Joe Howard, known at Notre Dame as the Small Wonder, scored two touchdowns and gained 115 yards receiving as the Irish shut out Navy, 38-0, today and snapped a two-game losing streak.
Howard, a 5-foot-9, 163-pound freshman from the District's Archbishop Carroll High School, caught a 35-yard pass from quarterback Blair Kiel on Notre Dame's first play from scrimmage. He went on to score touchdowns on a 13-yard reverse and on a 52-yard pass play as the Irish built a 28-0 halftime lead.
"We've got our own Anthony Carter," said tackle Phil Pozderac, comparing Howard to Michigan's all-America wide receiver.
Howard -- from Clinton, Md. -- had plenty of help as the Irish scored more points than they have in any game this season and handed the Midshipmen their worst defeat since 1977. Notre Dame shut out Navy for the first time this year and dropped them to 5-3. This was the 18th straight time the Irish (3-4) have beaten Navy and the third straight time they have shut out the Midshipmen.
"It seems that the more things change, the more they remain the same," said Navy Coach George Welsh. "Coaches change, jersey colors change, but results don't change. They were just too good for us. It was a mismatch."
The Irish outgained Navy in total offense, 442 yards to 123, and limited the Midshipmen to only five first downs, one rushing and one by penalty.
Navy kicker Steve Fehr, who had made nine field goals in the previous three games, didn't even try one today. Navy got into Notre Dame territory only once, then lost the ball on downs at the 35. Tailback Eddie Meyers was held to 39 yards in 18 carries.
Notre Dame had no trouble moving the ball on the ground or in the air.
Kiel, a sophomore, had his best day at Notre Dame, completing 13 of 23 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns. He was 11 for 16 for 215 yards and both touchdowns in the first half.
Howard's performance also occurred in the first half, before Coach Gerry Faust and Notre Dame decided to play more conservatively after building a 28-point lead.
Before today, Howard had played a total of five minutes and eight seconds, most of it coming on special teams. His most significant play had been a 56-yard kickoff return against Southern California last week. He had carried the ball one time from scrimmage, as a wingback, and lost three yards on the play.
He was moved to split end Monday when Faust moved Tony Hunter to tight end to replace Dean Masztak, who had knee surgery Sunday. That left no one to play split end, or so most people thought.
"The defensive coaches and players kept telling us Small Wonder was the hardest player we have to cover," said Pozderac. "It was just a matter of him getting his chance. Anyone 5-9 who can slam dunk (a basketball) from a standstill is a player."
Howard, who said he was preparing to go to North Carolina when Notre Dame came through with a scholarship offer, said he had caught only one pass at Notre Dame before -- "and that was in a scrimmage."
"He gives us more speed outside and he gives the defense all sorts of problems," said Faust, explaining the move. "Joe played great today, but he's going to get better."
Notre Dame was ahead, 21-0, when it took over on its own 48 following a 23-yard punt by Fehr. On first down, Howard ran his favorite pattern, "down, out and go," and ran by cornerback Kurt Dixon.
Kiel's pass was short, however, so Howard had to come back five yards to catch it at the 18. He made one fake to the outside and then outran Dixon and safety John Foley to the end zone.
Notre Dame threw seven passes to Howard. He caught six, including one out of bounds. The other was badly underthrown.
Kiel demonstrated a deft touch on several important passes to Hunter. The big one was a 27-yard touchdown pass on fourth down early in the second quarter. At that point, Navy trailed, 14-0, and the Irish had a fourth-and-one situation from the Navy 27.
After calling a timeout, Coach Gerry Faust sent in two tight ends and had the team line up in a straight T formation. Kiel faked a handoff inside and then threw a perfect pass to Hunter, who had beaten Foley. Hunter made an over-the-shoulder catch and scored easily.
What Welsh said he feared most going into the game became a reality. Notre Dame, which outweighed Navy by 55 pounds a man on both lines, was too big, strong and physical.
Navy also lost safety Jeff Shoemake, its best defensive back, in the first quarter, when he dislocated his right knee. He is expected to miss the rest of the season. Before the day was over, quarterbacks Marco Pagnanelli and Tom Tarquinio, wide receiver Troy Mitchell, tackle Bob Moore and defensive back Brian Cianella all had limped off, too.