Tate Leads Irish Rompposted by John Vannie
Both teams started slowly as Notre Dame settled for a field goal on its opening drive and was forced to punt moments later. Meanwhile, Washington State did not record a first down on its first three possessions. Tate provided a spark late in the first quarter when he exploded for consecutive runs of 10 and 33 yards out of the Wildcat formation. Jimmy Clausen followed with a scoring pass to Duval Kamara and the Irish were in business.
Notre Dame led 16-0 when Tate capped another long drive with a 16 yard burst, and later stretched the lead to 23-0 before the Cougars finally got on the board with a pass from Jeff Tuel to Jared Karstetter. Clausen tried to move his team into scoring territory in the final minute of the half, but penalties plagued the Irish as the clock ticked down and the band assembled on the sidelines.
Clausen refused to take a knee, however, and managed to reach midfield with seven seconds remaining. The play call was a Hail Mary pass in the end zone to the triple-covered Tate, but the heave was perfect and Tate was literally up to the task. The junior outfought the defenders for the ball as they fell to the ground in a heap. When the officials unscrambled the players and looked at the replay, the touchdown was confirmed and Notre Dame led by 30-7.
The Irish were driving for a third quarter score when Clausen was tripped and reinjured his aching turf toe. Nick Tausch converted a field goal for a 33-7 advantage and Dayne Crist came in at quarterback to finish the game with 18 minutes remaining. Notre Dame’s defense continued to play well and Washington State rarely threatened to cross midfield. An interception by Robert Blanton put an immediate end to the one possession where Washington State started in good field position.
Crist looked rusty at first, but he rifled a deep post pass to John Goodman at the ten minute mark of the final period. Goodman took the pass in stride and completed a 64-yard score. Unfortunately, this was the high mark for Crist as he suffered a knee injury on the next series and did not return. The Cougars scored again against the Irish reserves with a few minutes left for the final margin of 40-14.
Other notable performers on offense included Clausen, who was 22 of 27 for 268 yards on an assortment of crisp, intermediate passes. Robert Hughes ran for 139 yards on 24 carries and Theo Riddick pitched in with 51 yards rushing. Kyle Rudolph also enjoyed his best game in a month for Notre Dame with six receptions. Armando Allen and Robbie Parris were held out due to previous injuries and guard Trevor Robinson joined Crist as a casualty in this contest when his ankle was rolled in the first half.
Defensively, the line dominated the Cougars and allowed only two of 11 conversions on third down. The Irish recorded five sacks and had two interceptions, the second by nose tackle Ian Williams on an intended screen pass.
Let’s review the questions that helped determine the margin of victory:
Will Notre Dame reach 200 yards rushing, given that the Cougars allow an average of 215 per game? Yes, they ran for 255 as Tate, Hughes and Riddick impressed behind solid line play.
Will the Irish defensive line take advantage of a weak Washing ton State front line? Absolutely. The Irish did not have to blitz and were constantly in the Cougar backfield.
Can Tuel become the latest freshman quarterback to have remarkable success against the Irish secondary? Tuel was only 12 for 23 for 104 yards and two interceptions.
Will Notre Dame’s special teams take advantage of their counterparts? Not really. Punting was poor once again and kickoff coverage was uninspired. The Irish return game did not materialize, either.
At what point will Charlie Weis have the luxury of removing Clausen from the game? That decision was made for him when Clausen limped off the field late in the third period.
Will the Irish enjoy a +3 or better turnover margin? They won this battle 2-0, but it was more than enough against the hapless Cougars.
Notre Dame will now turn its attention to the option attack of the Naval Academy before a high stakes road trip to Pittsburgh. Clausen will continue to play despite the problematic toe, and other starters such as Allen and even Michael Floyd may join him. Robinson may sit out the Navy game in order to be ready for Pitt, but Crist’s injury (knee) looked the most serious. The Irish are fortunate to have Evan Sharpley in reserve if needed.
On the defensive side, the team continues to improve against lesser opponents, but at least the overall health of this unit is good. Notre Dame fans could reflect back on losses to beatable Michigan and USC squads, but a successful November will lessen the sting of those lost opportunities.