Report Card: Notre Dame vs. Navy

How does Notre Dame grade out in its season opener against Navy?
Posted on Sept. 2, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

PASS OFFENSE: A-. Everett Golson reinforced his legion of believers with a promising premiere performance. He only threw the ball 18 times before being replaced by Andrew Hendrix in the third quarter, but he completed 12 of those passes for 144 yards and one touchdown. Perhaps most importantly, Golson only turned the ball over once. It was nice to see an Irish quarterback with the ability to throw on the run. Golson was never expected to throw 300 yards on Saturday. He did his job, limited the mistakes and let the offensive stars take care of the rest. Notre Dame may have found its formula for success in the red zone: 1. Toss it up to Tyler Eifert. 2. Profit.

RUN OFFENSE: A+. The Irish sure weren’t missing Cierre Wood today. Granted, Navy isn’t known for stopping the run but Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III sliced through the defense like it was made of Ardrahan cheese. Riddick finished with 19 carries for 107 yards and his first two rushing touchdowns in a Notre Dame uniform. Atkinson averaged an astounding 11 yards per carry for 99 yards and a pair of touchdowns. As Atkinson proved on his 56-yard sprint to the end zone: If he gets in the open field, no one will catch him. And how about Robby Toma’s 9-yard scramble for a score? He’ll be a viable option in this evolved Notre Dame offense throughout the season.

PASS DEFENSE: A. On one hand, the young Notre Dame secondary has a lot of work to do if it’s giving up 38- and 41-yard passes to Navy, of all teams. But Notre Dame gets its high grade from forcing four turnovers and knocking quarterback Trey Miller down three times. Stephon Tuitt’s 77-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown will easily be a highlight of the season. A slimmer, faster Manti Te’o was everything he promised in the off-season, grabbing his first career interception and scooping up a fumble while also registering six tackles.

RUN DEFENSE: A. Navy was going to get its yards, a triple-option offense all but guarantees it. Star slotback Gee Gee Greene was limited to three carries, but churned out 33 yards in the process. Miller, who is more known for his legs than his arms, averaged a measly 20 yards on 16 carries. The Notre Dame front seven was too busy knocking the ball out of Miller’s hands to allow anyone to run too much. Navy didn’t score any rushing touchdowns, and its 149 yards on the ground is the program’s lowest since Dec. 11, 2010.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-. Two botched extra points, the gimmes of the football world? Nick Tausch missed an extra point on the opening score, then Ben Turk fumbled the snap in the third quarter. Good thing Notre Dame had two points to spare. Tausch hit a 34-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter and Turk punted twice, averaging 33 yards on each, but the special teams unit had an otherwise quiet day. The NCAA new kickoff rule (moving the ball up from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line) limited Atkinson’s returns. Davonte Neal’s one punt return for 11 yards triples Notre Dame’s punt returns average from last year. So that’s something.

COACHING: A. Head coach Brian Kelly did a lot of self-evaluation in the off-season, promising himself that he’d get back to his roots as a hands-on head coach. It showed on Saturday. Notre Dame was cohesive, unified and flat-out better prepared than Navy. Kelly had the task of moving the entire program overseas, to prepare them for a huge time difference, to keep their minds off the handful of suspensions in the off-season and the comments made by Joe Montana and Allen Pinkett earlier in the week. Notre Dame responded with a 50-10 blowout. Kelly did a good job of easing Golson into his role, limiting the young quarterback’s production to mostly short, quick passes and letting the tailbacks take care of the rest.

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