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Notre Dame Has Eyes For Cornhuskers

Sept. 5, 2000

Associated Press Writer

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Notre Dame coach Bob Davie admits his team was looking ahead to playing Nebraska even before it beat Texas A&M.

In fact, Davie started talking to his team in January about the Irish’s game next Saturday against the Cornhuskers.

“If we want to set our sights high, that’s a good place to start,” Davie said. “If you want to raise the bar of your football team, you raise that bar comparing yourself to Nebraska.”

Some fans of tradition-steeped Notre Dame might not like such talk.

But the Cornhuskers have won three national championships since the Irish last won a title in 1988. The Irish ended two of the past three seasons unranked, and were ranked only No. 22 at the end of 1998. The last time the Cornhuskers finished a season unranked was 1968.

The last time the Irish finished a season ranked higher than Nebraska was 1993, when Notre Dame was No. 2 and the Cornhuskers were No. 3.

“Nebraska is a heck of a football team and a heck of a football program, and I’m not embarrassed to say that in any way,” Davie said. “It’s a compliment to them. I think we’re a heck of a football team and a heck of a football program, too.”

Doubts about the Notre Dame football program hounded Davie during the offseason after the Irish went through their first seven-loss season since 1963 and recorded their first losing season – 5-7 – since 1986. The 24-10 victory Saturday over Texas A&M won’t silence Davie’s critics, although it may quiet them a bit for a week.

“It’s a lot more fun to play the No. 1 ranked team in the country 1-0 rather than 0-1, I promise you that,” Davie said.

The victory moved the Irish, who started the season unranked for the first time since 1986, to No. 23 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Notre Dame coaches and players had talked throughout preseason camp about the improved team chemistry and the improved confidence. Davie said it was important to open with a win to show players the confidence was justified.

“It’s a tremendous boost in confidence, a tremendous boost in momentum when you can win the first game,” Davie said.

The momentum began to shift Notre Dame’s way Saturday when the Aggies had a first-and-goal on the Irish 2 and had to settle for a field goal to take a 10-7 lead.

On A&M’s next three possessions, the Irish held the Aggies to three-and-out and a total of 9 yards.

“At the beginning of the game, a lot of players had the jitters. They were still thinking about last year,” safety Tony Driver said. “But we got out there, we made a couple of stops, and we said, ‘We can do this.’ After that, the confidence just took over.”

The offense began clicking after Arnaz Battle, making his first start, threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Javin Hunter to give the Irish a 14-10 lead with 3:24 left in the third quarter.

“That was huge. We were struggling at the time offensively,” Davie said.

Battle, who was 10-of-16 passing for 133 yards with no interceptions, sprained his ankle in the second quarter and likely will miss practice Monday, but should be ready Tuesday, Davie said.

The Irish scored again on their next possession on a 17-yard touchdown run by Julius Jones and added a 32-yard field goal by Nick Setta.

Davie said he was pleased with the effort by the Irish, but they must execute better to have a chance against Nebraska.

“We’ve got a long, long, long way to go in a short period of time because the football team coming in next week is probably as good a team as I’ve seen in a long time,” Davie said. “It’s a tremendous challenge.”