Irish Insider: Opening Statement
Douglas Farmer | Monday, September 7, 2009
Four times Michael Floyd caught the ball, and three of those times he scored a touchdown Saturday as the sophomore receiver led the Irish to a 35-0 victory over Nevada.
“It’s the first game,” Floyd said. “You have to show the nation what kind of team Notre Dame is and how we are going to do everything.”
After receiving the opening kickoff, the Irish offense quickly set to showing its vast capabilities to Nevada and the 80,000 fans in attendance. On the team’s first third-and-long of the season, a third-and-16 on Nevada’s 19-yard line, junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen threaded a pass over a Wolfpack safety to sophomore tight end Kyle Rudolph in the back of the end zone. The 12-play, 67-yard drive gave the Irish a 7-0 lead after freshman kicker Nick Tausch converted the first extra point of his college career.
“[The touchdown play] was something we had worked on all week, and Jimmy showed a lot of trust in me,” Rudolph said. “I just wanted to go and make a play on the ball, and it worked in our favor.”
On Notre Dame’s next drive, Clausen connected with sophomore receiver Golden Tate for a gain of 36 yards. Later in the drive, on the first play of the second quarter, Floyd ran a route across the middle, and as he crossed the goal line the receiver pulled in his first touchdown of the day. The 24-yard score capped a 78-yard drive in less than five minutes.
Before Nevada had a chance to respond, the Irish defense followed the offense’s lead and showed what it could do. After Tausch’s kickoff was downed at the Nevada 31-yard line, junior linebacker Brian Smith recorded his first sack of the season. The 11-yard loss led to a quick three-and-out by the Wolf Pack, giving the ball right back to the potent Irish offense.
“[Smith] had two sacks relatively early,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “They just change the momentum.”
With the ball back in his hands, Clausen found Floyd once again on a quick screen play. Floyd caught the ball around the Notre Dame 30-yard line, and, after a block from Tate, ended the play standing alone in the end zone with Notre Dame an extra point away from a 21-0 lead.
“Those guys are playmakers,” Clausen said. “All I have to do is give them the ball and they make plays.”
Before the end of the first half, junior running back Armando Allen scored the first rushing touchdown of the year for the Irish. The one-yard jaunt topped off Allen’s 47 yards in the first half. The back ended the afternoon with 78 yards on 15 carries.
Nevada received possession to start the second half, but still couldn’t find success against the Notre Dame defense. After running back Vai Taua ran 18 yards for a first down, the Irish defense buckled down once more to force a punt. After the ball was downed on the one-yard line, Clausen, Floyd, and company were given the ball again.
With the offense lined up on its own goal line, the offensive line needed to continue its solid performance, not giving up a sack in the game, to prevent any loss of yardage.
“I told [the fans] when we started that drive on the one-yard line that we were going 99 yards for the touchdown,” senior center Eric Olsen said. “When I got into the huddle, I said ‘Don’t make me look bad guys. I just told them we were going 99.'”
After Allen rushed for 11 yards on three carries to give the Irish some breathing room, Floyd made Olson look like an oracle. Clausen threw a deep jump ball to the receiver, and Floyd leaped higher than the cornerback covering him to pull the ball in at the Notre Dame 40-yard line. With only his man to beat, Floyd broke a tackle over the Wolf Pack player and cruised final 60 yards to the end zone and a 35-0 Irish lead.
“When you’re one-on-one and it’s a receiver and defensive back, obviously they made the plays and we didn’t,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “Somebody’s got to make a play, and they seem to make them every time.”
The 88-yard touchdown is the third-longest score through the air in Notre Dame football history.
After completing his hat trick on only four catches, Floyd ended the day with 189 of Clausen’s 315 passing yards.
“You want to [score every time you get the ball], but there are some plays that are not seen as going for the whole thing,” Floyd said. “You just try as hard as you can.”
The four-touchdown day by Clausen was only the second of his career, the first being the five-touchdown game the quarterback had in the Hawaii Bowl in December.
“We have set a standard,” the quarterback said. “Since [losing 38-3 to USC last November], Coach Weis talked to the whole team, and we were going to take a step forward and never look back. We did that in Hawaii, and obviously out there again today.”
In meeting that standard Saturday, the Irish defense recorded its first shutout in Weis’ tenure, while the offense never turned the ball over, and Clausen only had three incompletions among 18 attempts.
Notre Dame will look to continue to surpass that standard next week when it travels to Michigan to play in the 106,000- seat Big House.
“[The big win] feels good, but I’m already thinking about Michigan.” Olsen said. “We did a great job all around on every facet of the game, but our work’s not done yet.”