- - Saturday, October 29, 2011

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – If Saturday’s game between Navy and Notre Dame had been an actual battle on the high seas, the Midshipmen wouldn’t have even made it out of dry dock.

Choose your verb: Notre Dame stomped, trounced, bullied, overwhelmed and embarrassed the hapless Midshipmen 56-14 at Notre Dame Stadium.

It was Navy’s sixth straight loss (its longest losing streak since losing 10 in a row in 2002) — not to mention its worst overall performance and lowest scoring output in 2011 — dropping the Mids to 2-6 overall and putting their hopes of a ninth-consecutive bowl game appearance in serious jeopardy.

This was a Navy team that came into the game with the nation’s No. 3 rushing attack, averaging 325.1 yards on the ground, while the Irish were ranked 58th against the run. But did that ever change in a hurry for both sides.

Continually torpedoed by the Irish defense, Navy was held to 196 rushing yards and just 33 yards in the air in sophomore quarterback Trey Miller’s first career start for the Midshipmen, replacing injured starter Kriss Proctor.

“I’m not going to make any excuses,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “That’s the 14th time I’ve played Notre Dame and that’s the most thorough butt-whipping we’ve gotten.”

To make matters worse, Navy’s defense let Notre Dame have its way both on the ground and in the air, giving up 442 total yards (260 passing, 182 rushing), including seven rushing touchdowns, the most the Irish have scored in a game in nearly 20 years.

“We haven’t won a game since early September and I know that’s definitely dawning on the guys and it’s dawning on me, being the captain and thinking about what this program means and what it’s about,” said Navy defensive end and team captain Jabaree Tuani.

For all intents and purposes, the game was over by the end of the first half, with Notre Dame holding a 35-7 edge. Running backs Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood paced the Irish with two touchdowns apiece in the first two quarters. Meanwhile, Navy managed just one touchdown — a 9-yard pass from Miller to Gee Gee Greene — (and a failed 47-yard field goal attempt) on seven first-half drives.

Rather than invigorate the Midshipmen, trailing 14-7, Greene’s score did nothing but tick Notre Dame off. On the first play of the next series, quarterback Tommy Rees connected on a season-high 56-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Floyd, putting the Irish ahead 21-7.

And then came the biggest and most embarrassing mistake for the Midshipmen. On the ensuing Irish kickoff, Navy’s Marcus Thomas let the ball bounce in front of him, touch his body, then fail to gain control of it, allowing Notre Dame to recover it on the Mids’ 22. Four plays later, the Irish went ahead 28-7 on a 2-yard run by Gray.

Notre Dame unquestionably had a chip on its shoulder coming into the game, still smarting from the embarrassing 31-17 loss to the University of Southern California last week. The Irish were looking to hit someone and,  unfortunately, the Midshipmen were their punching bag.

“We felt in the first couple of drives it was important to get off to a good start after not getting off to a good start against USC,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “We scripted some plays out, some plays that we wanted to get to and we were able to get to them and have some success early on.”

Things didn’t stop there, however. In the third quarter, wide receiver Michael Floyd scored his second TD of the game and ND went ahead 42-7. It was time for the Irish to send in the second team, while Navy began looking for the exits as much as many of the Irish fans that wanted to beat the post-game traffic.

Early in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame continued its onslaught — it apparently likes picking on service academies, as it defeated Air Force two weeks ago 59-33 — with a 5-yard scoring run by Gray, his third of the game.

Niumatalolo pulled Miller at quarterback and replaced him with third-stringer Jarvis Cummings, who scored Navy’s second and final touchdown shortly after he entered the game, a 12-yard run with 9:25 left in the game.

Notre Dame’s final touchdown came with 3:49 left in the game on a 1-yard run by George Atkinson III.

With a bowl game now almost out of its grasp, Navy can only hope to win its last four games to finish the season at .500 and maybe still earn at least a minor bowl bid.

“We’re not looking that far ahead, we’ve got to get better,” Niumatalolo said. “We can’t even catch a punt, can’t even kick a field goal. … There’s just some of the basics we need to get back to. That’s kind of our approach now, to go back to being fundamentally sound and that’s normally been us. When we start to reach and grasp and try to do our own deal, we’re not a very good football team.”

Alex Teich and Miller led Navy’s running game with 62 yards apiece, while Miller completed just 5 of 13 pass attempts for 33 yards.

All told, Navy played like a battleship that had taken one too many hits from the enemy.

“We were putting our fingers in a lot of different holes to try to stop things,” Niumatalolo said.

Unfortunately for the Midshipmen, there were far too many leaks to plug. It’s back to dry dock this coming week for extensive repairs.

NOTES: Saturday’s game extended the nation’s longest continuous intersectional college football rivalry, marking the 85th consecutive meeting between the two schools since their series began in 1927. Notre Dame leads the series by an overwhelming 72-12-1 mark, but Navy has still won three of the last five. … With kicker Jon Teague’s missed field goal early in the first quarter, Navy has now missed at least one kick (PAT or field goal) in seven of its eight games this season. Teague has now missed five field goals and four PATs this season. … Navy wide receiver Doug Furman was helped off the field late in the first quarter with what appeared to be a leg injury. He left the locker room after the game on crutches with a heavy-duty knee brace on his left leg.



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