Oct. 31, 2009
(Tate goes into the band again – S. Brown does a backflip)
SAN ANTONIO — Jimmy Clausen wandered the Notre Dame sideline worry-free with the clock ticking down and a blowout victory minutes away.
For the first time in almost two months, the Fighting Irish could relax in the fourth quarter.
Clausen threw two touchdowns, including a desperation heave that Golden Tate spectacularly pulled down to end the first half, and Notre Dame clobbered Washington State 40-14 on Saturday night.
The previous six games for Notre Dame (6-2) were nerve-wrackers decided in the final minutes. This time, the Irish had Washington State (1-7) buried by halftime.
“It was a relief,” Clausen said. “Close games all the time – it kind of gets old.”
Robert Hughes ran for 131 yards on 24 carries and had a touchdown, delighting a Texas crowd that was overwhelmingly filled with Fighting Irish fans. The Alamodome blowout debuted Notre Dame’s plan to play one offsite home game a year.
Clausen, keeping his name in the Heisman Trophy conversation, was 22 of 27 for 268 yards. The jewel was his 50-yard bomb on the final play before halftime to Tate, who somehow made the grab between three defenders.
Officials reviewed the catch – perhaps the only time the Irish were in suspense all night. Tate sprung for the ball and tumbled to the ground in a tangled mass, but after the replay booth confirmed the junior had possession, the stadium erupted.
San Antonio might as well have been South Bend, Ind.
“It was probably one of the most phenomenal catches I’ve seen anyone make, ever,” Notre Dame coach Charile Weis said.
Hughes had a career game starting in place of Armando Allen Jr., who has been bothered by a right ankle he sprained a month ago. Standing on the sideline without pads, Allen watched Notre Dame get their most convincing win since routing Nevada 35-0 in the season opener.
Tate’s Hail Mary haul was his second sensational score. He earlier went on a 16-yard touchdown run that began with him running smack into two linebackers before spinning around, leaving the would-be tacklers colliding and grasping for air as Tate dashed to the end zone.
Tate finished with 141 total yards. He called his biggest grab luck.
“Just timed the jump,” he said.
Washington State freshman Jeff Tuel was 12 of 23 for 104 yards and two touchdowns, both to Jared Karstetter. Tuel was also picked off twice.
After another crushing loss, Washington State coach Paul Wulff took away the almost bowl-like atmosphere as at least one positive.
“I think there is a lot for us at Washington State to gain from this,” Wulff said.
After finishing 2-11 last season in Wulff’s first year, the Cougars have four games left against Arizona, UCLA, Oregon State and Washington. Washington State beat SMU in overtime but hasn’t been close any other week, losing by an average of 25 points.
Notre Dame has had the opposite problem. Six consecutive games decided by seven points or fewer were a school record for Notre Dame, which didn’t put away Boston College last week until an interception in the final two minutes.
There were no such worries against the hapless Cougars.
Clausen sat out the fourth quarter after one of his most accurate games of the season. He now has 18 touchdowns on the season to just two interceptions. Weis said Clausen hurt his toe earlier in the game but it was nothing that would’ve prevented him from going back on the field if needed.
Clausen was replaced by sophomore Dayne Crist, who went 2 of 6 for 69 yards and had a 64-yard touchdown to John Goodman. But Crist was carried off the field in the fourth when the sophomore’s left leg got trapped under the 285-pound frame of Washington State defensive end Toby Turpin.
Weis said Crist thought he heard something in his knee when he went down. Crist was to be evaluated on Monday.
Nick Tausch kicked field goals from 16 and 23 yards and set a Notre Dame record with 14 consecutive field goals without a miss.
The Irish didn’t sell out the 65,000-seat Alamodome but likely impressed those they wanted to most: sought-after Texas recruits. Notre Dame will play its future offsite home games in Texas, Florida or New York.
The Irish are already scheduled to be back in the Lone Star State in 2013 to play Arizona State at Cowboys Stadium.