NCF Nation: Huskies-Irish 100309

Posted by's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis waited to celebrate when he saw the ball pop out of Washington receiver D'Andre Goodwin's hands on the final play of Saturday's game. Weis still worried that it would end up in another Husky's bread basket.

"With the way that game went," Weis said, "would it have surprised you?"

Anything short of Touchdown Jesus coming to life and kicking a winning field goal fails to rate as a surprise at this point with Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish seem determined to build their own library full of bad sports movie clichés with every passing game.
 Brian Spurlock/US Presswire
 Notre Dame celebrates its overtime victory over Washington on Saturday.

The previous three weeks all came down to the final minute; as with most bloated sequels, they took Vol. 4 to absurd new levels in Saturday's 37-30 overtime win over Washington. It's almost as if they wanted the Huskies to stay in the game the way they kicked five field goals instead of producing touchdowns, and how Jimmy Clausen inexplicably gave away seven points with a lateral pass to nowhere.

Meanwhile, the Irish defense could only stop Washington when it ran out room left to defend. Then it became impenetrable.

Huskies quarterback Jake Locker was stopped twice on sneaks inside the 1 near the end of the third quarter, which was only a prelude to the preposterous fourth-quarter goal-line sequence.

Washington had first-and-goal from the 1, needing a touchdown for a nearly insurmountable two-score lead. Notre Dame made another stand until Ian Williams was called for a bizarre roughing-the-snapper penalty on the field goal try. That gave the Huskies another set of downs from the 1.

"We were thinking, 'They can't score,'" Irish defensive lineman Kerry Neal said. "We worked on goal line all during camp against our own guys."

Sure, but had the defense ever won three straight battles in those practice situations?

"No, not at all," Neal admitted.

Improbably, the Huskies once again failed to reach the end zone and settled for three points. The entire sequence burned nearly five minutes off the clock. But Clausen still had plenty of time to direct a go-ahead touchdown drive for the second straight week.

"We were smiling," receiver Golden Tate said. "We were like, 'Here we go again.'"
 AP Photo/Michael Conroy
 Charlie Weis' team has made a habit this season of taking things down to the wire.

After Clausen's touchdown strike to tight end Kyle Rudolph, the Irish went for two for a 30-27 lead. Tailback Robert Hughes was met well short of the goal line but kept chugging forward. He got some assistance from his offensive linemen on a play that was highly reminiscent of the infamous "Bush Push" on this very field in 2005.

Ironically enough, former USC assistants Steve Sarkisian and Nick Holt -- now the Huskies' head coach and defensive coordinator, respectively -- argued that the play should be disallowed. A flag was thrown but then waved off.

You can't make this stuff up.

Winning with a full 1:20 left on the clock would be boring, though. So, of course, Washington drove for a tying field goal in the waning seconds. Notre Dame needed just two plays to score in overtime, then pinned Washington on a third-and-19 thanks to a Neal sack.

Locker's fourth-down fling hit a leaping Goodwin in the paws just in front of the end zone. But safeties Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith sandwiched him in a helmet-freeing slobberknocker.

Exhale. Celebrate.

"A win is a win," linebacker Brian Smith said. "I'll take ugly wins, close wins, 100-point wins -- they all count."

The Irish (4-1) only get one type of win any more: by the slimmest of shamrock leaves. Are they clutch or just lucky?

"There's no way the last three weeks can be attributed to luck," McCarthy insisted. "I think it's the character of this team and the resiliency of this team that allows us to make the play at the end."

As fans filed out of Notre Dame Stadium, rolling cheers filled the concourses. Some started chanting, "Beat SC," already looking forward to the Oct. 17 showdown with Southern Cal. The Irish figure to be a significant underdog.

But, really, would anything surprise you any more about this team?

Posted by's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- On the first play of overtime, Notre Dame receiver Golden Tate caught a 22-yard pass and tried to leap into the end zone. He flipped upside down before landing at the 3-yard line.

  Brian Spurlock/US Presswire
  Notre Dame wide receiver Golden Tate was able to leap Washington defenders in a single bound Saturday night.
"He jumped from like the 7-yard line," quarterback Jimmy Clausen said, using some hyperbole. "He thought he was Superman."

At times it was hard to distinguish Tate from a superhero in the Irish's 37-30 overtime win over Washington. The junior wide receiver piled up 275 total yards, including 244 receiving yards, second-most in Notre Dame history.

Tate did all this despite being the Irish's sole wide receiver threat since Michael Floyd's broken collarbone injury against Michigan State. Late last year when Floyd went down, defenses doubled up on Tate, and the Notre Dame passing offense came to a halt. All Tate knew to counter that was run a go route. Not now.

"This year, I expect to get rolled up on," he said. "So I practice as if I'm going to have Cover 2 on me. And I have other routes that can I beat them with."

Washington didn't put a lot of double coverage on Tate. Heck, the Huskies had a hard time locating him. Tate was wide open on several plays, and he used his speed to make even bigger gains. He had a 67-yard touchdown catch in the first half and a 77-yarder to open the second.

Irish coach Charlie Weis found imaginative ways to get Tate free.

"We motioned him out of the backfield, which was a new wrinkle," Weis said. "We lined him up the slot, and we motioned him to the strong side and to the weak side. And when we're sending both him and (tight end Kyle) Rudolph vertical, then you have to try and pick your poison."

Many of his nine catches also came off improvisation, as Clausen bought time in the pocket and Tate sprinted to an open spot. Tate, along with Floyd and Rudolph, went to Clausen's house in California this summer to put in extra work, and that chemistry is evident on the field.

"Whenever I see (Clausen) roll one way, I'm trying to get over there and get in his vision," Tate said. "I think it worked out a few times tonight."

It didn't just work. It was super.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame won in the first overtime in yet another crazy finish.

The Irish improved to 4-1 heading into the bye week

More to come from postgame interviews ...

Overtime in South Bend

October, 3, 2009

Posted by's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- What else but a wild finish in a Notre Dame game?

Jimmy Clausen passed to Kyle Rudolph for a nine-yard score with 1:20 left to give Notre Dame a 28-27 lead. Then Robert Hughes converted the extra point, with a little help from his line moving the pile. It was reminiscent of the Bush Push play. And Steve Sarkisian, the former USC assistant, argued with the officials about it, to no avail.

But it wasn't over. Washington drove down and got a 37-yard field goal from Erik Folk.

This game has had a little bit of everything. And now a little bit more.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- One of the worst possible penalties at the worst possible times was called on Notre Dame.

Ian Williams was flagged for roughing the snapper after the Irish had held on three plays inside their own 1. The personal foul was an automatic first down. Unbelievably, Washington still didn't get the touchdown and had to settle for another field goal try.

Does anybody want to win this thing?

The Irish need another winning drive behind Jimmy Clausen. They trail 27-22 with 2:52 left. Washington had a touchdown overruled by replay with 7:07 left. They got four fewer points but burned off an additional four-plus minutes.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The biggest play of this game so far was Notre Dame's stand on fourth-and-goal on about the one-inch line near the end of the third quarter.

Washington's offensive line got no push whatsoever, and Jake Locker ran into the back of his own lineman before going down. The Irish could have been toast without that stand, because they would have trailed 31-19.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Charlie Weis was a riverboat gambler at the end of the Michigan game. So far in the third quarter here, he's Jim Tressel.

Weis declined to go for it on fourth-and-goal from inside the three on the first drive of the second half with the momentum on his side. And just now on a fourth down from inside the Washington 40, he chose to punt. The kick went for a touchback, gaining a little more than 15 yards for the Irish.

Of course, Notre Dame would have had a first down if a terrible false start penalty hadn't negated a successful quarterback sneak on third-and-1. Now the Irish have to rely on their defense down 24-19, and that's a scary proposition.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Credit Washington for bending (big time) but not breaking. Or blame Notre Dame's lack of a power running game.

But the Irish have had to settle for four field goals, or else they'd be ahead with room to spare. Notre Dame opened the half with a 77-yard pass play to Golden Tate that got the ball to the 3-yard line, but the offense did nothing with three cracks from there.

It's astounding how open Tate has been all day. And Washington safety Justin Glenn was hurt on that big play and had to be carried off, which won't help the Huskies' pass defense.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The poor Notre Dame marching band. As soon as they came onto the field for their halftime show, the skies opened up and it started pouring rain.

The rain looks like it might let up when play resumes in the third quarter, but you can expect the field to be wet. And Jimmy Clausen was already slipping on the turf in the second quarter. The conditions could have an effect on the rest of this game.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Reviewing the first half in South Bend, where Washington leads Notre Dame 17-16:

Turning point: Just when it seemed Notre Dame would go into the half with the lead, Jake Locker completed two long passes -- including a great catch in traffic by D'Andre Goodwin -- and Washington drilled a 40-yard field goal as time expired to regain the upper hand in a back-and-forth battle.

Best player in the half: Notre Dame's Golden Tate. He has a 67-yard touchdown catch in which he outsprinted three Huskies defenders and a 31-yard rush on a reverse. All told, he has 140 yards and is proving too difficult for Washington to contain.

What Notre Dame needs to do: Score touchdowns. The Irish had to settle for three points instead of seven on three different drives, which is why they're trailing instead of enjoying a comfortable lead. Washington's defense is leaving huge holes, and the Irish need to take advantage unless they want yet another game to go down to the last minute.

Locker needs more help

October, 3, 2009

Posted by's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Jake Locker is really good. His protection -- and so far his receivers -- are not so much.

That much is clear early in this game, as Washington has had two straight three-and-outs against a soft Notre Dame defense. The Irish are getting a good push against the Huskies' suspect O-line, and receivers failed to corral two would-be big completions on the last drive.

As good as he is, Locker can't do it all by himself.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. --Notre Dame has had to settle for three field goals and no touchdowns so far. Though it has the lead, that's not a good trend for the Irish.

He may not be 100 percent, or even 80 percent, but a limited Jimmy Clausen is still pretty good. Clausen's turf toe is still bothering him, but his right arm is just fine. He made several big throws as Notre Dame drove in for the last field goal. His protection, which broke down early in the game, has gotten much better, helped by some play action and max-protect schemes.

But Clausen had Golden Tate wide open on a third down and never saw him, opting instead for a dangerous pass to Kyle Rudolph in the end zone. Michael Floyd is really being missed in the red zone.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Things have gone pretty much according to plan so far in South Bend.

Washington took advantage of Jake Locker's running ability and overpowered Notre Dame's weak defensive front to march in for a touchdown on the first drive.

The Irish came out and ran the ball out of two-tight end sets. They used a big reverse and a Wildcat during the series, trying to keep from exposing Jimmy Clausen. The drive stalled, though, when the Wildcat play lost 6 yards, and Notre Dame settled for a field goal.

Still, we have our strategies mapped out, and early on it looks like both defenses will be challenged all day.

Te'o starts for Notre Dame

October, 3, 2009

Posted by's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Charlie Weis said Manti Te'o would play more in the coming weeks. He wasn't kidding.

The true freshman linebacker started and made the game's first two tackles and nearly forced a fumble on the second play from scrimmage.

The only question: What took so long?

Posted by's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The sun has finally come out here, which is almost as bright as Washington's all-white uniforms. There's a surprising amount of Huskies purple in the stands, as fans have apparently seized the rare opportunity to see their team play at Notre Dame.

As for warm-ups, I paid close attention to Jimmy Clausen. The quarterback looked fine in his pregame throws, though he didn't seem to be fully planting each time on his injured foot. We'll find out quickly just how healthy he really is.