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Nebraska ruins Notre Dame's 2001 debut
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Nebraska ruins Notre Dame's 2001 debut

By HOWARD RICHMAN - The Kansas City Star
Date: 09/08/01 23:48

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Those were some awfully big raindrops coming down in the second half Saturday. Almost as huge as a few holes that Nebraska offensive linemen provided in the tone-setting first series against Notre Dame.

The Nebraska line had been much maligned in the first two games, but its performance on the opening series left Notre Dame a mangled mess. Ultimately, the scoreboard at Memorial Stadium revealed the damage.

Nebraska 27, Notre Dame 10.

"We came out physical last week, and we were more physical this week," said Nebraska junior left guard Toniu Fonoti, who was a key player when the line paved the way for runs of 11, 12 and 13 yards in the first series. "We played physical. Dirtier. We were knocking them in the mouth, doing whatever we could to get that extra yard."

Nebraska, 3-0 and ranked No. 5, proved to be another bump in the road for the 17th-ranked Irish. Notre Dame, playing its opener, continued to stumble when it faces top-ranked teams on foreign turf. Notre Dame is 1-10 in its last 11 games versus ranked teams on the road.

Notre Dame coach Bob Davie, in the process of building a new home, obviously has some in-house matters to address with his team. Like who his quarterback will be. Sophomore Matt LoVecchio started, was replaced by sophomore Carlyle Holiday, who was replaced by LoVecchio, who was replaced by Holiday, who finally gave way again to LoVecchio.

It didn't take Davie long to realize he's got problems.

In fact, all it took was 22 seconds. That's all the time Nebraska needed to score 14 points and comfortably separate itself from the Irish.

The Cornhuskers didn't need that 12-men on the field penalty to take the lead for good. Junior I-back Dahrran Diedrick still scored on a 2-yard run on the play at 10 minutes, 41 seconds of the first quarter and ignited a sequence that let the Irish know their luck was buried in a sea of red.

On its first possession, Notre Dame senior tailback Terrance Howard fumbled. On the next play, Nebraska senior quarterback Eric Crouch lofted a 22-yard scoring pass to senior wingback John Gibson, who'd gotten behind Irish senior strong safety Ron Israel in the corner of the end zone.

"Obviously, we weren't a very well prepared football team," Davie said. "I take responsibilty for that. I don't care how many games Nebraska has played. I don't care how many people were in the stands. I don't care what the crowd noise was. There is no excuse. No excuse."

The Irish committed three first-half turnovers, including one that had the Three Stooges written all over it. A snap sailed three yards over junior punter Joey Hildbold's head, and as he retreated and tried to scoop it up on the run, Hildbold made matters worse by fumbling it and knocking it further back into Irish territory. Nebraska recovered at Notre Dame's 8, which led to a 19-yard field goal by redshirt freshman Sandro DeAngelis, giving the Cornhuskers a 17-0 advantage.

That must've been bad news for ABC because national TV viewers probably began channel surfing for that Serena Williams-Venus Williams tennis match. After all, the way Nebraska dominated the opening 30 minutes, the Cornhuskers were well on their way to game, set and match.

"We made a big stride from last week to this week as far as being physical and executing our offense," Crouch said. "Everybody's emotion was at a high level. We were motivated. We wanted to show everybody this offense is a powerhouse and that we could get the ball in the end zone any time we wanted to. Any time you play a team like that and you come out with a win, then you're doing something right."

Nebraska's defense held Notre Dame to 162 total yards, including just 43 yards rushing in 30 attempts. Notre Dame was its own worst enemy, finishing with four turnovers. That's quite a difference from last season when the Irish tied an NCAA record with only eight turnovers for the entire regular season.

All content © 2001 The Kansas City Star