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Wait, what? Notre Dame only had the ball 6 times in an entire game against Navy?

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The Irish scored on all but one of their drives. One big problem: Their defense couldn’t get off the field.

Navy v Notre Dame Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Notre Dame is 3-6 because the Irish lost to Navy on Saturday, 28-27 at a neutral-site game in Jacksonville. In addition to a Notre Dame loss, this game was a petri dish of weirdness.

The Irish finished the day with six possessions. (Navy had seven.) That’s a comically low total. Even games between ball-control teams that run a lot usually only creep into the double digits each. But this one didn’t even get close. Notre Dame had the ball for a total of 26:07, which is low but not outrageous.

Six drives, though, and only two in the whole second half?

It’s incredible how little Notre Dame got to touch the ball.

The Irish ran a total of 56 offensive plays. They entered averaging 69 per game. The national average coming into Week 10 was 72. Teams have had fewer trips, but even the team that runs the fewest plays per game (Illinois, entering the week at 58) snaps the ball more than 56 times.

If you extrapolated Notre Dame’s 26:07 of possession to a full season (which you wouldn’t, but just for fun), you’d have the No. 121 offense in the country by time of possession. The Irish simply didn’t have the ball.

One reason’s simple. Navy’s option offense kept the clock moving forever.

Run-first offenses are partly designed to control the clock, and teams like Navy can use this to shrink the game and neutralize any talent disadvantages.

The Midshipmen threw the ball eight times. Three were incomplete and stopped the clock. According to the game’s play logs, Navy went out of bounds on nine plays, meaning the clock stopped briefly while officials set the ball ready for play. None happened in the last two minutes of either half, so Navy didn’t once stop the clock for more than a few seconds by going out of bounds.

Add everything together, and you get a sharp picture of Navy ball control. Out of Navy’s 64 offensive plays:

  • Three ended in incomplete passes.
  • Four ended in touchdowns.
  • Nine ended out of bounds.
  • 21 ended in first downs.

Navy took one 5-yard false start penalty, which stopped the clock for a few seconds, and Notre Dame’s defense had a few penalties, too. Five of Navy’s first downs ended out of bounds, so there’s some overlap there. Just take this as a general picture of how things worked.

Compare that to Notre Dame’s breakdown. Of 56 plays:

  • Eight ended in incompletions.
  • Three ended in touchdowns.
  • Seven ended out of bounds.
  • 21 ended in first downs.

There’s overlap and a couple of penalties here, but Navy got to run about twice as many no-stoppage, in-bounds plays as Notre Dame did.

Given the Mids’ inclination to run the 40-second play clock down close to zero much of the time, that’s a big difference.

Navy ended each of the four quarters with the ball, so the Mids’ possessions were actually distributed in such a way that kept their time of possession lower than it could’ve been.

Also, neither team turned the ball over, and Notre Dame only went three-and-out once.

Both teams got exactly 21 first downs, and both offenses were just efficient enough to keep the chains and clock moving, but not explosive enough for quick drives. Only two plays, both Navy runs, went longer than 30 yards, and only one scoring drive, by Navy, took fewer than eight plays.

Things were somewhat manageable for the Irish for a while. Navy’s first five drives all ended in five minutes or less, somehow. But the last two, which ended in a touchdown and Navy kneeling out the clock, covered a combined 30 plays and 16:28.

That’s how you get Navy with 56 running plays and Notre Dame with 56 total plays.

Notre Dame, by the way, is 3-6.