LANDOVER -- A year ago, Notre Dame had to survive a last-second Hail Mary pass to beat Navy in South Bend.
But yesterday, playing before a record state football crowd of 78,844 at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, the only suspense was whether quarterback Jarious Jackson would have a perfect day passing and how many school rushing records fellow senior Autry Denson would break as the Irish cruised to a 30-0 victory.
Jackson completed his first 12 attempts and finished 12-for-14 for 59 yards, including a 16-yard scoring pitch to Malcolm Johnson late in the third quarter for Notre Dame's final touchdown.
Said Jackson, who backed up Ron Powlus the past two years: "Watching Navy on film, we knew we could have a great day throwing because their corners played so soft. They came out and did some things we didn't expect, but we made adjustments at halftime."
Unfortunately for Navy, it never adjusted to Denson, who rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns to become Notre Dame's career leader with 4,192 yards, eclipsing Allen Pinkett's mark of 4,131. He also set a school record for 100-yard games (22) and tied Pinkett with three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
It was quite an accomplishment for the Florida native who began his college career under Lou Holtz as a defensive back.
"I'm thrilled and honored," said Denson. "But when I came to Notre Dame, I felt I could do it. You just have to overcome obstacles and adversity."
It all added up to a record 35h straight victory over Navy in college football's most one-sided series.
Notre Dame enjoys a 62-9-1 advantage, with Navy's last triumph coming in 1963 behind Heisman-bound Roger Staubach.
While the 12th-ranked Irish (8-1) were rolling to their sixth straight victory, the Midshipmen dropped to 3-6. The only meaningful game left on their schedule is a Dec. 5 season finale with Army.
Navy, which suffered its first shutout since losing to Virginia Tech, 14-0, Oct. 7, 1995, managed to make it look deceptively close by trailing 14-0 at halftime.
But the Mids wasted three scoring opportunities in the second quarter inside the Notre Dame 30.
With the score 7-0, senior place-kicker Tom Vanderhorst was wide left with his field-goal attempt from the 39. It was his fifth miss in his past six tries.
After Denson stutter-stepped eight yards into the end zone to give Notre Dame a 14-0 cushion, Navy blew another chance when senior tailback Irv Dingle fumbled on the Irish 28.
The Mids' frustration continued late in the second quarter when safety Benny Guilbeaux made a nifty interception of a Brian Broadwater pass on the Notre Dame 23.
That marked Navy's last serious scoring threat, as Notre Dame ** dominated the second half, allowing the record crowd to begin emptying the stadium midway through the fourth quarter, leaving only the Brigade of Midshipmen to watch the final outcome.
Navy had entered the game as the No. 1 rushing team in the nation, averaging 297.6 yards on the ground. But the Mids were limited to 137 yards rushing by the Irish's swarming defense.
"There is no doubt this is the best team we've played this year," said Charlie Weatherbie. They're very sound and playing with a lot more effort than in past years. It used to be you'd see a guy taking off a down or two, but not with this team.
"Offensively, we had a hard time running the ball inside. They have good pursuit and linebacker speed. Knock 'em down, they'd bounce right up again and make a play."
Defensively, senior tackle and team captain Jason Snider said Navy tried different stunts to get to the elusive Jackson, but managed only one sack when the game was out of reach.
"We needed to put more pressure on him," said Snider. "He had time to throw and scramble out of trouble. Give him credit, he's a good athlete."
It was a familiar dilemma for the Navy defense, which ranks 210th in the nation. The absence of a pass rush allowed Jackson inordinate time to pick out his targets.
The few times his receivers were covered, he found seams to scramble and keep Notre Dame's first three long touchdown drives in motion.
Perhaps the biggest play Jackson made came in the second quarter after two holding penalties had pushed the Irish back to the 9. Faced with second-and-24, he broke several tackles and ** raced 33 yards to the 42. All told, he gained 61 yards on 11 carries to keep the Navy defense guessing.
"They're a more complete offense with Jackson," Weatherbie noted. "Powlus was basically a drop-back passer. But Jackson can really run the ball and mix it up.
"They're a great team, but I'm still disappointed in the way we played. We moved the ball, but with three turnovers, we kept shooting ourselves in the foot."
Next for Navy
Opponent: Southern Methodist
Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium
When: Saturday, noon
Yesterday: Lost to Colorado State, 32-10.
Pub Date: 11/15/98