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Five things we learned: Notre Dame 50, Navy 10

Sep 1, 2012, 3:10 PM EDT

Notre Dame v Navy Getty Images

DUBLIN — After an offseason and training camp spent listening to talking heads and columnists shovel dirt onto a once proud football program, Notre Dame spent a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Ireland letting out some frustration. For one Saturday, it appears the death of a once proud football program was greatly exaggerated, as Notre Dame turned back the clock to their glory years, beating Navy 50-10 in front of 48,820 fans in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.

The 50-10 win was the second consecutive 40-point beating, the first time the Irish have done that in over 40 years, putting to rest any worries that the Midshipmen would continue to close the gap in a rivalry that was once one of the nation’s most one-sided, while also serving notice that the Irish might not be so terrible after all.

Powered by a run game that almost doubled Navy’s vaunted triple-option attack, the Irish racked up 490 yards of offense behind the running of Theo Riddick, George Atkinson III, and Cam McDaniel, as first-time starting quarterback Everett Golson‘s debut was a solid one.

After opening last season in nightmarish fashion, the Irish scored touchdowns on their first three possessions, were deadly efficient on third downs, and spent the second half getting the youth on their roster highly valuable game experience.

“I think the storyline for me is the ability to control both lines, offensively and defensively, and to play between 15 and 20 first time participants,” head coach Brian Kelly said after the game. “We had a lot of young players getting some valuable experience today.”

Let’s find out what we learned during Notre Dame’s 50-10 victory.

Running behind a powerful offensive line, Notre Dame’s ground attack is going to power the offense.

The suspension of starting running back Cierre Wood didn’t stop Notre Dame from running all over Navy. Senior running back Theo Riddick paced the offense with 107 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns, while George Atkinson III chipped in 99 yards on only nine carries. His two touchdown runs included an electric 56-yard sprint that off and running by the middle of the first quarter. Cam McDaniel paced the second string offense with 59 yards on nine carries while chipping in 20 more through the air.

New offensive line coach Harry Hiestand‘s offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, with the Irish front five appropriately over-powering the undersized Midshipmen. After spending much of the first two years in the shotgun, the Irish turned back the clock and played smash mouth football up front, with Golson under center and a running back deep in the backfield.

With the game well in hand, the starting offensive line gave way to the second string, letting youngsters like Matt Hegarty, Nick Martin, Conor Hanratty, and true freshman Ronnie Stanley take their first collegiate snaps. After struggling on their first series, the second unit took control of the line of scrimmage as well, driving the ball down the field for a field goal and a late touchdown as well.

Predicting future success after pushing around one of college football’s worst rushing defenses isn’t a safe assumption, but it isn’t hard to see the strength of this team thanks to the skill of Riddick and Atkinson running behind a veteran unit powered by Braxston Cave, Zack Martin, Chris Watt and company. With Wood back in game three and Amir Carlisle about to be healthy as well, it’ll be a crowded — and talented — ground attack for Notre Dame.

***

In his first start, sophomore quarterback Everett Golson was up to the task.

Any concerns Irish fans had about rookie quarterback Everett Golson were likely alleviated early. The talented sophomore quarterback looked calm and poised as he made his collegiate debut and the moment — a truly unique one in Ireland — never got too big for him.

“We knew what we were going to get with Everett,” Kelly said after the game. “This wasn’t something where we didn’t know what was going to happen. There is always going to be some learning and he’s going to continue to learn all year. We would not have put him out there unless he had a good grasp of the offense. This was really just getting live snaps and experiencing the flow of the game. He’s going to be a much better player each and every week, today was just the start.”

Golson completed 12 of 18 throws for an efficient 145 yards, throwing a touchdown to All-American tight end Tyler Eifert and adding his first interception when he forced the ball into coverage to his best receiving threat.

“I think he would probably take one decision back,” Kelly said of Golson’s interception. “The great thing about Everett is he figures it out. He’s not going to make the same mistake twice. Other than that, I was really pleased with the leadership, the ability to get in the right plays and keep our offense running.”

With a high-octane running game, Golson wasn’t asked to do too much, never attempting a run and keeping his eyes down field when the pocket collapsed. He threw two accurate fade routes to Eifert, found his tight ends in play action, worked the screen game effectively and had a nice connection down field with Davaris Daniels as well.

The Irish will likely incorporate the zone read running principles soon, saving one more dimension of their offense for future opponents. But any worries that Golson wasn’t ready for the big stage were put to rest this afternoon, with the Irish offense firmly in the hands of its talented youngster.

Moving forward, the job is Golson’s to lose, with the battle now for No. 2 behind him between juniors Andrew Hendrix and Tommy Rees, now back from suspension.

***

Losing Aaron Lynch didn’t strip the front seven of all its playmakers.

You have to wonder if Aaron Lynch, Notre Dame’s freshman All-American that transferred to South Florida this spring, watched his former teammates shut down the Navy option attack and force quarterback Trey Miller to run for his life. While many thought the loss of Lynch was a debilitating loss, the Irish front seven was active and relentless, another good sign for Irish fans.

Sophomore defensive end Stephon Tuitt had the games most exciting play, returning a Miller fumble 77 yards for a touchdown, as the 6-foot-6, 305-pound brute seemingly pulling away from the Navy players giving chase. Tuitt added a sack and wreaked havoc at both end and tackle all afternoon.

The Irish defense had seven tackles for loss and three sacks while holding Navy to 3.7 yards per carry, with Ishaq Williams supplying constant pressure off the edge with Prince Shembo. Louis Nix and Kona Schwenke did a great job clogging the interior of the line as well, collecting a sack and 2.5 tackles-for-loss combined.

Add in Manti Te’o‘s brilliance — the senior linebacker filled the stat sheet with six tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception before he was pulled early in the fourth quarter — and the Irish made a resounding statement up front, shutting down Navy’s triple-option attack while holding the Midshipmen to just 10 points.

“I think we’re just carrying on from where we were last year as a defense that’s very stingy against the run,” Kelly said. “We’re very blessed with a physical group and a great scheme that’s well coached. Any time you can hold Navy to 10 points with one touchdown through the air, you’re feeling pretty good.

***

While the run defense looks good, there are plenty of question marks in the secondary.

Perhaps the most alarming part of the Irish’s 40-point victory was the restocked Irish secondary. Breaking in three new starters, Navy’s only success on offense was through the air, not exactly a reassuring thought with some prolific passing offenses on the schedule. Freshman cornerback KeiVarae Russell showed up a few times on the wrong end of a highlight, while cornerback Bennett Jackson and safety Zeke Motta had their struggles as well.

With Miller often running for his life in the backfield, he was still able to complete 14 of 19 passes, throwing for 192 yards and a touchdown. The secondary was asked to cover man-to-man quite a bit, but even without their first two receiving options, Navy was able to move the ball in the air.

It wasn’t all bad news for the unit, with safety Matthias Farley getting a surprising start at outside linebacker and playing very well. Bennett Jackson led the team in tackles with seven, and the Irish were able to get Russell, Jalen Brown, and Josh Atkinson plenty of experience as well.

“I thought they did some great things,” Kelly said of his young secondary. “I’m really excited about their ability to go out there and compete. The learning experience that we got today is something invaluable.”

Yet with the Irish so sturdy up front and so green in the secondary, expect opposing offenses to take dead aim at the Irish secondary, throwing early and often against a group that’s learning on the fly. Co-defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks and safeties coach Bob Elliott have their work cut out for them, and it’ll be up to Bob Diaco to script a game plan that protects his secondary while the young defenders get up to speed.

***

After starting the 2011 season off on the wrong foot, Saturday’s win was cathartic for the Irish.

After a season where just about every break when against the Irish, Saturday’s victory was a stark reminder that last season is in the past. After so many low-lights gutted the Irish in 2011, Saturday afternoon the shoe was on the other foot. It was Notre Dame running an opponent’s fumble in for a touchdown. It was the Irish getting a break in the return game, when Davonte Neal avoided catastrophe when he quickly grabbed a punt that hit him and scampered for 12 yards, a return that tripled the team’s net yardage total from last season.

After consistently being the team that made the mistakes, this Irish team handled their business with a ruthless efficiency, rising to the occasion while keeping their mistakes in check.

“We knew what we could do coming into the game, Te’o said. “We knew what we were capable of. As coach put it in the locker room, this is a celebration of all the work we put in.”

That maturity was evident in Golson’s play and the young quarterback talked about how the coaching staff preached a calm demeanor heading into the season opener.

“I think everybody was comfortable. Part of that is due to the coaches,” Golson said. “Coming into this game, the main thing was everybody is going to make mistakes, but you just have to relax. You’re going to make mistakes, but make them going full speed.”

Thanks to the comfortable victory, plenty of youngsters were able to get their first snaps out of the way. The Irish had a whopping 17 players get their first game action today, a huge benefit moving forward.

“We all know this is going to be a long season,” Kelly said. “We need all those players to play certain roles for us.”

In many ways, this was a picture perfect opening game for the Irish. A 40-point whipping where Kelly was able to empty the bench in an easy victory, but also a ton of teaching points to cover throughout the week. Botched extra point attempts need to be cleaned up. Coverage breakdowns need to be corrected. Young quarterbacks need to stop throwing into coverage. All par for the course in a season’s opening game. And all infinitely more acceptable when you’re blowing out your opponent.

With the Irish already on their way to the airport and heading back across the Atlantic shortly, Kelly and his team accomplished everything they wanted… and still have plenty to work on as they get ready for Purdue.

  1. idratherbeinsouthbend - Sep 2, 2012 at 1:04 AM

    Anybody else absolutely HATE the classless running up the score that some of these powerhouse programs do against 1-AA (FCS) opponents?

    Florida St. scores two TD’s with 6 minutes left in the game despite being up 55-3…eaked out the win against Murray State 69-3.

    Oklahoma State scored with 2 minutes left to give themselves a comfortable 84-0 lead against Savannah State….WITH TWO MINUTES LEFT, UP BY 77, YOU CAN’T TAKE A KNEE?

    Kansas St. returns a punt 89 yards for a touchdown with 2 minutes left to pad their 44-9 lead against Missouri State.

    Oregon is up 50-10 at halftime, and given the level of respect they generally show their opponents, i’m sure the goal is to try and score 100.

    Just saying, there’s a right way to play and the “other” way, like WV and NC…

    WV scored almost 70, but the were playing an opponent that continued to score too.

    NC put up 62 points on Elon, but they stopped throwing the ball with three minutes left in the third quarter and didn’t score at all in the fourth quarter.

    I understand that the garbage time can be good for the second/third string…but some of this nonsense is purely disrespectful.

    • kappy32 - Sep 2, 2012 at 5:23 AM

      This is high level football; you play until the game is over. If you take your foot off the gas & run an offense your team is not accustomed to then you run the risk of having players injured. You shouldn’t complain & neither should the opposing teams. If they didn’t want the score ran up then they should’ve made a stop or scored some points themselves, keeping the opposing offense off the field. This isn’t pop Warner football where everyone gets a trophy.

      • idratherbeinsouthbend - Sep 2, 2012 at 2:26 PM

        you’ve effectively demonstrated the difference between class and no class.

        There is at least a small difference between thinking that “everybody gets a trophy” and OK State probably didn’t need to extend their 77-0 lead with 2:00 left.

        Furthermore…”If they didn’t want the score ran up then they should’ve made a stop or scored some points themselves, keeping the opposing offense off the field”…stupidity at its finest. Clearly, they CAN’T stop the opposing team. Hence the point of my original statement.

        If you choose to fight the big kid at school, he can punch you several times to prove his dominance over you…but it’s not necessary to rip your underwear and piss on your head. By your arguement, we could surmise that the smaller kid should just fight back harder or do some punching himself.

        I’ll leave you with this one thought….

        People won’t always remember what you said or what you did, but they’ll almost always remember how you treated them and how you made them feel. — Test this theory for yourself. Think of someone, ANYONE, is your past…a co-worker, a boss, a friend, a classmate…I’m willing to bet that you remember how they treated you and how they made you feel.

    • goirish08 - Sep 2, 2012 at 3:02 PM

      84-0 is just stupid as well as the teams that scored in sixties. That being said, you can’t ask your second string not to compete. There’s no excuse for 84-0 and against Savannah St. Is that even Div II or is it Div III? Classless!!!!

    • lepcio - Sep 3, 2012 at 12:29 PM

      One needs to remember one thing when looking at a scoreboard: BOTH teams bear responsibility for the scores.

    • Gentlemen of Sport - Sep 3, 2012 at 12:43 PM

      With the way the polls work, you’ve got to win impressively against those kind of opponents to gain ground or even to maintain your status. It’s the nature of the beast, and it does kind of suck for the FCS guys… but that’s the way it is.

    • Gentlemen of Sport - Sep 3, 2012 at 12:43 PM

      With the way the polls work, you’ve got to win impressively against those kind of opponents to gain ground or even to maintain your status. It’s the nature of the beast, and it does kind of suck for the FCS guys… but that’s the way it is.

  2. irisheyesinsd - Sep 2, 2012 at 2:36 AM

    After 56-14 and 50-10, we obviously have finally figured out how to defend the triple option and manhandle a smaller opponent. Given that we play them every year, wouldn’t it make sense to rearrange our future schedules to open against Navy every year? This could turn into our tune-up before facing UM, MSU, etc. BTW, I don’t mean any disrespect towards Navy or need to be reminded we lost 3/5 to them, but it seems to me the chances of that happening again seem remote.

  3. loadofwash - Sep 2, 2012 at 6:57 AM

    Ok let’s just rank’m in the top 10 now so you fuk’n idiots will be happy for a week. ND sucks. Get a fuk’n clue, it may save you a buck or two.

    • ndgoldandblue - Sep 2, 2012 at 7:49 AM

      Well, how good the Irish are this year remains to be seen, so I won’t claim that Notre Dame deserves any kind of ranking at all. Let’s see where they stand after six weeks. But I will say one thing: you spent the time to create a name for this blog, and you posted a comment about a team that you hate at 6:57 in the morning. If that’s how you prioritize your life, then maybe you need to get a f@#$ing clue.

  4. dbldmr - Sep 2, 2012 at 7:55 AM

    Good to see that you’re up early, loadofwash. Your scintillating commentary adds so much.

  5. dapperdanirish - Sep 2, 2012 at 8:29 AM

    Along with the point about Aaron Lynch, did anyone happen to notice (or care…probably not) that Houston was demolished by FCS school Texas State yesterday, 30-13? A home game for Houston. I hope Deontay Greenberry is enjoying that decision to sign with the mighty Cougars at the last minute over ND. Heck, wouldn’t anyone rather play for a low level C-USA team and get embarrassed at home by an FCS school than travel to Ireland and dominate on national TV??

  6. ndrocks2 - Sep 2, 2012 at 8:41 AM

    Looks like no one got hurt and we won big other than that hard to get anything else out of this game. Navy plays different than everyone else we play and they look really bad right now and they we were banged up pretty good by the end. Glad to have the big win obviously but will get a much better idea after we play a usually middle of pack Purdue next week.

  7. ekalderf - Sep 2, 2012 at 11:40 AM

    “Hello Cierre, let me introduce you to Mr. Pipp.”

    • 1historian - Sep 2, 2012 at 12:25 PM

      good one.

      Wonder how many people get it.

  8. 1historian - Sep 2, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    1 – Kick ass on a clearly inferior team. check
    2 – Break in a rookie qb check
    3 – Support him with a powerful running game. check
    4 – Support a suspect secondary with running. check
    5 – Young players get experience. check
    6 – Play as Notre Dame should. CHECK

    Thus endeth week the 1st

    • NotreDan - Sep 2, 2012 at 5:46 PM

      great post. “Using of the the Rogaine… Check!”

  9. loadofwash - Sep 2, 2012 at 2:21 PM

    Ok, who’s up next? A bunch of nuns. The Irish suck. Take your irrelevant award of the decade and jamb it up your azz.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Sep 2, 2012 at 2:41 PM

      Yesterday I shit something smarter than you…..classier too.

    • NotreDan - Sep 2, 2012 at 5:48 PM

      Looks to me like we beat UM, MSU and OU. They all looked less than stellar. Looks like load of wash is nothing but a load that ran down his momma’s leg.

  10. goirish08 - Sep 2, 2012 at 3:14 PM

    I was hoping to read something on Everett and what appeared to me is how he was staring down his receivers? Was it just me or didn’t it appear he was? Don’t get me wrong, I like him back there rather than the non athletic, turnover machine we had last year. Staring down his receivers will be a problem down the road!!!

  11. ndgiants11 - Sep 2, 2012 at 5:54 PM

    Loved the way BK really used his TEs yesterday – with such inexperience at the wide receiver t almost almost seems like he’s going to go with a Patriots-like offense with the TEs as the staple.

  12. loadofwash - Sep 2, 2012 at 8:31 PM

    Notredan….your dad really should have pulled out

  13. 1historian - Sep 3, 2012 at 7:27 AM

    There is a guy who posted his latest offering to us yesterday Sept. 2 @ 8:31 in the evening. In keeping with his previous posts it was somewhat uncomplimentary about the University and the football team representing the University. It also indicated that he has (at best) a tenuous grasp of the niceties of the english language.

    Predictably it got a large number of (well-deserved) thumbs down, as was the case with all his previous offerings.

    May I make this suggestion – don’t give him thumbs down, don’t respond to him, just – ignore him. Hopefully his mom will hear him screaming and put him to bed without his supper.

    We can only hope.

    • dudeacow - Sep 4, 2012 at 9:09 PM

      Oh come one, he has over 100 thumbs-down and you want us to stop? We’re going for the record!

      (what’s the record?)

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