Nov. 17, 2007
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (AP) – Notre Dame’s freshmen made sure the Fighting Irish seniors wouldn’t go their final season without a victory at home.
Jimmy Clausen threw for 194 yards and three touchdowns, Robert Hughes ran for 110 yards and a touchdown, Duval Kamara had a touchdown catch and the Notre Dame defense came within 72 seconds of its first shutout in five years as the Irish beat Duke 28-7 Saturday.
“It’s like a weight has been lifted,” Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. “I feel happy, especially for the seniors.”
The Irish (2-9) broke the game open by forcing two fumbles late in the second quarter that led to a pair of 25-yard touchdown passes by Clausen 73 seconds apart in a mistake-filled first half by both teams.
“It’s very disappointing,” Duke coach Ted Roof said. “It’s 0-0 and what did they get, 14 points in the last minute in the first half? You were talking about a one-play game that could go either way. What happened happened. It was certainly a great opportunity for us that didn’t work out.”
Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, who had a fumble, said the slickness of the field was a factor in the fumbles.
“But we need to take care of the ball,” he said.
Weis said it was important to send the seniors off with a victory.
“It’s not just the fact that they’re 0-6 at home going into this game. It was the fact it was their last game ever in the stadium,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t understand the magnitude of that statement.”
Duke, playing on national TV for the first time since 1996, lost its eighth straight. It has just two wins against Bowl Subdivision teams the past four seasons: against Northwestern earlier this season and against Clemson in 2004.
Roof described it as a “frustrating and disappointing loss.”
“The turnovers were huge, like they always are,” he said.
Hughes added a 13-yard TD run for the Irish, David Grimes had a 25-yard TD catch and John Carlson had a 9-yard scoring catch.
Hughes became the first Irish freshman to run for 100 yards since Darius Walker ran for 112 against Pittsburgh on Nov. 13, 2004.
Notre Dame rushed for more than 100 yards for just the third time, finishing with 220 on 48 carries.
Clausen was 16-for-32 for 194 yards and had his second straight three-touchdown game. Weis said watching from the sidelines for two weeks helped Clausen immensely.
“Not only was he getting better physically, but he got to really see the game from a different perspective,” Weis said. “And I think that the game to him is happening a lot slower and any time the game slows down, you’re starting to understand how to play.”
Duke entered the game last in the nation in rushing at 52.9 yards a game and did nothing to move up with 94 yards on 27 carries. Thaddeus Lewis was 16-of-33 passing for 121 yards. Duke avoided the shutout when backup quarterback Zack Asack scored on a 6-yard run with 1:12 left.
Weis had some fun at the end of game, putting in seniors who didn’t play much, including playing starting safety Tom Zbikowski at quarterback.
“He’s been on me for three years about getting a few snaps in there,” Weis said.
Zbikowski, an option quarterback in high school, ran for 2 yards on the first play and lost 4 on the next, but got a first down when the Blue Devils were called for a personal foul. After a 2-yard run by Zbikowski, tailback Travis Thomas fumbled the ball away at the 49.
Weis said he was happy the seniors got to play.
“You don’t want to give up a shutout, but I’d rather get those kids in the game than worry about a shutout,” he said.
Irish players said they were happy to be able to celebrate a win at home.
“It was awesome being with all the fans,” defensive end Trevor Laws said. “It was just pure joy.”
Zbikowski said winning at home was even sweeter because of all the team has been through.
“We’ve had our ups and downs. You get a lot closer to each other when your backs are against the wall during a season like this,” he said. “It was a rough season, but you’ll always remember your last game at home.”