Irish bowl luck finally better
Posted: Friday, December 26, 2008 6:50 pm
By: By JAYMES SONG, AP Sports Writer
HONOLULU (AP) — Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis was “an emotional wreck” before the Hawaii Bowl and found himself in a place he hasn’t been since 2001 — the coaches box.
Unable to walk without crutches because of bad knees, Weis led from above as the efficient Fighting Irish got their first postseason victory in 15 years, 49-21 over Hawaii on Wednesday night.
“The guys came out here on a mission,” said Jimmy Clausen, who set Notre Dame bowl records with 401 yards passing and five touchdowns.
Golden Tate had six catches for 177 yards and three touchdowns, also Irish bowl records, including a 69-yarder that sparked a 28-point outburst to help the Notre Dame (7-6) end its NCAA-record bowl losing steak at nine.
With Weis calling plays from the coaches box, the Irish were unstoppable.
“I’m very happy for Notre Dame. This was a great step forward for us,” he said. “It leads us into 2009 with a good taste in our mouth.”
Weis used to coach from the box as offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots, until quarterback Drew Bledsoe got injured in 2001 and was replaced by an unheralded player named Tom Brady.
“Tommy was a very inexperienced quarterback at the time, and Bill (Belichick) and I felt we needed some more leadership on the field,” he said. “We went on to win the Super Bowl doing it that way, so we figured why change it. But as far as seeing the field, it’s not even close.”
This time, Weis is inclined to return to the field.
“As a head coach, you want to be on the sideline with your fellas,” he said. “You want to be there with them.”
After the Warriors (7-7) scored to end Notre Dame’s 28-point run, Armando Allen returned a kickoff 96 yards for a score. Allen also caught an 18-yard TD pass on the Irish’s opening drive of the second half.
“They jumped on us,” Warriors coach Greg McMackin said.
It was evident Weis, who was all smiles after the game, and his players cherished the long-awaited bowl victory.
As Notre Dame was presented the bowl’s pineapple-football trophy at midfield, each player came around to put their hands on it.
Notre Dame’s victory was its first in the postseason since beating Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl to end the 1993 season.
The Irish also avoided consecutive losing seasons.
Clausen was confident and sharp, completing 22 of 26 passes. He racked up 300 yards passing and three TDs by halftime, sending the crowd home early.
“We were clicking tonight,” Clausen said. “Coming off the loss at (USC), we got to work, and I started feeling real good, the timing with the receivers and the timing with the backs. It was real fun. We wanted to come down here to get a win, and that’s what we did.”
The sophomore broke Brady Quinn’s postseason school record of 286 yards passing set against Ohio State in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl.
“I’ve been in the pros and today, he was as accurate and I’ve ever seen,” McMackin said. “I give him full credit. He was outstanding and his receivers were outstanding.”
With Notre Dame up 14-7, Clausen broke open the game by connecting with Tate on a 69-yard TD play, the Irish’s longest play from scrimmage of the season.
Clausen faked a handoff, turned and heaved it to Tate, who had raced past cornerback Calvin Roberts along the left sideline. With the catch, Tate became the fifth Irish receiver to break 1,000 yards receiving in a season.
The Irish made it 28-7 with a second left in the first half on an 18-yard hookup between Clausen and Tate on third-and-goal. Hawaii challenged the play, but replays showed Tate got his left foot down before stepping out of bounds.
Tate followed it up in the third quarter with a 40-yard TD reception that pushed the lead to 42-7 and gave the Warriors flashbacks of the pounding they received from Georgia in the Sugar Bowl last season.
Clausen and Tate shared the MVP award.
Hawaii couldn’t get much going. Quarterback Greg Alexander was kept off balance and on the run by the Irish defense, which had eight sacks and forced two turnovers.
The Warriors, who didn’t call a running play until 6 minutes left in the first half, were held to 32 yards rushing.
“Our offense was unacceptable,” said Alexander, who was 23-of-39 for 261 yards with two touchdown passes to Aaron Bain.
Bain had a career-best eight receptions for 109 yards.