- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 28, 2006

Who knows whether defense really wins championships, but teams at least need a semblance of it to win games.

Such was not the case yesterday for Navy, which allowed Notre Dame to score on six of its first seven possessions in a 38-14 victory at Baltimore’s M&T; Bank Stadium.

And as for the other Notre Dame drive? It ended just inches shy of the end zone with the Irish already up 31-14 and well on their way to a victory over the Midshipmen (5-3) for the 43rd consecutive year.

“You’re not gonna beat them if you don’t stop them once,” Navy coach Paul Johnson astutely observed.

Defense aside, some inopportune penalties (and a few shaky non-calls) didn’t exactly help. David Grimes caught Notre Dame’s first touchdown while pushing off Navy safety Jeremy McGown. McGown was called for the penalty and the touchdown stood.

Rhema McKnight also caught a touchdown in the first half that was arguably offensive pass interference. Yet the call that was especially painful was a late hit assessed to Rob Caldwell on a third down on the Irish’s first drive in the second half. Instead of forcing a punt, the Mids instead allowed a touchdown five plays later.

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As if it wasn’t already abundantly obvious, Brady Quinn is above average. Facing a minimal pass rush and a smallish secondary makes him even better.

Quinn finished 18 of 25 for 295 yards and three touchdowns as he enjoyed a day befitting a Heisman Trophy candidate. He also scored on a 19-yard run in the third quarter that effectively finished Navy.

It won’t be his last strong performance as he makes his Heisman push. Notre Dame sandwiches home games against North Carolina and Army around a trip to Air Force in the next three weeks, and Quinn realistically can be expected to shred all three opponents. That’ll leave a trip to Southern California in the season finale to seal the deal.

The USC-Notre Dame has solidified Heisman candidacies in 2002 (Carson Palmer), 2004 (Matt Leinart) and 2005 (Reggie Bush). It very well could happen again, so long as voters don’t treat the award as a team honor and hand it to Ohio State’s Troy Smith if the Buckeyes run the table.

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There might have been some interested parties down in North Carolina watching yesterday’s game — and not just to take their eyes off Virginia’s slapfight with N.C. State. Navy’s Paul Johnson could be a candidate to take over at North Carolina for John Bunting, and it was an opportunity to see his offensive scheme in action. True, the Mids didn’t do anything in the second half. But three solid drives against the Irish will probably be at least two more than North Carolina will muster when it visits South Bend next week.

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As in just about every season, a loss to Notre Dame should not prevent Navy from finishing strong.

OK, so these Mids aren’t quite as good as the last two years. And they’ll be without senior quarterback Brian Hampton, who dislocated his knee earlier this month.

But take a look at this schedule.

The Mids visit winless Duke next week. Then they play 1-6 Eastern Michigan and 0-8 Temple before finishing with Army, who they’ve beaten the last four years. Navy is 8-1 in the regular season the last three years after its annual loss to Notre Dame, so a strong finish is far from abnormal.

That’ll be more than enough to land Navy at the Meineke Car Care Bowl and give Johnson about a month to prepare for an unfortunate ACC team.

Quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada — henceforth referred to as Kaipo rather than his septa-syllabic surname — provided reason for optimism yesterday. The mellow Hawaiian, who brings a certain hakuna matata approach to things, effectively ran the option for much of the game.

Kaipo’s uncanny pitches helped Navy pick apart Notre Dame on three long drives in the first half, and he finished with 42 yards rushing and two touchdowns. If he and the Mids can slice up the Fighting Irish, there’s no reason he won’t be effective during the final month of the season.

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