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Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry (10) is tackled by Notre Dame linebacker Drew White (40) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry (10) is tackled by Notre Dame linebacker Drew White (40) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) (Darron Cummings/AP)

Too many turnovers and too much Ian Book.

That was basically the short story of what happened to No. 23 Navy on a sunny Saturday afternoon in South Bend.

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Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry committed three costly fumbles and the home team capitalized on each. Meanwhile, Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book was on target from start to finish as the Fighting Irish built a big halftime lead and blew out the Midshipmen, 52-20, before a sellout crowd of 74,080 at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday.

Book completed 14 of 20 passes for 284 yards and five touchdowns for No. 16 Notre Dame (8-2), which took a 38-3 lead into halftime and never looked back. Big wide receiver Chase Claypool caught four touchdown passes and finished with 117 receiving yards.

“We got our butts whooped and it started with me coaching. I thought I had our team ready, but obviously we weren’t,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “Tip your hats to them. They out-coached us and out-played us. They had a great plan on both sides of the ball. It was just a thorough butt-whooping.”

Perry’s game-breaking running ability was a big reason why the No. 23 Midshipmen (7-2) went into the contest with hope for an upset. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound senior has been outstanding all season as the conductor of Navy’s triple-option but was not on his game on this day.

Perry rushed for 117 yards on 25 carries to lead the offense, but those numbers were overshadowed by his fumbles — all of which could be attributed to careless ballhandling. Notre Dame defensive end Khalid Kareem forced two of the fumbles, stripping Perry with a strong tackle from behind then later simply swatting the ball out of his hands.

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book (12) looks to throw during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Navy, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book (12) looks to throw during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Navy, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) (Darron Cummings/AP)

“When you play teams that are better than you, you can’t turn the ball over and you can’t give up big plays. Against a team like that, every mistake gets magnified," Niumatalolo said. “Turnovers and big plays are hard to overcome.”

Those three fumbles were surprising because ball security has been a strength of Perry’s this season. He had fumbled only twice in eight games despite running the ball 157 times and dropping back to pass another 53 times.

“We knew going into the game we had to play almost perfect to beat these guys. Fumbling doesn’t help you beat anybody,” Perry said. “The fumbles hurt and I take full ownership of that. It as a combination of a lot of things − extremely avoidable things. That’s something I’m going to go watch (on film), learn from it and do better next week.”

Middle linebacker Drew White recorded 10 tackles and a fumble recovery to lead the Notre Dame defense, which limited Navy’s starting offense to 171 total yards. Both Midshipmen touchdown drives, which accounted for 149 of their 360 total yards, came after both teams had pulled all the starters.

“It was very similar to last year. They just kind of overwhelmed us in the first half and we couldn’t respond. They hit us with an overhand right and we were dazed for the rest of the game,” Niumatalolo said.

Notre Dame, which won its 17th straight home game, marched 75 yards in 11 plays and took almost 5 ½ minutes off the clock on the opening possession. Book hit Claypool on a crossing route for a 7-yard scoring strike to give the Irish a 7-0 lead at the 9:39 mark of the first quarter.

A false start penalty followed by a 3-yard loss put the Fighting Irish into a third-and-16 situation. Book scrambled for 15 yards on third down and Jones gained 2 yards on fourth down as the Irish converted.

Navy mounted an impressive drive on its opening possession. Perry used misdirection and mid-line plays to pick up 28 yards on four straight keepers. Carothers then gained 13 yards on back-to-back fullback dives.

The Midshipmen had first down at the home team’s 24-yard line after Perry converted a fourth-and-3. However, the promising march went up in smoke on the next play after Perry fumbled while being tackled by Kareem.

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Navy senior center and captain Ford Higgins was asked how deflating it was to lose a fumble when it appeared the Mids were on the verge of tying the score at seven early.

“There was a lot of momentum going and we were driving it on them, so yeah, it was deflating," Higgins said. “Everyone knows that in our offense turnovers are killer. We had way too many today. We knew coming into this game that we had to play perfect and we definitely did not do that.”

Linebacker Asmir Bilal recovered at the Navy 39-yard line and it took just two plays for the Fighting Irish to make it 14-0. Wide receiver Lawrence Keys took a reverse for 11 yards and a late hit by safety Kevin Brennan tacked on another 15 yards.

Book then dropped a bomb right into the arms of Claypool, who breezed into the end zone to complete a 47-yard scoring strike that put Notre Dame ahead 21-0 with 23 seconds left in the opening period.

Navy had another good drive going on its second possession, picking up 22 yards and two first downs on five straight running plays to approach midfield. That is when Kareem did it again, swatting the ball out of Perry hand’s as he turned upfield on an option keeper.

Fellow defensive end Jamir Jones recovered the loose ball at the visitor’s 39. Four plays later, Book and Claypool hooked up on their third touchdown toss with the quarterback throwing a jump ball in the end zone and the 6-foot-5 wide receiver out-muscling cornerback Cameron Kinley for a 3-yard touchdown.

Navy went three-and-out on its third possession and Notre Dame only needed one play to add to its advantage. Wide receiver Braden Lenzy used his sprinter’s speed to get way behind the defense and Book hit him in stride for a 70-yard catch and run that made it 28-0 at 10:27 in the second quarter.

“I think our execution just wasn’t there today. We had a lot of busts that led to big plays. They had receivers running wide open down the middle,” Navy senior linebacker Nizaire Cromartie said. “It was a lack of pressure, lack of coverage, not executing the play the right way. You can’t make big mistakes against big-time teams. They’ll take advantage of those things.”

On Navy’s next possession, Niumatalolo went for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 44-yard line and the gamble failed. Safety Kyle Hamilton made a great open-field tackle to drop Perry for a 1-yard loss and that led to a 32-yard field goal by Jonathan Doerer.

The Midshipmen’s misfortune continued on the ensuing possession as Perry lost control of the football while trying to pull it from the belly of Carothers. Perry’s third fumble was pounced on by middle linebacker Drew White at the Navy 24.

Moments later, tailback Tony Jones Jr. dove over from the 2-yard line and Notre Dame held a commanding 38-0 lead. A 27-yard field goal by Bijan Nichols as time expired prevented Navy from being shut out in the first half.

Navy won the time of possession battle in the first half by more than three minutes and still trailed by 35 points. That’s because four of Notre Dame’s touchdown drives lasted 2 ½ minutes or less.

Niumatalolo was asked what the coaching staff can say to the team in the wake of a first half onslaught such as that.

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“A lot of psychological stuff. You’re down and getting whooped pretty badly. Heads are hanging. You’re just trying to rally the troops,” he said. “We were all shell-shocked. We’ve been playing so well and came into this game we had a lot of momentum. We definitely didn’t see that coming. Just disappointing. Wish we could have shown better.”

Navy was forced to punt on the opening possession of the second half and Notre Dame marched 78 yards in seven plays to tack on a sixth touchdown to truly turn the contest into a rout. Book and Claypool connected once again with wide receiver once again out-jumping Kinley for a 50-50 ball in the end zone as the advantage grew to 45-3.

Niumatalolo threw in the towel late in the third quarter, replacing Perry with backup Perry Olson.

Olsen injected a spark into the offense — directing a 74-yard drive that produced Navy’s first touchdown. The 6-foot, 210-pound freshman threw a 43-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Mychal Cooper, who got wide-open off play-action and trotted into the end zone.

On the negative side, Olsen delivered an ill-advised pitch that rover Paul Moala picked off and returned 27 yards for a touchdown.

SMU@No. 23 NAVY

Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

TV: CBSSN Radio: 1090 AM

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