SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Navy football team stepped onto the field at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday afternoon with the slightest flicker of hope that perhaps it could salvage a winning season. Soon after kickoff, though, it became abundantly clear the Midshipmen stood little chance against an opponent superior from top to bottom in a 56-14 loss that was Navy’s sixth in a row and most lopsided in nearly a decade.
With sophomore Trey Miller starting at quarterback in place of injured Kriss Proctor, Navy fell behind by 28 points shortly before halftime amid a flurry of mistakes, little pop in its triple-option attack and a beleaguered defense that had no rebuttals for Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd.
After missing last year’s 35-17 loss to Navy because of injury, Floyd proved almost unguardable this time, outgaining the Midshipmen by himself in the first half. The NFL prospect finished the game with 121 receiving yards and one touchdown on six catches and added another 10-yard rushing touchdown to help the Fighting Irish halt a two-game slide to Navy (2-6) before 80,795.
The Midshipmen, meantime, are assured of their worst season since 2002, when they installed the triple option and went 2-10. That also was the year in which they last lost this badly, 48-7 to Air Force. Among the top Football Bowl Subdivision programs in terms of victories since 2003, Navy must win out to ensure a non-losing season and extend its streak of bowl appearances to nine.
“Obviously not having Kriss hurts you, not having your starting quarterback, but they whipped our butts today,” Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “I mean I’m not going to make any excuses. That’s the 14th time playing Notre Dame, and that [was] the most thorough butt-whipping, and it started with me. They got after us in all three phases.”
Navy opened with a drive that lasted nearly eight minutes, but it ended in painfully familiar circumstances when place kicker Jon Teague’s 47-yard field goal try never had a chance. That marked the ninth missed kick in eight games this year for the Midshipmen, whose other special teams gaffes in the first half included Marcus Thomas muffing a kickoff that led to a Notre Dame touchdown.
The Fighting Irish needed just 2 minutes 14 seconds to commence the dismantling, going 70 yards in five plays beginning with Floyd’s 25-yard catch on a screen pass. Running back Jonas Gray did all the work the rest of the way and completed the possession with a four-yard scoring run with 4:52 to play in the quarter.
Notre Dame (5-3) set up its next touchdown with an almost identical screen, but in this instance the pass went to wide receiver Theo Riddick for a gain of 37 to the Navy 26. Three plays later, Floyd caught a 12-yard pass to make it first and goal at the 4. Running back Cierre Wood ran for three yards, then scored on his next carry for a 14-0 margin with 31 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Navy turned the proceedings competitive, at least momentarily, when it scored a touchdown following a mishandled lateral from Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees to Riddick that senior defensive end Jabaree Tuani recovered. The play initially was ruled an incomplete pass, but officials overturned the call, and the Midshipmen took over at the Notre Dame 27.
From there, Navy needed six plays to reach the end zone, with junior slotback Gee Gee Greene catching a nine-yard strike from Miller. The play began with Miller faking a pitch to the left and rolling back to his right before delivering the pass that trimmed the deficit to 14-7 with 11:06 remaining until the break.
“I still have a long way to go,” said Miller, who came out for the final 10 minutes and watched sophomore Jarvis Cummings score on a 12-yard run. “I made a lot of mistakes out there.”
Floyd struck again soon thereafter, catching a 56-yard touchdown pass on the first play of Notre Dame’s ensuing possession, when safety Kwesi Mitchell was out of position and thus failed to provide support over the top.
The Fighting Irish tacked on a two-yard touchdown run from Gray and a one-yard touchdown run from Wood to close the half in what became Navy’s worst loss to Notre Dame since 2000 and its first in South Bend after victories here in 2007 and ’09.
“Can’t say anything,” said Tuani, who is part of a unit that has yielded at least 35 points in four of Navy’s last five games. “We didn’t accomplish any of our goals today. We didn’t execute well at all. We couldn’t get anything started.”