Notre Dame races to 54-27 victory over Navy
By Tim Sherman
DUBLIN, Ireland -- They came to Ireland, saw the sights, met the people, took tours and even experienced the night-life of Dublin. They also won a football game.
In what amounted to an extended social studies field trip, the 19th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish took care of business against Navy, winning 54-27 at Croke Park in Dublin, Ireland. The win was Notre Dame's 33rd straight victory over Navy, which establishes a new NCAA record for consecutive victories by one school over another.
This was a great trip - I would definitely do it again," Irish coach Lou Holtz said after the game. "I thought the game would be different (because of the environment), but it wasn't."
But it was different than the last time the Irish (5-2) played - a 20-17 overtime loss at home against Air Force.
Against the water-based service academy, Notre Dame brought the game to where they wanted it to be - the ground. The Irish racked up 303 yards on the ground on just 45 carries. That adds up to an average of just under seven yards per carry. Sophomore tailback Autry Denson led the way with 123 yards on 16 carries.
"I thought we ran the ball very well today," Holtz said. "That was our plan. We didn't want to throw a lot. Our offensive line played well and our backs ran well."
Denson, in particular, was outstanding. Touchdown runs came from 33 and 23 yards away.
"I had a talk with coach Holtz and he told me to take what they give me and get up field," Denson said.
In a game with a handful of big plays, Denson had perhaps the biggest in the third quarter. Navy (5-2) had trimmed a once 28-7 Irish lead to just 14 early in the third quarter. After forcing a Notre Dame punt, the Midshipmen appeared to have the momentum. But Bert Barry forced a fumble (Lyron Cobbins recovered) and on the next play, Denson broke outside right and zipped 23 yards into the end zone.
"Autry broke a tackle," Holtz explained. "Their safeties were up at the line of scrimmage, so it was a lot of one-on-ones. We needed to make some big plays and we did."
The defense played just as large of a role in getting the Irish season back on track. Denson's classmate Kory Minor had a career day, as he caused two turnovers and made eight tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage.
"I think I had my best game," Minor said. "A lot of guys hate playing the option, but I love it because it's my style. I get to run from sideline to sideline."
After not forcing a turnover in six quarters against the option-oriented academy (four vs. Air Force, two vs. Navy), the Irish defense finally got it going in the third quarter.
On the first possession of the second half, Minor caused Navy quarterback Chris McCoy to fumble. The loose ball was picked up by 281-pound defensive tackle Renaldo Wynn, who raced 24 yards into the end zone to put the Irish ahead 28-7.
"I was exhausted afterwards," said Wynn.
"That was a big play," said Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie. "You can't afford to give them what we did in terms of turnovers and big plays."
But they did and the Irish capitalized.
The turnovers and the big plays allowed Ron Powlus to do what best helps the team - hand the ball off. Powlus threw just 11 passes and kept the offense in a rhythm.
"It (only having to throw 11 times) was tremendous," Powlus said. "It's a credit to our line."
When he did throw, Powlus had great protection and was efficient. A 41-yard strike to Malcolm Johnson on the final play of the third quarter got the game-breaking drive started. Edwards ended the five-play, 65-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge.
However, the Irish didn't start the game with such productivity. The stagnation of the offensive attack that started in the Air Force loss extended to Notre Dame's first two possessions. But then the potentially outstanding, yet inconsistent running game began to gel.
The Irish started their third possession with great field position (Navy 43) and quickly marched down the field on the strength of big gains from Edwards and Denson (13 and 14 respectively). In fact, it took just five plays to set up Edwards' five-yard TD run.
"Field position is very important in this game," Weatherbie said. "When you give Notre Dame the ball with a short field, the percentages of them scoring go up."
The percentages played true for Notre Dame's second touchdown. Allen Rossum raced 40 yards on a punt return, setting up a five-yard TD pass from Powlus to Pete Chryplewicz.
It was a relief for the Irish to get up early and put to rest the distractions of the week.
"I was afraid we did too much, but our senior leadership was great," said Holtz. "They (captains Powlus, Edwards and Cobbins) helped keep the team focused."
Even though it was officially a Navy home game, the Irish had the crowd. It was a fitting way to get back on track - the Irish in Ireland.
Notre Dame (19) 54, Navy 27