Dan Murphy | Tuesday, October 28, 2008
On Notre Dame’s third play from scrimmage, freshman Michael Floyd took a screen pass 51 yards to the endzone for an early 7-0 lead.
That would be all the points the Irish would need.
They reeled off another 26 straight points before Washington managed to punch in a meaningless touchdown late in the fourth quarter to bring the final score to 33-7 at Husky Stadium Saturday night.
“I was really concerned and wanted to make sure we didn’t come out flat in the game, so I put it on the coaches too to be aggressive in play calls early,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said.
Notre Dame (5-2) held the Huskies (0-7) to 124 yards of total offense – 69 of which came on the touchdown drive after most of the defensive starters were taken out of the game. That drive took away Notre Dame’s chance for its first shutout since a 42-0 win over Rutgers on Nov. 23, 2002.
“You always want a shutout, but at the end of the day it’s a good time to get some other guys in and get some experience,” sophomore linebacker Harrison Smith said.
Smith had five tackles including two sacks for a combined loss of 21 yards. He also picked up 35 rushing yards on his second successful fake punt of the season.
The Irish defense finished the game with four sacks and a handful of hurries that kept Huskies quarterback Ronnie Fouch on his toes all game.
“Until that last drive, Washington didn’t even cross midfield,” Weis said. “That was as good of defense as we have played in quite some time.”
Sophomore running back James Aldridge led the way offensively for Notre Dame with 86 yards and his first career multiple touchdown game. Aldridge started the third quarter by pounding the ball in from four yards out on the team’s first drive of the half then added a second score with another hard run to start the fourth quarter.
“It felt good. I just try to get in when I can and like I always say I’m happy just filling my role,” he said.
Aldridge, who ran the ball 13 times and had a catch, said the he didn’t know going into the game that he would see as much action as he did.
“You never know going in, we go into different modes and whatever mode we go into, if I happen to be in it, I just try to get out there and do the best I can,” he said.
After jumping out to a commanding 17-0 lead at the half, Weis and the Irish settled into a running mode with only seven pass attempts in the entire second half.
Armando Allen led the team in carries with 15 for 62 yards and freshman Jonas Gray came off the bench in the fourth quarter and picked up 62 of his own yards with his first touches of his career.
Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen had a relatively light work load going 14-for-26 for 206 yards passing. Clausen’s numbers were surprisingly low considering the fact that Washington entered the game ranked 119th in the country in pass defense efficiency.
The sophomore signal caller got off to a hot start connecting with Floyd for two big plays, but ended the half with a completion rate under 50 percent and an interception.
“I got out of rhythm in the second quarter and I just had to get my timing back and I got back into in the third quarter,” Clausen said. “We got a victory and that’s all I really care about.”
Clausen said that the extra week without playing did not have any negative effects on his timing.
“We came out gun-slinging in the first quarter so I don’t think that had anything to do with it,” he said.
The Irish scored touchdowns on their first two possessions of the game. Floyd’s long run was followed by a 21-yard end around from Golden Tate to stretch the lead to 14. Notre Dame faked the end around on the play before setting up a huge hole for Tate up the middle.
Tate, who was originially recruited as a running back, said he was happy to get a chance to carry the ball.
Notre Dame also added two field goals from sophomore Brandon Walker. Walker was 2-for-8 coming into the game but was perfect against Washington. He connected from 28 yards out to start the second quarter and again from 42 yards in the third.
“Every kick for me is a new season so right now I’m 0-for-0 in my mind,” Walker said.
Walker was also 3-for-3 one extra points before he was taken out of the game to give newly-added walk on David Ruffer some experience in the fourth quarter.
Ruffer, a sophomore, joined the team after the North Carolina game and hit the upright in his collegiate debut.
“I just told him to go out and get the next one,” Walker said.
Notre Dame returns home next Saturday to take on the Pittsburgh Panthers and try to move to a perfect 5-0 on its own turf.