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Notre Dame Finishes Big In Season Opener

August 28, 1999

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Associated Press Writer

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – This isn’t going to cut it against Michigan. It almost didn’t do the job against Kansas.

No. 18 Notre Dame turned in a dominating second half after squandering a 20-0 first-half lead and survived three interceptions off Jarious Jackson in beating Kansas 48-13 on Saturday in the Eddie Robinson Classic.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to win anywhere else like that,” said Jackson, who was 9-of-17 for 89 yards. “We definitely can’t go into Ann Arbor playing like this.”

In a game scheduled as a tuneup for Notre Dame’s matchup at Michigan next Saturday, the Irish seemed one play away from a world of hurt early in the second half.

Kansas cut Notre Dame’s lead to 20-13 after the first interception off Jackson, when Zac Wegner hit Michael Chandler for a 30-yard touchdown with two seconds left in the first half.

Jackson’s next pass was picked off and returned to the Notre Dame 33 on the third play of the second half, and Jayhawks kicker Joe Garcia later lined up for a 49-yard field goal attempt that would have cut the lead to four.

But Clifford Jefferson blocked the kick, Rocky Boiman returned it to the Kansas 34 and Tony Fisher ran in the last two yards for a touchdown, deflating Jayhawks hopes for an upset.

“You’re always one play away,” Irish coach Bob Davie said. “I think we do have a lot of talent on this football team. I do think we have some explosiveness on this team. I also realize we have a long, long way to go. I think everyone sees that.”

Notre Dame began dominating Kansas after Anthony Denman picked up a fumble on the next Kansas possession and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown and a 34-13 lead.

Fisher added another touchdown, and backup quarterback Arnaz Battle reeled off a 74-yard run in mop-up duty.

Davie had hoped the game would answer some questions about an inexperienced squad with 11 new starters before the Irish face Michigan at Ann Arbor. Gone from last year’s 9-3 team are leading rusher Autry Denson and four of the five regular starters on offensive line.

While the line seemed to gel well with its run blocking, the pass protection was shoddy at times. Jackson was under pressure on most of his throws, and his 38-yard touchdown run that put Notre Dame up 7-0 in the first quarter came after he was flushed out of the pocket on third down.

Still, the offensive line went through the game without a penalty, and the Irish rushed for 363 yards, 150 more than last year’s average.

Fisher lead Notre Dame with 111 yards on 13 carries, and Jackson ran for 85 yards on 12 attempts.

Kicker Jim Sanson showed signs of the consistency problems that plagued him last year, as well, missing a 43-yard field goal attempt and an extra point. His attempt from 37 yards was blocked, too.

“It’s nice to know where you are, just to have some things confirmed, just to give you a base on which to improve on,” Davie said.

Both teams were sloppy with the ball. Kansas lost three fumbles – two by leading rusher David Winbush – and Devron Harper picked off Wegner’s pass and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown as the Irish went up 13-0 in the first quarter.

In addition to three interceptions, Jackson also threw an option pitch high to Terrence Howard, who fumbled at the Kansas 45.

“The kind of football team we are, we can’t spot Notre Dame 20 points and expect to win,” said Kansas coach Terry Allen, who had to force the tearful Winbush back into the game after his second fumble.

“We all realize the stakes will go up next week playing on the road,” Davie said. “Our football team realizes it doesn’t matter where we are now. It matters where we are next week.

“I think we all see where we are.”

It was 87 degrees with a relative humidity of 65 percent at game time, and 85 people were treated for heat-related illnesses, including nine band members.