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Notre Dame hits all the right notes in opener

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Kyle McCarthy's voice warbled as he sang the Notre Dame fight song in the locker room after Saturday's game. The senior safety admits he has a bit of a tin ear when it comes to music.

"I'm hoping that will change this year, because I'm taking a piano class," he said.

McCarthy's serenade created one of the few false notes on this day for the Irish, who put on a virtuoso performance in their 35-0 season-opening victory over Nevada. Head coach Charlie Weis chose McCarthy for the postgame fight-song honor because he's the captain of the defense, which pitched its first shutout since 2002.

He could have easily chosen quarterback Jimmy Clausen or receiver Michael Floyd, who were in perfect harmony in the passing game, or the offensive line, which finally got the running game and blocking schemes in symphony.

"Overall, I thought the operation, how everything went, went pretty much like clockwork," Weis said. "Even the few times that something went bad on offense or defense, we knew what the answer was."

Notre Dame has plenty of doubters out there, critics who wonder why a 7-6 team from a year ago is ranked in the Top 25 and being mentioned as a BCS contender. For one day, at least, the Irish displayed why expectations are running high in South Bend again. Players and coaches were forbidden from talking about lofty ambitions during the preseason, and Weis still wants that muted, but their play went to 11 on the amps Saturday.

"There's been a lot of talk since the Hawaii game," Clausen said. "We had to go out and show it, and I think we did."

Clausen may want to consider an immediate transfer to the WAC so he can win the Heisman Trophy next year.

He was nearly flawless on Saturday, finishing 15 of 18 for 315 yards with four touchdowns with no interceptions. In his last two games against WAC defenses, including last season's Hawaii Bowl, the junior quarterback has gone 37 for 44 for 716 yards and nine scores without a pick.

On Saturday, Weis found only two faults with Clausen's play: early in the game, he overthrew tight end Kyle Rudolph for what could have been a big gainer, and later he and Golden Floyd changed a called slant to a go route on a fourth-down incompletion.

"Other than those two, I can't remember a play when he wasn't right on," Weis said.

Having a receiver like Floyd erases a lot of mistakes. The 6-foot-3 sophomore had 189 yards and three touchdowns on just four catches. He took a swing pass 70 yards and turned a jump ball on a 40-yard fly route into an electrifying 88-yard score. The Irish's offenses sputtered toward the end of last year when Floyd was hurt; with him, Tate and Kyle Rudolph healthy, Clausen can simply choose where to look for a gamebreaker.

The Irish have almost always been able to pass the ball well, though. What made Saturday different is that they excelled at other things, too.

The much-maligned offensive line kept Clausen clean while facing a pair of Nevada ends who combined for 21.5 sacks a year ago. The line also paved the way for 178 rushing yards on 41 attempts, and might have reached Weis's magic cutoff stat of 4.6 yards per carry if the team didn't milk the clock at the end. The running game still isn't dominating -- Armando Allen led the way with a pedestrian 72 yards -- but at least it offers the offense more balance.

Weis put the onus on his line early, going for a 4th-and-one on the game's first possession. Fullback James Aldridge converted it with a two-yard dive. Early in the second half, Notre Dame got pinned inside its own 1 on a punt but gave it to Allen three straight times for a first down. That set up the touchdown bomb to Floyd.

"That was really important, because it gave us a chance to show we're for real," center Eric Olsen. "(Those situations) are something we definitely struggled with in the past, and we wanted the opportunity to show what we can do."

The defense surrendered 184 rushing yards and let the Wolf Pack average more than five yards per carry. But they continually came up with key third-down stops and created three turnovers while disrupting Nevada's pistol offense with constant pressure.

"People can say it was only Nevada, but let's not forget they scored 38 points a game last year and are a pretty good football team," McCarthy said. "So it was a good day for our defense. I think this was a pretty good starting point for this season."

And on that note, McCarthy was pitch perfect.