Book it — Irish have all of the good luck
QB’s 5 TD passes, Mids’ mistakes make for bad day
SOUTH BEND, IND. — Too many turnovers and too much Ian Book.
That was basically the short story of what happened to No. 23 Navy on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry committed three costly fumbles and the home team capitalized. Meanwhile, Notre Dame quarterback Book was on target from start to finish as the Fighting Irish built a big halftime lead and blew out the Midshipmen 52-20 before a sellout crowd of 74,080 at Notre Dame Stadium.
Book completed 14 of 20 passes for 284 yards and five touchdowns for No. 16 Notre Dame (8-2), which took a 38-3 lead into halftime. Big wide receiver Chase Claypool caught four touchdown passes and finished with 117 receiving yards.
“We got our butts whooped and it started with me coaching,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “I thought I had our team ready, but obviously we weren’t . ... They out-coached us and outplayed us. They had a great plan on both sides of the ball.”
Perry’s game-breaking running ability was a big reason the No. 23 Midshipmen (7-2) went into the contest with hope for an upset. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound senior has been outstanding all season as the conductor of Navy’s triple option but was not on his game.
Perry rushed for 117 yards on 25 carries to lead the offense, but those numbers were overshadowed by his fumbles — all of which could be attributed to careless ball-handling. Notre Dame defensive end Khalid Kareem forced two of the fumbles.
“When you play teams that are better than you, you can’t turn the ball over and you can’t give up big plays,” Niumatalolo said. “Against a team like that, every mistake gets magnified.”
It was surprising because ball security has been a strength of Perry’s this season. He had fumbled only twice in eight games despite running the ball 157 times and dropping back to pass another 53 times.
“We knew going into the game we had to play almost perfect to beat these guys,” Perry acknowledged. “Fumbling doesn’t help you beat anybody. The fumbles hurt and I take full ownership of that.
“It was a combination of a lot of things, extremely avoidable things. That’s something I’m going to go watch [on film], learn from it and do better next week.”
Middle linebacker Drew White recorded 10 tackles and made a fumble recovery to lead the Notre Dame defense, which limited Navy’s starting offense to 171 total yards.
Both Midshipmen touchdown drives, which accounted for 149 of their 360 total yards, came after both teams had pulled all the starters.
Notre Dame, which won its 17th straight at home, marched 75 yards in 11 plays and took almost 5 1⁄2 minutes off the clock on the opening possession. Book hit Claypool on a crossing route for a 7-yard scoring strike to give the Irish a 7-0 lead at the 9:39 mark.
Navy mounted an impressive drive on its opening possession.
Perry used misdirection and mid-line plays to pick up 28 yards on four straight keepers. Carothers then gained 13 yards on back-to-back fullback dives.
The Midshipmen had first down at the home team’s 24-yard line after Perry converted a fourth-and-3. However, the promising march went up in smoke on the next play after Perry fumbled while being tackled by Kareem.
“There was a lot of momentum going and we were driving it on them, so it was deflating,” said Navy senior center and captain Ford Higgins said. “Everyone knows that in our offense turnovers are killer. We had way too many today.”
Linebacker Asmir Bilal recovered at the Navy 39-yard line and it took just two plays for the Fighting Irish to make it 14-0. Wide receiver Lawrence Keys took a reverse for 11 yards and a late hit by safety Kevin Brennan tacked on another 15 yards.
Book later dropped a bomb right into the arms of Claypool, who breezed into the end zone to complete a 47-yard scoring strike that put Notre Dame ahead 21-0 with 23 seconds left in the opening period.
Navy had another good drive going on its second possession, picking up 22 yards and two first downs on five straight running plays to approach midfield. That is when Kareem did it again, swatting the ball out of Perry hand’s as he turned upfield on an option keeper.
Fellow defensive end Jamir Jones recovered the loose ball at the visitors’ 39. Four plays later, Book and Claypool hooked up on their third touchdown toss, with the quarterback throwing a jump ball in the end zone and the 6-foot-5 wide receiver out-muscling cornerback Cameron Kinley for a 3-yard touchdown.
“I think our execution just wasn’t there today,” Navy senior linebacker Nizaire Cromartie said. “We had a lot of busts that led to big plays. They had receivers running wide open down the middle.
“It was a lack of pressure, lack of coverage, not executing the play the right way. You can’t make big mistakes against big-time teams. They’ll take advantage of those things.”
Navy won the time-of-possession battle in the first half by more than three minutes and still trailed by 35 points. That’s because four of Notre Dame’s touchdown drives lasted 2 1⁄2 minutes or less.
“We were all shell-shocked,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve been playing so well and [we] came into this game [with] a lot of momentum. We definitely didn’t see that coming.”
Navy was forced to punt on the opening possession of the second half and Notre Dame marched 78 yards in seven plays to tack on a sixth touchdown and truly turn the contest into a rout.
Book and Claypool connected once again, with the wide receiver once again out-jumping Kinley for a 50-50 ball in the end zone as the advantage grew to 45-3.
Niumatalolo threw in the towel late in the third quarter, replacing Perry with backup Perry Olson.
Olsen injected a spark into the offense — directing a 74-yard drive that produced Navy’s first touchdown. The 6-foot, 210pound freshman threw a 43-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Mychal Cooper, who got wide open off play-action and trotted into the end zone.
Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool makes one of his touchdown receptions Saturday in front of Navy’s Cameron Kinley.