Oct. 11, 2015
By John Heisler
If the Notre Dame-Navy football game Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium had been a feature-length film, the 41-24 Irish victory would have prompted a long list of credits.
Here's who earned applause for the win over the unbeaten Midshipmen:
Robby Regan - Don't recognize that name? Regan quarterbacks the Irish prep-squad offense, also known as the SWAG team (students with attitude and game). They've been invaluable in preparation for the Georgia Tech and Navy triple option. Regan came from the Chicago suburbs to South Bend as a preferred walk-on in great part to play that role.
Kelly presented the game ball for the Navy game to Regan, who accepted on behalf of the SWAG team - and Kelly couldn't recall ever giving a game ball to a walk-on player.
Bob Elliott - The Irish have had their share of challenges defending Navy's attack in recent seasons, so once they saw Georgia Tech on the 2015 schedule as well, they took serious action. Kelly assigned special assistant to the head coach Elliott to spend significant time figuring out how to deal with the option - and it worked to the tune of two victories.
"We were very pleased," said Kelly. "I think we have established something that is a base way of playing the option teams. It's something we can carry with us and something that can be repeatable. If we won by one point that would have been fine with me. Now we have a system in place that we can come back to each and every year."
C.J. Prosise - The critics wondered if Notre Dame's top running back had lost his touch a week ago when he managed only 50 ground yards at Clemson. In reality, the Tigers had more to do with that as they stacked the box and determined early on that they weren't going to let Prosise beat them. Credit Prosise for maintaining an even keel and taking it as it came. The results Saturday? Three rushing touchdowns, 129 rushing yards, 56 receiving yards (on four catches).
Prosise already has qualified as one of only three Irish players to have multiple games in a season with three rushing TDs (Reggie Brooks in 1992 was the last).
To think that not so long ago Prosise was projected as maybe a part-time Irish runner, maybe a part-time receiver. Today he stands with 779 rushing yards in 2015 - and there are only six players in the country (Football Bowl Subdivision level) with more.
DeShone Kizer - The Irish showed some new passing wrinkles with quick flips that enabled Prosise and others to get out on the perimeter, with Navy's edge rushers crashing. That enabled Kizer to finish with 22 completions on 30 attempts for 281 yards.
"We wanted Kizer's stats to look a lot better," said Kelly, to chuckles from the media crowd.
Not so long ago Kizer was projected as the likely third-team Notre Dame signal-caller for 2015. Today he stands 19th nationally in passing efficiency and 23rd in completion percentage (.659)
23 (actually 24) Skidoo - The Irish found themselves back on their heels after Navy scored consecutive touchdowns to tie the game in the final minute of the first half. But, instead of taking a knee with 24 seconds left and heading to halftime, Notre Dame played it aggressive. Prosise ran for 12 yards, Kizer found a wide-open Torii Hunter Jr. for 28 more - and Justin Yoon knocked through a 52-yard field goal as the clock ran out. All the momentum that Navy had owned flipped over to the Irish side.
"We weren't giddy at half, but we were excited that we executed the way we needed to in those 24 seconds," said Kelly.
Greer Martini - The Irish linebacker tied Sheldon Day for the team lead in tackles with nine - and Kelly talked about him almost with the same respect he gave to the Midshipmen in terms of job description: "He's got a really good understanding of his job and he's a disciplined player, so when we ask him to do his job, he's going to get it done."
Jarrett Grace - It's been a long road back for the veteran Irish linebacker since a major leg injury midway through the 2013 season also ended his 2014 campaign. Saturday he came off the bench to provide a more physical presence ("He's a big body," noted Kelly) and contributed five tackles in helping stop the Navy fullbacks' forays.
Justin Yoon - The freshman placekicker hasn't been perfect in 2015, but Kelly had to like that 52-yarder and the later 36-yard field goal that elevated the Irish to a three-score differential.
Quick-Change Artists - Navy fumbled with about 11 minutes left in the second quarter and - Boom! - it took Prosise one play to score. When the Midshipmen fumbled on the second-half kickoff, it took two plays and - Boom! - Prosise skirted the Navy sideline for 22 yards and another TD.
The No-Panic Attack - A week ago at Clemson the first play from scrimmage was a 38-yard run by the Tiger quarterback. Saturday was deja vú - this time a 51-yard run by the Navy quarterback. But Kelly knew this time was different.
"Maybe some people thought, 'Okay, here we go again, off to a poor start.' But this time we just didn't execute," said Kelly.
The Possession Tally - The Midshipmen committed an uncharacteristic three turnovers in one afternoon, after only one in four combined games (and that came on the first series of Navy's first game). That made a huge difference in number of possessions.
"I think we had maybe 15 possessions today and normally against Navy we average about 10," said Kelly.
Navy had the ball four times after the break (resulting in a fumble, a missed field goal and an interception), netting only 95 yards (compared to 195 for the Irish).
The Irish Attitude - Said Kelly, "I liked the way we got back to work quickly this week. Last week was disappointing, but we were so focused this week in terms of getting back to work.
"I thought we had a great week of practice. By the end of the week I felt like, 'I don't know what else to do.'"
"Oh What A Night" rang out (remember the Four Seasons?) with two minutes left in Notre Dame Stadium--and even if it was barely evening and the sky remained perfectly blue (soon to turn a shade of hot pink), all that remained was for the Irish to run out the clock.
Irish athletics director Jack Swarbrick sought out his Navy counterpart, Chet Gladchuk. The two teams mingled collegiately at midfield and then headed to each end of the stadium for the playing of the two programs' alma maters. Hardly anyone left the seats, and even the Notre Dame cheerleaders ran to the south end to join the event.
The crowd hushed as the Midshipmen in the top rows of the southeast corner of the stadium led the singing, and a big cheer rang out at the conclusion.
In the Irish locker room, each Notre Dame player was greeted by Jack, a Make-A-Wish weekend visitor clad in Notre Dame jacket and red Irish hat. He shook hands with the Irish quarterbacks and received a hug back from Kizer.
The locker room went dead silent as Kelly called his team up - then the Irish coach erupted with, "How 'bout them Irish?" - and applause rang out all around.
"Great team win," added Kelly. "It required everybody - offense, defense, special teams. You've got to trust everybody - coaches and teammates. That's how you win in college football. If you can't commit, you can't win.
"We got some turnovers and the defense held them to three points in the second half. That's a team win. Enjoy it. The prep for our defense has been outstanding the two times we've gone against the option. That's our SWAG team . . ."
Regan stood on a stool and led the players in singing the Victory March - with smiles all around in a talkative locker room. Even injured running back Tarean Folston snuck into the interview room long enough to grab an ice cream treat to celebrate.
"That's the best Navy defense we've faced," Kelly told the media.
Meanwhile his own defense had limited the Midshipmen to three second-half points - the best Irish half against Navy since Notre Dame led 27-3 at the half in 2012 in Dublin.
Lights, camera, plenty of action.
And roll those Irish credits.
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame.
Heisler produces a weekly football commentary piece for UND.com titled "Sunday Brunch," along with a Thursday football preview piece. Here is a selection of other features published recently by Heisler: -- Australia Rugby Visit Turns into Great Sharing of Sports Performance Practices