SOUTH BEND – In the week before the Irish take on Navy, the vast majority of the discussion generally centers on how to stop the triple-option offense. Not as much time is spent wondering about the offense for Notre Dame, but the Irish clearly didn't forget to work on that area this week.
The Irish scored touchdowns on their first four possessions, marching down the field on all four occasions and jumping out to a huge lead before Navy had even really caught its breath. Ian Book's long touchdown passes to Chase Claypool and Braden Lenzy over the middle were things of beauty, but really the Irish haven't much needed big plays to move the ball. Navy has been unable to get much pressure on Book, giving the sometimes-skittish quarterback plenty of time to go through his progression, set his feet and make strong throws. It also helps that Claypool is far stronger and more athletic than just about anyone Navy has in its secondary. The Midshipmen's only real option is to put a linebacker on the big wide receiver, but Claypool is way too fast for that. That's a recipe for a big game for the senior and he has delivered with six catches for 97 yards and three touchdowns. Unless Notre Dame takes its foot off the gas (which it might well do in the third quarter), Claypool could be on his way to a career game. Book is 11 for 14 for 209 yards and four touchdowns already.
Maybe an even bigger issue for Navy is that the Midshipmen haven't been able to move the ball much on the ground. I wrote before the game that Notre Dame would have to remain disciplined on the defensive line to slow down this offense and the Irish have passed that test with aplomb. Navy had some modest success on its first drive, moving the ball past midfield, but it has done little since and is averaging just 4.0 yards per carry (a total that includes a 46-yard Perry run right before the half). The Irish have forced three Malcolm Perry fumbles, which have undoubtedly turned the momentum in their favor, but even when Navy has been able to hold on to the ball, Notre Dame has stayed home and made tackles in space. The problem that began cropping up for Navy in the second quarter was that it had to start consider throwing and when it did the Irish were able to get pressure and make Perry uncomfortable. This is not an offense that is built to come back from large deficits and that makes Notre Dame's already sizable lead feel even bigger than it is.
The best news for Notre Dame (outside of the fact that Book's improvement against Duke last week seems to have carried over) is that the Irish haven't really missed Julian Okwara. The defensive line has had plays from all over, with Khalid Kareem forcing two fumbles, Jayson Ademilola and Ovie Oghoufo combining for 1 1/2 tackles for loss and the line generally looking like a brick wall on runs up the middle.
This has been a dream first half for the Irish, asserting its will against an undersized Navy team that has had few answers. All that's left in the second half is some clean-up before Phil Jurkovec Time can begin.