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A welcome change

Michael Bryan | Monday, November 2, 2009

SAN ANTONIO — Halloween featured very few scary moments for the Irish, who rolled to a 40-14 victory over Washington State in the Alamodome.

Notre Dame dominated the Cougars from start to finish, the first time in months that the Irish weren’t holding their breath in the closing minutes.

“It was a relief,” Irish junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen said. “Close games all the time, it kind of gets old.”

Clausen and the Notre Dame offense put up 30 points in the first half to put the game out of reach early, highlighted by a 50-yard catch by Golden Tate on a Clausen Hail Mary to end the half. Tate leaped over three Washington State defenders to make the catch and held on for the score.

“It was probably one of the most phenomenal catches I’ve seen anyone make, ever,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said.

After a three-and-out on Washington State’s first possession, Notre Dame drove down the field before stalling in the red zone. Freshman kicker Nick Tausch converted the field goal to put the Irish on the board 3-0

While the Irish defense stifled the struggling Cougar offense, Clausen drove the Irish to their first touchdown late in the first quarter, converting on a 7-yard pass to junior Duval Kamara in the back of the endzone.

The next Notre Dame drive had a similar result, as the Wildcat formation and running game overwhelmed the Cougar defense. Tate finished the drive with a spectacular 16-yard run, spinning out of the arms of two Washington State defenders before finding the edge and the touchdown.

Junior Robert Hughes starred on the next drive for the Irish, wearing down the Washington State defense and punching in the score from a yard out. Hughes had a career-high 131 yards in the game and helped Notre Dame control the time of possession. The Irish had the ball for 40:54 in the game.

The Cougars finally got on the board with 1:16 left in the half, scoring on a pass from Tuel to wide receiver Jared Karstetter. The time was enough for the Irish, however, as Tate made the touchdown grab as time expired.

“I’ve seen them before, it’s not the only one I’ve ever seen. But I don’t know how many times you see one guy with three guys around him go up,” Weis said of Tate’s leaping catch. “He’s not 6-feet tall, it’s not like he’s 6-5 going up there, he’s like 5-11 going up there. I thought it was phenomenal.”

The Notre Dame offense slowed its torrid pace in the second half, with injuries and the scoreboard playing a consideration. After punting on their first possession, the Irish were rolling down the field again when Clausen was tripped up near the Washington State endzone.

Weis then removed Clausen, who only slightly aggravated his ongoing turf toe injury, for sophomore Dayne Crist. After an incompletion, Tausch converted his 14th-straight field goal, a Notre Dame record.

The Irish put their final points on the board on a long pass down the middle from Crist to classmate John Goodman, who outraced a Cougar defender 64 yards for the score.
Crist later suffered an injury while scrambling, hurting his left knee. Weis said he would have an MRI this week but was “cautiously optimistic.”

The Notre Dame defense did its part in the blowout as well, holding the Cougars to 206 yards of total offense and only 104 through the air. Cornerback Robert Blanton and defensive tackle Ian Williams each intercepted freshman Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel, who was sacked five times.

“[Tuel threw for] a little over 100 yards and got sacked a bunch of times, he was under pressure,” Weis said. “They were getting after him today, there was no doubt they were getting after him.”

The Cougars managed 102 yards on the ground, but many of those came long after the Irish starters had left the game.

“[Six] three and outs in the game the first defense gave up 100 yards offense the whole game. The defense gave up only 200 yards for the whole game,” Weis said at his Sunday press conference. “But when the first guys are in there, they gave up 109 yards. That was pretty impressive. With sacks, pressures, you know, playing the game behind the line of scrimmage. No explosives in the passing game. When is the last time we’ve been able to say that?”

The Irish held a significant edge in talent on both sides of the ball, and Notre Dame used that to its advantage to build, and then hold, the big lead over the course of the entire game.

“I just felt like getting upfield and getting penetration was the key thing, and to stay low and be more athletic than them,” said Irish sophomore defensive end and Texas native Kapron Lewis-Moore.