Oct. 25, 2008
SEATTLE (AP) – A swarming, rejuvenated defense. Five wide receivers with empty backfields while leading in the second half. Then, a fake punt that led to more points and more angst for a coach who needs no more.
Notre Dame downed Tyrone Willingham yet again, this time with its defense and some trickery.
James Aldridge ran for 84 yards and a career-high two touchdowns and Notre Dame’s defenders easily handled Washington in a 33-7 victory on Saturday night.
The Fighting Irish (5-2) looked rusty on offense following its bye, with quarterback Jimmy Clausen frustrated and often misfiring. But against Washington, rusty was good enough.
Clausen completed 14 of 26 passes for 201 yards, with a 51-yard touchdown pass to Michael Floyd on the game’s first series, and an interception.
“I feel like we could have scored more, but we never want to embarrass a team,” said Irish wide receiver Golden Tate, who ran 21 yards for his first career touchdown on an end around in the opening quarter. “I think we let up once we had them 14-0.”
Washington’s score with 2:56 left prevented its first shutout loss at home since 1976.
The Huskies (0-7), with redshirt freshman quarterback Ronnie Fouch making his third career start, did not cross midfield until 6 minutes remained. The Huskies had just 51 total yards on 35 plays entering the fourth quarter. They had 5 yards passing at halftime, when the game was essentially over with Notre Dame up 17-0.
“That was almost unbelievable that we would be in that position,” said Willingham, who dropped to 11-32 in three-plus seasons at Washington.
Notre Dame fired him at the end of 2004 after going 21-15 in three seasons. A dismissal from Washington seems inevitable and imminent.
The Irish led 24-0 late in the third quarter and faced fourth-and-13 at its own 37. Harrison Smith took a direct snap on a fake punt and ran 35 yards to set up the second field goal of the game by Brandon Walker.
As the crowd booed, Willingham remained stoic on the sideline.
Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, who exchanged a handshake and appeared cordial with Willingham on the field after the game, said he wanted to run that play late in the first half but the clock ran out on him. His team had practiced against a certain look he planned to exploit on Washington’s punt-return unit. It was heavy on defenders outside, setting up for a return. That left Smith free and “excited,” the linebacker said, in the middle.
Asked if he thought about what the perception of such a play would be coming with a 24-point lead on an obviously overmatched opponent, Weis said: “No. It’s the third quarter. … It’s not 50-0. I’m not that type of guy. … We yanked guys at the start of the fourth quarter. Their only touchdown at the end was against guys who never play.
“No, that’s not our deal.”
Washington (0-7) finished with 124 total yards against a defense that was allowing an average of 368 yards, 75th nationally.
The Huskies remain one of only two winless teams in major college football, with North Texas.
“There was nothing that we did well tonight,” a solemn Willingham said.
Notre Dame improved to 7-0 against Washington, which is off to its worst start since beginning 0-9 in 1969. The Irish have beaten Willingham’s Huskies twice, the last time in 2005.
Saturday night, in the first row of the students’ section behind Washington’s bench, “Fire Willingham!” was painted on the bare chests of young men and stomachs of a few young women.
That group joined the rest of the 70,000-plus in becoming apathetic – or cold – by the time the Irish took a 17-0 lead four minutes into the second quarter, on Walker’s third successful field goal in nine tries this season. All students but the “M” put on their shirts as sun set on a crisp fall evening.
The Huskies were outgained 238-38 in the first half.
Washington quarterback Jake Locker again watched helplessly on the sideline, wearing a sweatshirt and a knit cap. The dynamic sophomore is out indefinitely with a broken thumb.
Clausen missed on 10 of his first 16 passes against a team ranked last in the nation in pass efficiency defense. He had a second interception erased by a penalty for defensive pass interference. Two potential touchdown passes landed in front of the feet of his receivers in the end zone.
When he threw wide of an open Robby Parris on fourth-and-18 late in the first half, Clausen stomped to the sideline, slammed himself down on a bench and angrily fired a towel away.
“Yeah, I got out of rhythm in the second quarter,” said Clausen, who had been completing 61.6 percent of his throws coming in. “We just need to push the pedal down.”