Though both sides had to endure the jet lag that comes with a quick trip across the Atlantic, only Navy appeared sluggish in the Emerald Isle Classic. Notre Dame shot out to a 27-0 lead in the first half before a field goal with seconds left put Navy on the board after 30 minutes.
Regardless of Navy's efforts before and after the half, quarterback Trey Miller led an incisive touchdown drive to open the third quarter that cut the lead to 17, Notre Dame's lead was insurmountable. Touchdowns from running back Theo Riddick(2), George Atkinson(2), Tyler Eifert, Stephen Tuitt and Robby Toma allowed Notre Dame to finish the game on the half-century mark. Winning by 40 points in the process.
Much of the media attention entering the game was focused on the debut of 19-year-old quarterback Everett Golson. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly had obviously made the decision to try and ease Golson into his debut as his offense asked very little of him early on. Golson mostly focused on handing the ball off to a very effective running game, throwing on play action and hitting quick screens in the flat.
The Fighting Irish were having great success handing the ball off, getting notable production attacking the right-hand-side of the Navy defense. Running-Back Theo Reddick was able to repeatedly capitalize by running through wide open holes in the defense for chunks of yardage. In fact, his 11 yard touchdown run that opened the scoring after less than six minutes, didn't require him to break a tackle or even evade a pursuer.
When the offensive line wasn't carving out crevices in the defense like a pickaxe through a marshmallow, it was providing double lined cushioning for Golson in the pocket.
George Atkinson definitely took advantage of his offensive line with three minutes to go in the quarter, but nobody can argue that he didn't have to earn it. Atkinson burst through the crack in the offensive line after taking the handoff in the shotgun, before evading a linebacker and outpacing the rest of the defense to score in the corner of the endzone with relative ease.
At 14-0, the signs were ominous for Navy.
They weren't helped by a drive to end the first quarter that stalled despite showing early promise. Once the ball was punted away, it appeared to be only a matter of how many plays it would take Notre Dame to score. Outside of one pass from Golson for 35 yards, the drive predominantly featured a heavy dose of running from Riddick again to get the team to the goal-line. Once at the door, Golson needed only knock twice to have the door open. The form of that knock? A fade route to Tyler Eifert. Eifert caught both endzone attempts, but the first came out of bounds. The second he high pointed the ball to take the two defenders in the vicinity out of the area.
Gholson's first touchdown pass of his college career was relatively simple.
At this point Navy's holes had turned into one gigantic breach. Quarterback Trey Miller looked to lead his teammates by example, but his efforts could only take the team so far as his offensive line failed to consistently pick up pressure. Eventually the pressure got to Miller and the result was a touchdown, for Notre Dame. Miller was hit from the blindside and fumbled the ball at the feet of Stephen Tuitt, who galloped 80 yards to the opposing endzone.
The game appeared to be lost and the reaction of the Navy crowd wasn't a protagonist for enthusiasm. Despite a fairly even attendance, at least judging by the crowd in the stadium opposed to ticket sales, the emphatic early performances from Notre Dame appeared to win over the remaining neutrals in the crowd to give the game a home-field atmosphere.
Miller did show good decision making and an admirable resilience to overcome his protection deficiencies in the process of somewhat reviving the spirits of his teammates with a field goal drive before the half. That spirit resulted in a strong coming out in the second half as Miller marched his offense down the field with three quick throws resulting in a touchdown for receiver Sean Lynch.
Navy finally had something to grasp onto for hope. Not only had Miller scored a touchdown, he had done it in such a fashion that emanated ease and oozed confidence. Miller took only three passes to find the endzone, including a final strike between the Notre Dame safeties. One stop from their defense and the insurmountable lead would have suddenly seemed so fragile.
Alas, Navy's defense never got that stop. Despite some positive plays in the defense's favour and some small notes of tension appearing in Golson's demeanor, Notre Dame marched down the field once again to score an almost effortless touchdown.
From that point, Navy were beaten. The majority of the second half was a redundant exercise, that would only really have been missed if it took away the need for a half-time show. While their football team were sweeping past Navy on the field, the Notre Dame marching band put on a masterpiece performance to entertain the crowd with their immense discipline and incredible talent.
Navy won't feel like there was anything classic at all about this bout on the Emerald Isle, but Notre Dame will definitely have their tails up entering the rest of their season on American soil.