled over 13 yards, including Golden Tate, who didn't even show up on the stat sheet.

Of course, it didn't help that the Irish were without their other play-making receiver. Michael Floyd was out for the game after an apparent knee injury in the first drive of the game.

He was hit from the lateral side of his left knee by a Navy defender who was in the process of making a tackle, so an MCL injury is not out of the question.

Before the Rain (Defense/Special Teams)

In the first half, the Fighting Irish defense was almost everything that the Irish faithful hoped it could be. Other than a Pat Kuntz offside penalty on fourth down, they didn't give up a first down until Navy's second drive in the second quarter.

Great defensive plays weren't lacking in the effort.

Robert Blanton made a great tackle as he was falling down off a block to drag down the Navy ballcarrier for a six yard loss.

David Bruton barely missed intercepting two passes. Multiple runs in the game were absolutely stuffed, including stops by Ian Williams and Maurice Crum.

And in Navy's final drive of the second quarter, Crum forced a fumble that was recovered by Justin Brown.

The best moment of the first half, however, came on special teams when Mike Anello and Sergio Brown broke free on a Navy punt attempt to get the block. Toryan Smith picked up the ball and ran it in for Notre Dame's first points of the game.

The only real hiccup of the first half came with just under four minutes left in the second quarter. The Irish allowed 58 rushing yards and a touchdown on five plays for Navy's only points of the first 57 minutes of the game.

The third and early fourth quarters weren't much different from the first two. They allowed one first down early in the third, but didn't allow another until Navy began their comeback with 2:30 left on the clock.

Up to that point, the Irish allowed 142 rushing yards and 10 passing yards. Coming into this game, Navy averaged 308 and 67 yards in each category, respectively. They also held Navy to only seven first downs, five less than their season low against Pittsburgh.

The Rain

In the fourth quarter with 9:07 left on the clock, the Irish were coming off a great defensive series that ended in a fourth down stop. While preparing to start their offensive drive, the rain came quite suddenly.

It was the epitome of the saying "when it rains, it pours." Unfortunately, the play of the Irish would follow suit.

Charlie sat the starters and Jonas Gray was now in to attempt to run down the clock.

He carried for one yard and lost another. Then, a Navy defender got a hold of his collar and got flagged. Half the distance to the goal. First down.

He gained seven on his next carry and followed that up with another five. The Irish were now at the 2-yard line.

Two plays later, he fumbled. Navy recovered at the five and Notre Dame lost a chance to possibly put the game out of reach.

The rain continued to fall hard, but the Irish held strong on defense and forced a three-and-out.

The first play was a botched snap. Then, Hughes ran the ball, but only got one yard. He got six yards on the next play and set the Irish up with a fourth-and-three situation.

Charlie Weis decided to run the ball up the middle. Hughes didn't make it and Navy took over on downs. The offense wouldn't see the field again.

The Comeback

Ricky Dobbs, the Navy quarterback, ran for four yards. A pass completion and a penalty gave the Midshipmen a first down and fifteen extra yards. After an incompletion, Shun White ran in for a touchdown.

Notre Dame 27, Navy 14.

Navy went for the onside kick and hit it perfect, but Robby Parris was there to knock it out of bounds. Apparently, you can't do that. Flags were thrown and the kick was to be redone.

On the re-kick, they executed even better. This time they recovered. They didn't waste any time getting another touchdown, either.

On the first play, Dobbs connected with Tyree Barnes on a long pass play. Originally called a touchdown, it was eventually ruled out at the one. Two plays later, Dobbs sneaked it into the end zone for the touchdown.

Notre Dame 27, Navy 21.

Because of a running into the kicker penalty, their next attempt at an onside kick would set them up with better field position. They executed perfectly again and still had 1:21 left on the clock.

Dobbs escaped a sack to gain seven yards.

White got open in perfect position to make a first down catch, but slipped and dropped the ball.

Then, Dobbs ran the ball and got the first down. Navy quickly lined up and spiked the ball. Thirty-nine seconds remained on the clock.

Kuntz and Harrison Smith beat their blockers and got to Dobbs for the sack. Navy called their final timeout.

On the next play, Dobbs threw for the endzone, but Robert Blanton was there for the coverage.

On the play after that, Dobbs overthrew his reciever.

Turnover on downs.

Evan Sharpley takes a knee.

The game was finally over and the Irish finally won.

Going Forward

There are plenty of positives for the Irish to take away from this game.

For one, the defense played great against Navy's rushing attack. In the past, the Irish have had trouble against the triple option, but today they actually forced Navy to pass the ball. Until the rain came, the secondary shut that down, too.

In addition to stopping the run, Notre Dame has now shown that they can run the ball. Navy may not be the best defense in the country, but 230 yards rushing should never be dismissed. If all they needed was a boost of confidence, then this game could certainly provide it.

Also, Robert Blanton may have proven that he is ready to play full-time. While filling in for Terrail Lambert today, he registered two tackles (one for a loss) and a pass breakup.

They may not be the best stats, but (so far as I could tell) he made no big mistakes. There aren't many true freshmen who can turn out a mistake-free performance.

And it should not be forgotten that Brandon Walker made another field goal. He has now made eight of his last nine.

But, of course, there are also some negatives.

The one thing that may have the most impact going forward is the injury factor. Not only did Michael Floyd leave the game, but so did Brian Smith.

Recently, Smith has been the most vocal member of the Irish defense regarding their lack of intensity late in games. It would be interesting to see how different this game would have been if he hadn't left so early.

Another big negative is the passing game. While the running game has improved recently, the passing attack has regressed. Jimmy still seems to be pressing somewhat and it is causing him to make some bad decisions.

Obviously, if Michael Floyd is out for a little while, the passing game is going to have to figure out how to move on without him. If they can't do that, then the running backs had better repeat their performance each week. Otherwise, the offense might be in trouble.

The most obvious negative from this game is the way the Irish play at the end of their games. While it may be too much to say that they lose their intensity completely, there is most definitely a dropoff that needs to be addressed.

The Navy comeback produced 54 passing yards and 36 rushing yards in two and a half minutes. I'm sure that, of all the teams in college football, Navy has a distinct advantage in such wet conditions, but such a performance shouldn't happen again.

Next week, the Irish play Syracuse for their final home game. Excuses are running short.


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