SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — C.J. Prosise rushed for 129 yards and three touchdowns, two after Navy turnovers, and No. 15 Notre Dame beat the Midshipmen 41-24 on Saturday.
The Midshipmen rallied to tie the score at 21 late in the second quarter on TD runs of 45 and 22 yards by fullback Quentin Ezell after quarterback Keenan Reynolds went down with a leg injury. But a 52-yard field goal by Justin Yoon to close the first half and a pair of touchdowns early in the second half by Prosise gave the Irish (5-1) a 17-point lead.
Navy (4-1) entered the game tied for best in the nation with one turnover, but had two Saturday. Chris Swain fumbled at the Navy 7-yard line in the second quarter and linebacker Jaylon Smith recovered. On the opening second-half kickoff, Dishan Romine fumbled at the 26 and Devin Butler recovered.
Below is a transcript of the post-game news conference with Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly:
BRIAN KELLY: Well we’re excited about the victory against a very good Navy football team. They challenge you for four quarters, their scheme, their players, their coaches, they make you work for everything. It’s a difficult team to play. We have a ton of respect for them. Not only for what they represent as an academy, but as a football team. Their scheme is very difficult, I think defensively that’s the best defense that I’ve faced since I’ve been here at Notre Dame and again, I think Ken does a great job with Navy.
So, we’re really excited about the win. Our kids put in a lot of time and effort and our entire team, our game ball went to Rob Regan who is the quarterback of our scout team that demonstrates the option and they did a great job of preparing our defense. I thought our offense did a great job of controlling the football in the second half when we needed to really keep our defense off the field.
So a lot of positive things, things that we got to work on, we had some good things in special teams and some not so good things in special teams that we got to get better at. We had a great kick from Justin Yoon, which was a great momentum piece for us, just before the half. We had a fumble recovery on a kick off and then we let a couple out that we got to get better at.
So, some real positive things in special teams and some things that we got to work on. All in all, a good victory. So with that I’ll open it up to questions.
Q. Martini seems to be built for these games. Talk about his performance.
BRIAN KELLY: He’s got a really good understanding of his job and he’s a disciplined player, so when we ask him to do his job, he’s going to get it done. He just fits really well with the scheme that we’re employing and so it’s just a really good fit. Very disciplined. He trusts what we’re asking him to do. Again, he’s one of the 11 guys out there that makes it work for us.
Q. And Farley, you kind of plugged him in pretty early. Can you talk about why you did that and what you got out of him?
BRIAN KELLY: Well him and Max were going to be interchangeable for us. We just felt like we went with Matthias and we could have gone either way with that. And we gave Max a chance to start and we wanted to see Matthias, too. And then as the game kind of unfolded, we just stayed with Matthias. But both of them practiced hard all week, it was really just probably a little bit of a preference with a veteran player more so than anything else of the.
Q. Two part question. First half they had 97 yards rushing on 11 carries at the fullback position. Second half 37 yards on 10 carries. What was it that was giving you some issues in the first half and what was the adjustment in the second half? Execution, scheme, what was going on there?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, both. We couldn’t get to the fullback. The fullback was hitting wider than we couldn’t get our backer, we couldn’t get our five technique down. So, consequently when we tried to get into our front that put our Sam and our Will on the dive, we just couldn’t get there and they were not running it to Jaylon, they were running it to James Onwualu’s side. They obviously checked away from Jaylon every time and James was trying to get down to tan he was getting knocked off. So we went with grace in the second half, a bigger body and he was able to get himself down on to that fullback a little bit better in the second half.
So, it was a little bit of scheme, and it was a little bit of execution. They keep prodding and looking for opportunities to run their offense and that was one of the areas where they thought that they could get the fullback through. And then did effectively and we made some adjustments.
Q. With C.J., you guys were getting the ball to him in some different ways. Is that sort of a maturation of him and the offense or was it something specific to what you saw from Navy?
BRIAN KELLY: They run a lot of two shell and it was really trying to find different ways to get him on the perimeter. And they fire a lot of their edge players. So, sometimes it’s a matter of trying to build some speed and get him to the perimeter. Either by putting a tight end on the edge of your offense or by trying to get some of the hand off sweep action and get him out side of some of that edge pressure. So, again, just trying to get one of our skill players on the edge of their defense was part of our plan.
Q. Is that the reason you guys have been running a lot of the power read with the jet sweeps a little bit slower developing. Is that the reason you did that?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, because of their shell, again, we felt like we needed to get the ball out on the perimeter quicker and then we wanted Kizer’s stats to look a lot better.
No, I’m just kidding about that.
Q. Their first series offensively they had success and then after that you kind of shut them down. What, how concerned were you with another first series success and then what did you do to shut them down?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, again, it goes kind of to the question that was asked earlier, their fullback was hitting wider and we knew that that was going to be the thing that we needed to stop. On that particular long run, we just over ran the play. We had our safety right there as an unblocked hat and we simply did not execute. So the long run that they had, the quarterback, we were in a position where we just did not execute on that play. And then they came back and our corner, they cracked inside, our corner’s supposed to replace on the second play for a touchdown and just did not fill the way he should have. So, we weren’t that concerned on those two plays, other than they scored so quickly and all right, here we go, off to a poor start. But I thought we responded very well offensively. And I think that response is scoring right away, kind of settled everybody down.
Q. With all the reviews all the long timeouts, how hard is it to get into a rhythm and stay functioning?
BRIAN KELLY: It was difficult. I don’t remember as many reviews as we had today. Some of them seemed to be appropriate, I guess. It would be hard for me to really comment, I would have to go back and look at each one of them individually, but boy it just seemed lake a lot of them and of course we have got TV timeouts as well it just seemed hard to get into a rhythm.
Q. You touched on the momentum you guys got from Justin’s field goal to end the first half. What did that do going into the lock room, just the overall tenor of the team at halftime?
BRIAN KELLY: It wasn’t like giddy, yeah, yeah, we got this thing, you know. I think it was just we were excited that we were able to execute our offense with 23 seconds to go. We threw a draw in there and my feeling was, let’s throw a draw in here if we can pick up a first down, then let’s try to run one of our standard double out cuts and see if we can get this thing close enough that we can get a kick at it.
C.J. hit a nice run in there, that gave us an opportunity to get the kick. So any time you can add some points right before the half, it gives you some momentum. But we knew we were in for two more long quarters.
Q. Navy doesn’t make a ton of mistakes, but you capitalized on both the fumbles.
BRIAN KELLY: Huge, huge possessions. We were able to gain more possessions in this game than any other game that we played against Navy. I don’t know exactly how many possessions we had, but I think we were close to 15 possessions. We normally average 10 possessions against them. So I think those obviously meant a lot in this game.
Q. Yoon, you mentioned the kick, how much faith did you have in him from that distance and I know it was the end of the half but also how have you seen him figure things out as he’s gone on here?
BRIAN KELLY: I think there was a point of conversation here a couple of weeks ago and I was very confident that we had straightened out some of his mechanics. He had a 45 yard kick down at Clemson that was a big kick for us. This was a 52 yarder, is that correct? 52 yarder. And kicked it well. We knew what his distance was in pre game. We always establish what we think his max distance was going that way. We had a little bit of a breeze there and his max distance was right at that number. So, we were confident that if the mechanics were good and the snap was good and the hold was good, that he could make it.
Q. Where did you think C.J. would be in this role at this point in the season? Has he met or exceeded that so far?
BRIAN KELLY: I think he’s still evolving within that role. Missed a couple protections today. But I think what I like the most about him is he is in that learning curve and he’s excited about every single day working towards being a better running back. So, here’s a guy that’s a veteran player that is embracing his position as a freshman, really, and learning about his position every single day. I thought his run late was extraordinary in the sense that we were backed up, he was very patient, waited for his tight end on the kick out block. That just takes so much patience and trust in an offensive lineman and for him to show and exhibit that I just think speaks volumes of the kind of player he is.
Q. Now that the option’s out of sight out of mind until next year at least.
BRIAN KELLY: Thank God.
Q. How would you evaluate the total work from the off season with Bob Elliott to the scout team the last couple weeks to the defense’s overall response?
BRIAN KELLY: Very pleased. Very pleased. I think there’s always things that we can work on to get better but I think we have established something that I wanted to establish and that is a base way of playing the option teams and something that we can carry with us and something that can be repeat able that we can work on in the spring and keep our guys familiar with our system as we defend option. I think that that’s what we we wanted to win both games, that was first and foremost, and in whatever fashion, if we won by 1 that would have been fine with me. And then have a system in place that’s repeat able and that we can come back to each and every year.
Q. Have you ever in your career given a game ball to a scout team player?
BRIAN KELLY: I can’t remember one, but I was sure happy to give one to him. That’s for certain.
Q. A lot of times when adversity hits on the field you guys really have a quick response. Whether it’s go down early or being aggressive right before halftime. The ability to turn around things quickly with a positive response, where does that come from? Is it leadership, maturity? Where does that come from on this team because it’s shown up in multiple games.
BRIAN KELLY: I would agree with the kind of personalities that we have, the leadership, they do not carry that with them very long. They have well they have one of two ways no, come in. Come in. That’s Dominic, he’s one of our graduate assistants. He’s a heck of a guy. He’ll be running the hill tomorrow, so.
They just have a resiliency to them, but I would say the answer to your question specifically, they just have a way of getting back to work quickly. They don’t, every time there’s been any kind of sense of adversity, they go right back to work. If somebody got hurt they get back to work. If there’s, like in our loss to Clemson there was a great deal of disappointment, but they were so professional this week and in the manner that they went back to work. I think that has everything to do with the kind of leaders we have in the lock room.
Q. Building off that, coming off the loss, did you get the response you wanted from the guys, not only during the week but also today that you wanted to see?
BRIAN KELLY: We beat a very good team by 17 points. I think that’s a validation. I thought we prepared and I was saying this to Coach Elliott prior to the game, I thought we had a great week of practice, I thought we prepared very well and we were just talking back and forth, I said I don’t know what else to do. I was so pleased with the way that they were focused, during the week, preparing for Navy, not worrying about anything else. They weren’t talking about last week, they weren’t talking about USC, they were focused on playing this football team. And that’s really all you can ask for as a coach. I thought their focus was outstanding. And it paid off.
Q. Going back to C.J., was a game like this important for him confidence wise after last week’s struggles to bounce back and have another big game?
BRIAN KELLY: I don’t know that he felt like he struggled as much as we struggled collectively at times running the football. But there was circumstances there that were difficult to run the football. We knew today was going to be a better opportunity to run the football by the way they designed their defense.
Below is a transcript of the post-game news conference with Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer:
DESHONE KIZER: It’s huge for our offense, I tried to get a pattern going and get some momentum going and get things back on the right path. When we’re winning, we’re playing good football and as offense we need the confidence to go from week to week.
Q. You got down early. Did you think, here we go again?
DESHONE KIZER: Not really. We knew we had quite a few plays and we only had one three and out and never did really any of the offense at any time did they put their head down. We knew that our defense was going to get themselves going and we were going to get ourselves going in the next couple drives.
Q. Did you have a feeling coming into this even after last week and that tough loss?
DESHONE KIZER: This week we had a different style of preparation. Our guys understand that the margin of loss is very small right now, so as long as that, we continue to prepare the way we prepared this week and play as if it’s one or done, and that we’re in sort of like March Madness mode, I think we’ll be okay going forward.
Q. Talk about James performance and how much easier he made it this week.
DESHONE KIZER: C.J.’s an unbelievable guy who runs after the first hit. The first hit normally doesn’t bring the guy down. So that being said, it’s always a fall back that to put the ball in his hands and allow him to try to get some yards. C.J.’s an amazing running back and I’m excited to see what he can do from week to week.
Q. (No microphone.)
DESHONE KIZER: We haven’t really talked too much about USC. In the position we’re in now, it really allows us to go from week to week and from game to game. It’s kind of hard to look at the big ones and the small ones or what’s next, you just got to focus on what we have. So we’ll grind down tomorrow, put the USC film on and get ourselves ready for another big one.
Q. (No microphone.)
DESHONE KIZER: It’s unreal the focus this team has. We’re different. We understand that this team has all the capabilities of being very good and that we can be the best team in the country each week. And with that being said, our team is second to none with our preparation and the way that we go about day to day practice and from play to play. As long as we continue to build off of a win and to put the loss against Clemson behind us, I think we’ll be all right.
Q. (No microphone.)
DESHONE KIZER: No, no. The other ones just hurt my feet. The brand new cleats. They brought them out for us this week. I didn’t get them going as fast as I needed to get them going, so I just put on last week’s.
Q. (No microphone.)
DESHONE KIZER: It’s huge for us. As an offense, when we have momentum on our side and when we’re winning and when we’re playing good football, there’s not much that we can’t do. And with some confidence and some momentum I think that we can be the best offense in the country and a big win for us tonight and to put some points on the board will be great for us moving forward.
Q. Seems like all year the offense, whether you guys go down and they tie it up, you guys orchestrate quick responses. They scored first and then you guys were aggressive right before the half. Where does that come from? Does one guy in the huddle calm everybody down?
DESHONE KIZER: It comes from experience. We have some guys who have been through quite a bit. Stanley, Nick Martin, Chris Brown, Carlisle, those guys have all been through more than just being down seven points. They have been through some tough losses, they have been through some great wins. With those leaders leading us it’s kind of tough for us not to be able to strike back.
Q. How do you think you did on the day?
DESHONE KIZER: I need to continue to improve. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was a step back from last week but I don’t think that was my best performance. My preparation was there, now it’s time to bring the physical part of it to the game and make sure that I’m not leaving any plays out there that I shouldn’t leave out there. With that being said, it’s just going to be another great week of grinding and perfecting my craft and hopefully next week will be a better game.
Q. How exciting is it to look forward to playing USC?
DESHONE KIZER: It’s very big for our team. Obviously it’s a rivalry that’s been around for longer than any of us have been here, so with that being said what we’re going to prepare as if it’s the last game of the season, because that’s how every week is going to have to be for us to try to achieve the goals that we set before the season.
USC is a very good football team, I’m keeping a small eye on them and I’m excited to go out and compete against another great team.
Notre Dame player post-game quotes:
Sheldon Day • Defensive Line • Graduate Student
On his point of emphasis this week
- “Coach VanGorder made sure that we attacked the ball, wrapped up physically and made sure that we got the ball on the ground.”
On capitalizing on Navy’s mistakes
- “It was really big. We focused on doing multiple drills this week for that, so we harped on it a lot.”
On the work done in the off-season
- “To see it pay off is really good. We did it in spring ball, so just to watch us go through it and see the success that we have is pretty good.”
Justin Yoon • Kicker • Freshman
On his perseverance
- “When I’m in front of a lot of people, I start to get nervous. But on the field, it feels like I’m in my own bubble. I just feel like I’m right there with my teammates, so it’s just me, the football and my guys. That’s where I think all the focus comes from.”
On adjustments other than football
- “Notre Dame is an academic school. That’s first and foremost for sure. I enjoy being here. So far studying here has been fun and a great experience. Just the fact that they can fill tradition for me is so important. It’s only something you can experience by coming here.”
On challenges he’s faced and how he’s overcome them
- “Trying to get my momentum as a freshman wasn’t easy. A freshman going on the football field for the first time is a big spotlight, and that’s a difficult experience. As I’ve progressed through the games, my teammates have put their trust in me. That’s the biggest thing.”
Elijah Shumate • Safety • Senior
On the defense getting shaken
- “Just last week, we started off slow. We were going out hard and fast, and we knew we had to be on our game if we wanted to get the job done.”
On the offense helping out the defense
- “Offense always does their job. When they’re on their game, I feel like they’re one of the best offenses in the country, so that definitely motivated us. We knew that if we stopped them, we’d give the ball to the offense and they’d get the job done.”
C.J. Prosise • Running Back • Senior
On being described as slithery
- “That’s how I am. I bounce off tackles, get low and make people miss.”
On whether or not he is still learning
- “I’m definitely still learning, there are still mistakes I made today. Every day I’m trying to come out here better.”
On avoiding being tackled
- “I don’t ever want only one guy to tackle me. I hate it when just one guy tackles me. I always want to make it to three or four guys trying to make the tackle.”
On shifting gears after last weeks loss
- “We paid even more attention to detail this week and made sure everyone did what they had to do.”
On how big of a win this is
- “It’s a huge win because you know Navy is a good team coming in here and they definitely thought they could beat us so there’s no light preparation for it either. Offense has to be keyed in.”
On Justin Yoon
- “He’s a great kid. For him to come in as a freshmen and hit a 52 yarder, it’s like he’s a senior.”
Isaac Rochelle • Junior • Defensive Lineman
On the difference between Navy’s offensive scheme vs. that of Georgia Tech
- “It was pretty much the same exact thing. We didn’t make that many adjustments. It was kind of nice, though, being able to make corrections based off the film but as far as schematics go, we pretty much did the same thing.”
Did anything change for them or for you when Navy brought out the second-string quarterback? Had you studied him at all on film or anything like that?
- “I mean he obviously didn’t take many snaps this year, so we didn’t know much about him. But it’s Navy. They’re always going to have a really good, athletic quarterback who runs the triple option well.”
How does it feel to be done with the triple option teams on the schedule?
- “Couldn’t be more excited. Literally am so happy to be done with it. It’s just a different type of game, it takes a different type of physical and mental attitude so I’m just really happy to be done with it.”
Overall, how would you grade the defense so far?
- “I think we are getting better. I think that every game we are trying to improve on something different and trying to put a complete defense together. We are trying to piece everything together to form a complete defense.”
Will Fuller • Junior • Wide Receiver
How difficult was this past week and how much of a relief is it right now?
- “Everyone hates losing, especially when our goal is to be in the playoffs at the end of the year. But it motivated us, and we were ready to get after it, itching and crawling for game day all week.”
Thoughts on having a passing game plan and did he know it was coming
- “Yea, we are always a run-first team with a great offensive line and running back like C.J. (Prosise) and that helps the play-action pass so I knew we were going to call it aggressively so I was looking forward to it.”