SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame’s offense looked like a shell of itself for most of the first half against Navy.

Two straight three-and-outs, a turnover on downs and a short field goal was all the Fighting Irish had to show after their first four offensive drives in what was a 3-3 game midway through the second quarter.

Then, freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner came in to throw off a Navy defense that had handled Jack Coan, Kyren Williams and the rest of the Irish offense up to that point. Buchner helped orchestrate an 11-play, 66-yard drive that resulted in the first touchdown of the game — a one-yard touchdown run by Williams with 2:46 left before half.

From that point, No. 10 Notre Dame would dominate the Midshipmen, outscoring them 24-3 the rest of the way. The Irish would go on to outgain its long-time rival 430-184 and defeat Navy 34-6 at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

“I’m proud of my team for the way they prepared all week, and the way they executed (Saturday),” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “Defensively, we played very well. We were detailed, we were focused and we trusted the guy next to us. We got back to the foundational principles of a really good defense. Communication, assignments, tackling were all on display.

“Offensively, we definitely didn’t get off to a great start. It’s a bit of a unique defense. They play a lot of Tampa Two, they drop eight a lot. They also mix in some different blitzes and pressures. … Sometimes you just have to be patient. We did a nice job of that and broke the game open.”

Early on, the Irish played down to their opponent.

Through the first quarter of play, the home team only accounted for 54 total yards while going 0-of-3 on third down. The Midshipmen’s performance during the first 15 minutes wasn’t any better — 44 total yards and 0-of-4 on third down — but quarterback Tai Lavatai did enough to help lead the Navy offense into field goal position for a 49-yard attempt by kicker Bijan Nichols late in the first quarter. The made kick put the Midshipmen ahead by three as the game moved into the second quarter.

The second 15 minutes of play is when the momentum began to shift offensively for Notre Dame. The Irish outgained the Midshipmen 225-12 and outscored them 17-0 to build an advantage at halftime that Navy’s anemic offense wouldn’t be able to come back from.

After kicker Jonathan Doerer tied the game at three with 9:47 to play before the intermission, Buchner and the offense went on to score the game’s first touchdown behind steady running from both freshman running back Logan Diggs and Williams.

The second touchdown drive may have been the most impressive of the afternoon though. After a 75-yard boot by Navy punter Riley Riethman rolled down to the Notre Dame five-yard line, the Irish put together a five-play, 95-yard scoring drive with less than two minutes to go in the half.

The drive ended with an explosive 70-yard touchdown reception by Kevin Austin Jr. from Coan that put the Irish ahead by 14. The senior had four catches for 124 yards and a touchdown in the first half.

“Any time we have at least one timeout with 1:10-1:15 left, we feel like we are in pretty good shape to be aggressive,” said Kelly of the final drive before half. “We ran four verticals there and Jack used his eyes to influence the safety. (Coan) was able to come all the way back across the field and find Austin. It was something we worked on all week in practice.”

“We basically ran the same play right before,” Coan added. “Coach Kelly was screaming at me because it was open the play before, and he basically just told me to throw it there. … It was a great call by coach Kelly and a great play by Kevin.”

Navy built a bit of momentum on its first offensive possession of the second half, earning three points on Nichols’ second field goal of the day after the Midshipmen went 71 yards and bled nine minutes and 36 seconds off the clock in the process.

After that, however, Navy only managed a combined 62 yards on its final four drives of the game.

Notre Dame’s defense dominated the Midshipmen in the trenches for four quarters, and that led to just 166 rushing yards on 55 attempts.

The Irish came at Navy with multiple different looks on defense, and that seemed to confuse coach Ken Niumatalolo’s offense throughout the game.

“We played both an even and an odd front,” Kelly said. “A lot of teams just play one front — we played multiple. You saw (Navy) use timeouts a couple times because we were moving the front. … We were moving the front late on them, so they couldn’t get a bead on us.”

A couple players in particular made the biggest difference defensively for Notre Dame. Defensive lineman Kurt Hinish led the team with 10 tackles in the middle and linebacker Drew White played through a torn PCL he sustained in practice during the week.

“We had some guys with experience playing the option, and (Hinish) was one of them,” Kelly said. “We were relying heavily on him. Drew White was the other. … We didn’t know if he’d be able to play. He’s a warrior. Hinish and Drew were two of the inside guys that needed to come up big for us, and they did.”

After Navy went down 19-6 on a safety due to a bad pitch in the end zone early in the fourth, the Irish offense put together two more sustained drives during the final quarter that ended with touchdown runs by Williams (95 rushing yards and two touchdowns) and Diggs (59 rushing yards and one touchdown).

No. 10 Notre Dame improved to 8-1 with the victory. The Irish will have to completely flip the script next week when they travel to Charlottesville to play Virginia (5-3) at 7:30 p.m. on ABC.

Evan Lepak can be reached at evan.lepak@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 240326. Follow him on Twitter @EvanMPLepak.

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