Notre Dame's bid to reach the college football playoff will likely depend on an offense potent enough to compensate for the inexperience and frailty of its defense.
Seven touchdowns, 533 yards and a record-breaking performance by quarterback Everett Golson were just enough to get the Fighting Irish past Navy on Saturday night.
It wasn't the first time this season Notre Dame had to lean heavily on its offense. It probably won't be the last.
The Irish (7-1, No. 10 CFP) feel to No. 8 in the latest AP poll. They have allowed 113 points their last three games. The only defeat in that span was a 31-27 decision against defending champion and second-ranked Florida State.
In a 49-39 win over Navy, Golson became the first Notre Dame player to run for three touchdowns and pass for three scores. Tarean Folston contributed 149 yards rushing, including a 25-yard touchdown with 12:22 left to put the Irish up 42-31.
When Golson and Folston weren't on the field, the Notre Dame defense was having fits against Navy's triple option. The task became even more difficult when the Irish lost leading tackler Joe Schmidt to a left ankle injury in the third quarter. Schmidt dislocated his ankle, is scheduled for surgery this week and will be out for the season, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Sunday.
With Schmidt out, Notre Dame was forced to depend heavily on freshmen Greer Martini, Nyles Morgan, Drue Tranquill and Andrew Trumbetti.
"We were asking about what they saw (on the field), and they were talking about their biology homework," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly joked after the game. "It was difficult. But they persevered, hung in there and fought their butts off."
Schmidt was slated to have an x-ray in South Bend on Sunday to determine the severity of the injury. His replacement, Morgan, finished with four tackles — matching his total over the first six games.
"He runs around. He's extremely athletic and, as you can see, he gets to the football," Kelly said.
Still, Notre Dame blew a 21-point lead, gave up 336 yards rushing and allowed 23 first downs. Golson made sure it didn't matter, throwing for 315 yards and leading the Irish to three fourth-quarter TDs.
"Our offense was putting up a lot of points for us," safety Max Redfield said. "We understood that. They scored way too many more points than they had to."
There were problems on the offensive side, too. Golson threw an interception late in the first half to fuel Navy's comeback and the Irish went scoreless in the third quarter while Navy completed a run of 24 straight points.
Then, after going up by 11, Notre Dame twice came up empty after taking over at the Navy 32 and Navy 29.
"We kind of mucked it around there in the end and missed a couple of field goals," Kelly noted. "We a little sloppy in our protection. Other than that, I think we were pretty dynamic on offense. There were a lot of good things, offensively."
Notre Dame averaged 5.6 yards per carry and Golson found seven different receivers, including C.J. Prosise for a 78-yard score on the second play from scrimmage.
Next up for the Irish: another road trip, this time for a matchup against Arizona State (7-1). On the positive side, the Sun Devils don't run the triple option.
"It's hard to defend what they do at Navy," Kelly said. "We're happy with the win."