Laura Myers | Monday, September 8, 2008
It wasn’t pretty, but Notre Dame rallied from a fourth quarter deficit to defeat the San Diego State Aztecs 21-13 Saturday.
Mistakes marred Notre Dame’s play, including two fumbles, two interceptions, a botched field goal attempt and several penalties.
“We looked like a team that was playing their first game,” coach Charlie Weis said. “You’re happy with an ugly win because it’s better than an ugly loss.”
But following three quarters of mistake-ridden football, Notre Dame’s fortunes changed with 11:55 left in the fourth quarter.
The Irish were down 13-7, and San Diego State had a first-and-goal at the four-yard line.
Quarterback Ryan Lindley handed the ball to running back Brandon Sullivan, who sprinted toward the goal line. Just before Sullivan broke the plane for a touchdown, senior safeties David Bruton and Kyle McCarthy knocked the ball from his grip and recovered it in the end zone.
It was “game-changing play,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said.
There was some disagreement on who caused the fumble, but Bruton wasn’t going to argue.
“I’m fine with Kyle saying I did it,” he said.
On the ensuing Irish drive, sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen completed 5-of-5 passes, including a 38-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Golden Tate to take a 14-13 lead. Clausen threw another touchdown pass to senior David Grimes on the Irish’s next possession to make the score 21-13 and put the game further out of reach of the Aztecs.
Tate had six receptions for 93 yards and the touchdown along with a 28-yard kickoff return. He also made a diving attempt in the fourth quarter, but it was ruled incomplete because the ball hit the ground.
“[Tate] has become much more of a receiver,” Weis said. “He has very good ball skills, very good speed.”
Clausen finished the game 21-for-34 for 237 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. His first touchdown pass was a 22-yard shot to highly-touted freshman wide receiver Michael Floyd with one minute remaining in the first half.
Mistakes hampered Notre Dame in the early portion of the game. In the first quarter, senior linebacker Maurice Crum, Jr. was charged with pass interference, and, later in the same drive, roughing the passer. Both penalties prolonged an Aztec drive that would have ended.
The Irish put their first promising drive together at the beginning of the second quarter, marching 68 yards in only nine plays. That drive ended abruptly at the four-yard line when sophomore running back Robert Hughes fumbled and the Aztecs recovered.
On the next possession, on third-and-11, Clausen hit sophomore receiver Duval Kamara in the hands, but Kamara couldn’t handle it and the ball ricocheted to Aztec safety T.J. McKay. He returned the interception 16 yards to the Irish 44. Two plays later, after throwing a 43-yard pass to senior Darren Mougey, San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley scored the first touchdown of the game on a 1-yard rush.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Weis said. “I thought we would execute better, take care of the ball better.”
The Aztecs scored again in the third quarter after senior Vonnie Holmes intercepted Clausen’s pass in the end zone. Lindley led an 80-yard drive that ended in a 15-yard touchdown pass to Mougey.
That drive seemed to be over after the Aztecs failed to convert a third-and-three at their own 39, but senior safety Ray Herring jumped offsides before the punt, causing a five-yard penalty and a first down. Kicker Lane Yoshida knocked the extra point off the uprights, however, and the Aztecs remained at 13 points.
The San Diego State offense relied almost exclusively on the passing game. Lindley, a redshirt freshman playing in only his second game, completed 29 of his 59 pass attempts for 274 yards.
Most fans did not expect San Diego State to have such a strong start, but senior safety Kyle McCarthy, who had 14 tackles in the game, did.
“We’re Notre Dame. Every team comes in here and plays their heart out,” McCarthy said. “They come in here like it’s the Super Bowl.”
Notre Dame’s offensive line, which is one year older and many pounds bigger, showed some improvement.
A line that gave up a record 58 sacks last year (119th in the NCAA) kept Clausen vertical the whole game. Also, there were no false starts and only one holding penalty, against junior guard Eric Olsen in the fourth quarter.
Weis saw improvement in the team’s confidence as well.
“You know, there are times when you look into (the players’) faces and you see a scared look,” he said. “For the guys playing in this game, that wasn’t the look you were getting.”
But how will the team do from here on?
“The jury’s still out,” Weis said.