NOTRE DAME, Ind. A win is a win and as far at Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is concerned, Saturday's 38-34 nail-biting win is a great one.
"I'm ecstatic about getting out of here with a win in terms of the way they played today," Kelly said afterward. "I mean (Navy was) flawless in terms of their execution. When they're on and playing well you're just really excited."
The Fighting Irish (7-2) offense managed 506 total yards against the Midshipmen. They averaged 9.0 yards on 56 total offensive plays. It's the most for Notre Dame since the 1998 season. The Irish did not attempt a punt against Navy (4-4) for the fifth time in the past nine games against the Mids. Notre Dame has now attempted a punt just seven times in the last 616 offensive plays.
Things didn't go completely according to plan on the defensive side of the ball. Navy rushed for 331 yards and the Irish gave-up big chunk pass plays of 18 and 34 yards, but the game is history now.
"This is one - just throw it away," Kelly said of facing the unpredictable triple-option offense. "It's such a different game. It's defending the quarterback lead play. It's just - you're ready for one game and the Naval Academy and what they do and how they do it and then next week it's a totally different situation. That's why it's such a difficult game to play."
Outside linebacker Ben Councell and defensive linemen Kona Schwenke and Sheldon Day all left the game with injuries. Kelly was not specific about the extent, but with Louis Nix already out for a second straight game things are reaching a critical stage with the depth of the defensive line. Kelly used the movie Apollo 12 to demonstrate his point.
"There's a scene in the movie where they're having troubles in the capsule, because there's CO2 and they have to figure a way to bring that level of CO2 down," he said. "I showed a clip of it. They throw all this stuff on the table to all of these guys in mission control and they say you guys gotta figure out with all this stuff here how to get this done."
"That's what we did this week," Kelly continued. "We threw it all on the table and we figured out how to get it done. That's why I'm proud of the guys. We didn't complain about it. It's part of the game. Injuries happen. You've just gotta find a way to get it done and they did."
Schwenke had a monster game. He finished with a career-high 11 tackles, with nine of them coming in the first half. His injury occurred on Navy's final possession of the game.
"He was playing well," Kelly said of the senior defensive lineman. "He was playing a lot of snaps certainly. Sheldon Day went down (and) Jarron (Jones) is still an inexperienced player in there. We're really thin, so he had a lot of work."
A Fab Frosh
Tarean Folston had easily the biggest rushing day of his young career. The freshman rushed for 140 yards on 18 carries to become the first Irish freshman since Robert Hughes in 2007 to top the century mark in a game.
"Generally speaking, there was only one run that I did not like where he did not go north and south," Kelly said of Folston. "He bounced one out on the left side and he got the first down, but we want to keep you going north and south. I thought he did that very well. (He) saw the holes very well. We're looking for guys to go north and south and make people miss. I think if you look at all his runs he by and large did that."
Folston had gained just 116 total rushing yards in the first seven games of his career. He scored his first career touchdown with a one-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Kelly was as baffled at anyone at the personal foul that was initially called targeting on Justin Utupo in the second quarter. Replay showed what appeared to be a clean shoulder-to-shoulder hit by safety Matthias Farley in bounds on the ball carrier on the 3rd and six play.
"I can't come up with the right word to figure this one out," Kelly said. "I asked for three explanations - three times I asked for an explanation on it and I couldn't get a clear explanation other than it was not a targeting penalty, because it was a run play."
"Of course, that wasn't my question. My question was: why was it a personal foul? It was never answered. It was on Justin Utupo."
Replay appeared to show Utupo trailing the play out of bounds. He never hit anyone.
Winning Them Closely
The Fighting Irish have now won 10 consecutive games decided by a touchdown or less under Kelly. Kelly was 2-5 in such games to start his Notre Dame tenure, but he has gone 13-1 overall since. The 10 straight wins ties Knute Rockne (1928-1930) for second all-time for an Irish coach. Elmer Layden holds the school record with 12 consecutive wins (1937-1939) in games decided by seven points or less.
More Milestones for Rees
Tommy Rees fired the 55th and 56th touchdown passes of his career in Saturday's win. He sits in third place in ND history in that department behind Brady Quinn (95) and Jimmy Clausen (60).
Rees hit Ben Koyack with a 17-yard TD in the third quarter for his 22nd touchdown pass of the season. It's a new season career high and the fifth-most in a season in Irish history.
The senior also picked-up his 21st win as a starter to move into sole possession of ninth place in the school record books ahead of John Lujack and Joe Theismann.
And For Jones...
T.J. Jones finished with four catches for 111 yards - all in the first half. He has caught at least one pass in 36 consecutive games. Jones has had multiple catches in 32 of 36 of those games.
His fourth career 100-yard receiving game moves him past 2,000 yards for his career. He is the 10th Notre Dame player to achieve that milestone.
The senior also caught the 17th touchdown of his career, a 36-yard grab in the second quarter, to pass Jim Seymour for sole possession of eighth place in the ND record books. He has at least one touchdown in six straight games.
Churning it Out
The Irish finished with 264 rushing yards to improve to 28-2 since 2002 when rushing for at least 200 yards on the ground. The only negative yardage plays Notre Dame had in the game were Tommy Rees' three kneel downs at the end of the game.