PHILADELPHIA -- For at least one half yesterday, Lou Holtz had a legitimate reason to cry.
The Notre Dame coach, who has been dubbed the "Grim Weeper," had spent the past week saying his second-ranked, unbeaten team was "overrated" while boosting the stock of Navy, a 34 1/2 -point underdog.
Holtz looked like a prophet in the first half when the inspired Midshipmen rode the strong arm of junior quarterback Jim Kubiak to a stunning 24-17 lead before a Veterans Stadium crowd of 61,813 and a national television audience.
It marked the first time since 1974 the Midshipmen had led the Irish at halftime in their almost annual mismatch. But save the tears. The Fighting Irish turned up the power in the second half and overwhelmed the Midshipmen, 58-27.
In winning its ninth straight this season and 16th overall, Notre Dame, looking ahead to its Nov. 13 meeting with top-ranked Florida State, rolled up 426 yards rushing.
Junior Lee Becton carried 21 times for 124 yards, freshman Randy Kinder 10 for 108 and another freshman, Marc Edwards, 14 for 97 and three touchdowns in a classic example of power football.
The Midshipmen, minus key defensive linemen David Shaw and Stacey Yupp, were incapable of stopping them.
Giving a little needle to Holtz, his one-time coaching companion at Ohio State, Navy coach George Chaump said, "I don't think Lou knows what he has on his hands or he's afraid of saying so. But films don't lie. Notre Dame is as good on both sides of the line as you'll see in college football."
The films of this game will clearly show how Notre Dame, in beating Navy for the 30th consecutive time, dominated the line of scrimmage.
"I was feeling cautiously optimistic after the first half, but I knew what they were capable of doing," said Chaump, who saw his team's record fall to 4-4 and its slim bowl hopes evaporate.
"They just showed their physical superiority in the second half. We stunted, slanted and did everything possible. But football is still a very physical game. You can't expect to beat a great team with tricks. Eventually you have to line up and stop them. They just stopped running options and ran fundamental plays, and we couldn't slow them down."
The Midshipmen, who were near perfect in the first half when Kubiak completed 12 of 19 passes, including touchdowns of 31 yards to Damon Dixon and 53 to Jimmy Screen, did little right in the second half.
"We just couldn't get anything going," said Kubiak, who managed 58 yards passing after halftime. "Holtz lit a fire under his guys after the first half. They didn't do anything complicated defensively. We just didn't get the job done, and we left our defense on the field too long."
But fatigue was not yet a factor when the Irish quickly tied it in the third quarter. On the third play, Kevin McDougal, who sat out last week's game against Southern Cal with a sprained shoulder, teamed up with split end Lake Dawson on a 44-yard touchdown pass. Free safety Joe Speed made a desperate attempt to block the pass and overran the play. Dawson caught it on the 35 and had a clear path to the end zone.
On Notre Dame's next possession, Kinder broke up the middle and outraced Navy cornerback Chris Hart and safety Grover Favors for a spectacular 70-yard scoring run.
The rout was on.
A flawless, 18-play, 82-yard drive that would have made former ++ Holtz mentor Woody Hayes proud was capped by tailback Robert Farmer's 9-yard sweep around left end, and suddenly it was 38-24.
Navy countered with a 34-yard field goal by Mike Bucchianeri, a replacement for Dave Gwinn, who missed two field-goal attempts against Louisville the previous week.
But Notre Dame answered with a time-consuming, eight-play, 80-yard march that ended with Jeff Burris' 3-yard run at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
A third scoring run by Edwards from 1 yard and safety Bobby Taylor's 31-yard interception of Kubiak and return for touchdown completed the second-half blitz.
But Holtz was not willing to concede he has a powerhouse.
"We're good, not great," he said. "At halftime, I just told my players, "It's going to be a struggle, but we have 30 minutes to play and a lifetime to remember.' "
Holtz and all the Irish would love to forget the nightmarish first half when Kubiak picked them apart with short and long passes, highlighted by Screen's catch among several defenders for his second-quarter touchdown.
"I knew we had problems with our pass defense, and Navy made that evident today," Holtz said.
"We didn't get a single sack, and only one interception on a deflection. Give Navy credit. They had a perfect game plan."
-! Yes, at least for 30 minutes.