SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Two minutes took care of a lot of Notre Dame’s problems. Michael Floyd and Jonas Gray scored in a 1:59 span in the second quarter Saturday to effectively put the game out of reach, and Notre Dame rebounded from a rough week with a 56-14 rout of Navy on Saturday.
Gray rushed for three touchdowns and Cierre Wood added two more for the Irish (5-3), who finished with seven rushing touchdowns and 442 yards of total offense.
Floyd also had two TDs, scoring on a 56-yard catch and a 10-yard lateral for Notre Dame, which beat Navy for only the second time in five years after winning 43 straight from 1964 to 2006.
The Midshipmen (2-6) were held to a season-low 229 yards of total offense as they lost their sixth straight, and will now have to win out to have any hope of going to a bowl game for a ninth straight year.
A lopsided loss to USC last Saturday night pretty much ended Notre Dame’s chances of a BCS bowl for yet another year, and tensions within the team apparently flared after coach Brian Kelly talked about having to “retrain” the players he inherited from Charlie Weis. Some of the veterans, including star linebacker Manti Te’o, expressed their displeasure with his comments on Twitter, and the Chicago Tribune reported Saturday that Kelly apologized to players during a team meeting Friday.
But winning cures all kinds of ills and the Irish looked like a happy bunch Saturday, exchanging flying chest bumps after TDs and dancing on the sidelines. They scored on five of their first six possessions, and the starters spent the last quarter on the sidelines.
Notre Dame is now 13-8 under Kelly. While that’s not nearly good enough for zealous Irish fans, it’s the same record Lou Holtz had in his first 21 games at Notre Dame.
Notre Dame has struggled with turnovers all season, and its sloppiness cost the Irish again in early in the second quarter. Theo Riddick couldn’t get his hands on a swing pass from Tommy Rees, and Navy end Jabree Tuani scooped the ball up. Though the play was initially ruled a lateral and, thus an incomplete, that was overturned after a review, giving the Middies the ball at the Notre Dame 27.
Six plays later, Gee Gee Greene scored on a 9-yard pass from Miller to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 14-7.
Instead of falling apart, though, the Irish came roaring back with two touchdowns.
George Atkinson III, who returned his second kick for a score last week against Southern California, gave the Irish great field position with a 14-yard return, putting the ball at the Notre Dame 44. Rees then found Floyd, who took advantage of Navy’s defensive breakdowns and strolled into the end zone untouched for the 56-yard score.
It is the longest completion of Rees’ career.
Navy then botched the kickoff return, with Marcus Thomas never getting up to the ball and watching helplessly as it bounced off the ground. He gave chase, but Troy Niklas beat him to the ball to give Notre Dame back possession at the Navy 22. Four plays later, Gray scored on a 2-yard run to give Notre Dame a 28-7 lead.
Though there was still almost 40 minutes left to play, the game was all but over.
The Irish defense hounded young quarterback Trey Miller, playing in place of injured Kriss Proctor, all afternoon. He finished just 5-of-13 for 33 yards, and Navy could only manage 196 yards on the ground – well below their average of 325 yards.
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