Notre Dame became bowl eligible Saturday night at Yankee Stadium by solving the triple option and pummeling Army, 27-3.
After Army’s first drive resulted in a field goal, Notre Dame scored 27 unanswered points to open the door to a potential bowl bid. Notre Dame opened the game by driving 69 yards down to the Army five-yard line, but freshman quarterback Tommy Rees, making just his second career start, threw an interception in the end zone.
Army then rattled off a 17-play, 77-yard drive and took a 3-0 lead. After failing to stop Navy’s option attack earlier this season, Notre Dame adjusted by switching from a three-man defensive front to a four-man front. The switch didn’t seem to any have impact on the first drive, but cornerback Robert Blanton and safety Harrison Smith played more disciplined on the edge guarding the pitch after the initial drive and the defense forced three consecutive three-and-outs.
Notre Dame responded with with a field goal of their own to knot the game at three, then broke the game open on the next two possessions.
After an Army three-and-out, Rees connected with tight end Tyler Eifert for 35 yards to the Army one-yard line and Robert Hughes punched it in for his first touchdown of the season. On the following possession, Rees again connected with Eifert, this time for a 31-yard touchdown to put the Irish ahead 17-3 with 8:01 left in the second quarter.
Rees completed 13 of his 20 passes for 213 yards, one touchdown and one intereception. Right from the outset, it was clear Notre Dame wanted to use their size advantage up front to run the football. Notre Dame carried the ball 38 times for 156 yards, led by 88 yards from Cierre Wood on 14 carries.
Notre Dame opened the second half with a Darrin Walls interception returned for a touchdown to extend the lead to 24-3. Brian Smith intercepted another pass later in the third quarter, setting up a 39-yard field goal for David Ruffer for the game’s final score. Ruffer has now made 20 consecutive field goals, including a Notre Dame record 15 straight this season.
Notre Dame’s defense, led by Smith and Manti Te’o, held Army to just 143 rushing yards, about 100 below its season average, and 173 total yards. Te’o had 9 tackles on the game, but appeared to break his nose late in the game.
Notre Dame is now 6-5, after holding consecutive opponents Utah and Army to just three points each. Notre Dame heads to Los Angeles next week to face rival USC.