Justin Schuver | Monday, November 3, 2003
Last year, after No. 11 Florida State lost at home 34-24 to No. 6 Notre Dame, Seminole coach Bobby Bowden said his team was “bumfuzzled” by the Irish.
Saturday, the legendary coach got revenge for that loss by handing the Irish a 37-0 defeat, the first time Notre Dame had been shut out at home since 1978.
After starting the 2002 season 8-0 and bringing the Irish to as high as No. 4 in the nation, head coach Tyrone Willingham has seen his team go 4-9 since.
“This is always one of the most difficult jobs as a coach – when things aren’t going well, to keep the team moving forward and keep them positive,” Willingham said. “We will find ways to do that.”
In what has become a bit of a broken record this season, the Irish (2-6) again found themselves looking for answers after being dominated by a ranked team. Notre Dame fell on the road to then-No. 7 Michigan 38-0 and lost to then-No. 5 USC at home 45-17.
Factor in a 44-13 loss on the road to USC at the end of last season, and the Irish have lost four of their last 10 games by 31 points or more.
Oft-criticized Florida State quarterback Chris Rix torched the Irish through the air Saturday, completing 17-of-31 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns. He also threw three interceptions, but the Irish were unable to capitalize on the turnovers.
Wide receiver Craphonso Thorpe set a record for most receiving yards in a game by one player against Notre Dame, catching seven passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns. He jumpstarted the Florida State offensive attack with a 38-yard reception on the Seminoles’ first play from scrimmage.
“They consistently kept the pressure on us and didn’t allow us to make the plays we needed to make,” Willingham said. “We were concerned with their vertical passing game and I think, more than anything else, they hurt us with the ability of their receivers to make plays.”
The affable Bowden agreed that the Florida State passing game was the difference.
“That was where we took charge of the game, being able to get the long stuff,” he said. “The quarterback laid it out there pretty good, and our receivers caught it good and ran with it.
“That was the difference in the ball game, at least from an offensive standpoint.”
Notre Dame had several chances to put points on the board, especially during a key sequence early in the game. With the Seminoles up 10-0, cornerback Vontez Duff intercepted Rix 5:58 into the first period and returned the interception 55 yards to the Florida State 9-yard line.
The Irish were unable to put the ball in the end zone, hobbled by two key penalties – a holding call and a substitution infraction following a Notre Dame timeout – and were forced to try a 31-yard field goal. D.J. Fitzpatrick’s kick was blocked by B.J. Ward, and the Irish were unable to take advantage of Duff’s interception.
“I think that was a big play when you’re playing a good football team,” Willingham said. “Those are the kind of mistakes you cannot make.”
The Irish had difficulty getting anything going on offense, primarily because they continually left themselves in difficult long yardage situations on third down. Notre Dame was 4-for-13 in third-down conversions, with only one coming in the first half.
“We just couldn’t get anything established on offense,” Irish offensive coordinator Bill Deidrick said. “We struggled. You can look at the inefficiency on third-down completions.
“When you’re not converting and not getting real positive plays on first down it makes it real difficult.”
For the game, the Irish were 0-for-4 in chances to score inside the red zone. Notre Dame was also 0-for-5 in fourth down conversions, most of which came inside the red zone during the second half as Notre Dame was making a desperation comeback.
“We’ve got to make plays,” said embattled Irish quarterback Brady Quinn, who completed 20-of-52 passes for 175 yards and three interceptions – including one that was returned for a touchdown. “That’s what it comes down to. We’ve got to put the ball in the end zone. We had plenty of opportunities today and we did not do that.”
Contact Justin Schuver at [email protected]