For once, the Notre Dame defense was lined up exactly as Navy wanted. No one was positioned over the center, so the Midshipmen were ready for a quarterback sneak that they thought would gain four or five yards on a fourth-and-one play early in the second quarter.
They never ran the play. Instead, one of the Midshipmen jumped offside, and they were forced to punt. It was that way throughout Navy's 27-9 loss before 76,166 at Giants Stadium on Saturday.
The victory was Notre Dame's 41st straight over Navy dating from 1963.
Navy senior fullback Kyle Eckel had 102 yards rushing on 22 carries; he became just the fourth Navy player to rush for more than 100 yards against Notre Dame in the past 29 games, dating from 1976.
Passing the ball, however, was more problematic. Senior quarterback Aaron Polanco was sacked five times and forced to scramble at least three other times on would-be passes. Navy (5-1) also lost a fumble while trying to set up a trick pass play in the third quarter.
Unofficially, of Navy's 16 would-be passes, only six got into the air. The Midshipmen did not complete a pass until 11 minutes 52 seconds remained in the game.
"We made too many mental mistakes," Eckel said. "It's hard to block a blitzing linebacker when you're out of position or off-balance."
Said Navy Coach Paul Johnson: "The reason we were running the ball so much was because we couldn't protect the passer. It doesn't make much sense to throw the ball when the quarterback is looking up at the sky every time he drops back."
The fourth-down play was one Navy thought it could exploit; the coaches were confident enough that they went for it even though they were at their 26-yard line.
Johnson told the team to snap the ball on "two," so that if Notre Dame shifted to cover the center he could call time out. Senior guard Dennis Ray Phillips went offside on the first snap count.
The series history features lightly regarded Navy teams sneaking up on Notre Dame. In 1976, the Midshipmen debuted a shotgun passing formation against the Irish; they led 14-0 and were within six points and inside the Notre Dame 20 in the final four minutes, but turned over the ball in a 27-21 loss.
In 1990, they used a wishbone offense for the first time. The score was tied at 10 at halftime, and they were within 38-31 late in a 52-31 loss.
Navy used an unbalanced line -- with a tight end at one tackle position and two tackles on the other side -- through much of a 28-24 loss in 1999, a game Notre Dame trailed in the final minute, and in the fourth quarter of last year's 27-24 loss.
Entering Saturday, however, Navy had Notre Dame's attention.
"This was a different Navy team coming in," Notre Dame Coach Tyrone Willingham said. "This is a team that there was no question that not only were we extremely respectful of, but the whole country was."
The loss ended Navy's best start to a season since it went 6-0 in 1979. The first loss that season was a 24-7 loss to Pittsburgh; in that game, reserve freshman quarterback Dan Marino played the second half for the Panthers and completed 22 of 33 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns.