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Football:No-huddle offense jump-starts Irish

Chris Hine | Monday, September 8, 2008

Notre Dame’s offense needed something to get going. The Irish had played three quarters and managed just seven points against San Diego State, team that allowed 29 points to Bowl Subdivision Cal Poly a week ago.

But down 13-7 with 11:55 left in the game, and facing the prospect of losing its third home opener in four years, Notre Dame changed the pace of its offense, and by doing so, changed the outcome of the game. Oh, and it certainly didn’t hurt that they had a little luck as well.

San Diego State was about a foot away from taking at least a 12-point lead on Notre Dame, but somehow, thanks to safeties Kyle McCarthy and David Bruton, Aztec running back Brand Sullivan lost the football before crossing the goal line. That spark, combined with Notre Dame’s switch to a no-huddle offense, helped the Irish take the lead.

“You get stagnant, you’re not converting, you have no rhythm going,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “One thing in a situation like that is you can get some rhythm going, but a lot of it’s dependent on the quarterback.”

And despite an otherwise shaky afternoon, Weis’ quarterback came through on the go-ahead drive.

Sophomore Jimmy Clausen went 5-for-5 on the drive, connecting three times with wideout Golden Tate for 63 yards, including a 38-yard go route for the go-ahead score. Clausen was 21-for-34 for 237 yards, two interceptions, and three touchdowns. But the drive showcased an improved Tate, who showed he acquired the ability this season to run a pass route other than a fly.

“Golden has become much more of a receiver this year versus a running back playing receiver last year,” Weis said. “Whether it be a go route where he keeps running now, his routes at the tops of breaks, running slants, I mean, he looked like a receiver, that’s what he looked like.”

Tate added: “I felt like I was playing football out there.”

Notre Dame then ate up 6:30 using a steady diet of runs from Robert Hughes to take an eight-point lead.

The final two drives were a night-and-day change from the first three quarters, which saw the Irish struggle to score even when the defense and special teams put them in ideal positions to do so.

Weis had said prior to Saturday that he wanted the Irish running game to “pound it.” Notre Dame ran for 105 yards, but that came against a depleted San Diego St. front seven.

“Our defense, I was extremely proud of them,” Aztec coach Chuck Long said. “We were down seven defensive linemen going into the game to injury. They fought. We had to switch some guys around. We put Russell Allen on the defensive line. He had two days of practice there. I thought those guys did a great job.” 

Weis also emphasized getting out to a fast start, but his team didn’t score until the waning moments of the first half.

“I think we looked like a team that was playing their first game,” Weis said. “That’s what we looked like. I think we weren’t executing very well on offense.”

The Irish still struggled even when they didn’t have far to go to score. Following a punt return from running back Armando Allen to the San Diego St. 26 yard-line, and a personal foul penalty which brought the ball to the 13, the Irish failed to score after there was a faulty exchange on a field-goal attempt.

Then, in the third quarter, Kerry Neal intercepted a pass from Aztec quarterback Ryan Lindley on the San Diego 17 yard-line, but Clausen gave it right back to San Diego, throwing a fade route – to Aztec corner Vonnie Holmes.

But the offense didn’t waste every gift the defense and the special teams gave them. In what Irish fans hope is a sign of things to come, Clausen connected with freshman wideout Michael Floyd for a 22-yard score following a blocked punt by Sergio Brown.

“Michael has a world of ability,” Weis said. “Just the more he gets on the field, the more production we’ll get out of him. But I thought that was obviously a huge play, you know. That’s the type of thing he can do, he can go up and make those plays. For a freshman to be able to come in and make a play like that, that’s pretty good.”