Navy’s defense knew full well the demanding assignment it was going to face in contending with Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd. The NFL prospect has made some of the country’s more athletic secondaries look pedestrian, so there was no telling what he might do to the Midshipmen, who entered the game ranked 111th out of 120 FBS teams in pass efficiency defense.
Floyd ended up with 121 receiving yards and a touchdown on six catches and had a 10-yard touchdown run in the second half, when the Fighting Irish were comfortably ahead and well on their way to 56-14 dismantling on a chilly afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium.
“The guy was unbelievable,” Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said of Floyd, who missed the Navy-Notre Dame game last season because of injury. “What Floyd did against us, we have seen him do against everybody. The guy is a big-time receiver. You throw the hitch-out to him, and he stiff-arms guys, most of them, for touchdowns. He’s catching the ball underneath, cartching the ball over the top. I mean the kid is a complete player.”
It didn’t take long for Floyd to assert himself, catching a 25-yard pass on the Fighting Irish’s first play from scrimmage. The throw from Tommy Rees was a screen to the right side, and Floyd broke loose along the sideline before stepping out of bounds.
Floyd was just getting warmed up. His next reception went for 12 yards, setting up Notre Dame with first and goal at the 4, and soon after the Fighting Irish led 14-0. The Midshipmen cut into the lead when slotback Gee Gee Greene caught a nine-yard touchdown from quarterback Trey Miller, but just when it looked like Navy may make things interesting, Floyd offered a quick retort.
On Notre Dame’s first play on its ensuing possession, Floyd came wide open in the middle of the field, and Rees connected with his favorite target for a 56-yard touchdown that took all of nine seconds. Just like that, the Fighting Irish again were firmly in command.
“That obviously was a huge play,” Niumatalolo said.
The culprit was senior safety Kwesi Mitchell, who was out of position after biting on a play-fake. Freshman cornerback Parrish Gaines released Floyd anticipating help behind him, but instead Floyd had nothing but open field on his way to the end zone.
Floyd tacked on a 10-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes 59 seconds to play in the third quarter to expand the lead to 42-7, capping a game in which he had outgained Navy on his own in the first half.
In attempt to get pressure on Rees and because of personnel issues, Navy came out in a 4-3 alignment. The Midshipmen haven’t played in that formation since 2002. The strategy never worked though, and the Midshipmen soon scrapped that for their regular 3-4.
“To be honest with you, it didn’t matter,” Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green said. “Four-three, three-four, blitz, strong blitz, weak blitz, coming right up the middle, it didn’t matter. We didn’t get close to [the quarterback], and they knocked us off the ball so bad.”
With plenty of time to throw, Rees carved up Navy for 237 yards and a touchdown on 16-for-22 passing, completing passes to six players. Notre Dame compiled 442 yards of offense.
The Midshipmen also have allowed at least 35 points in four of their last five games and twice have given up 56 or more.
“We haven’t won a game since early September, so I mean I definitely know it’s dawning on the guys,” senior defensive end and co-captain Jabaree Tuani said. “It’s dawning on me being a captain, just thinking about what this program is and what this program is about, just got to find a way to keep fighting.”