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Nebraska Gives Davie Eye-Opener

By CHRIS DUFRESNE
Times Staff Writer

September 9 2001

LINCOLN, Neb. -- This is Bob Davie's fifth season as Notre Dame coach. This is supposed to be his best team.

This was supposed to be a close game.

Um, this was not what Davie, ABC and legends of green-leaning Irish fans had in mind. Instead of a Saturday night opening statement to justify its coach's five-year contract extension, a top 20 poll ranking and the 717 media credentials issued, Notre Dame added a bad-to-the-bone bookend to an ugly Fiesta Bowl defeat against Oregon State in January.

Knocking the Irish every which way but loose, No. 5 Nebraska defeated No. 17 Notre Dame, 27-10, before a sellout crowd of 78,118 at Memorial Stadium. Last season's game at South Bend was a thriller, with the plucky Irish holding firm at home before losing in overtime on Eric Crouch's seven-yard touchdown run.

The game Saturday was a joke. For Nebraska, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. The game wasn't as close as the final score. Nebraska led, 27-3, at the half and Notre Dame's only touchdown was set up on a blocked punt inside the Nebraska five, and it still took the Irish four downs to punch it in. Tony Fisher finally scored on a fourth-and-goal run.

"Obviously, we weren't a very well prepared football team," Davie said. "I take responsibility 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. I take responsibility."

Nebraska did not score in the second half, but it was more of a management decision than any adjustment made by Notre Dame.

"We probably did not give our offense a real fair shake," Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said. "We were trying to eat up some clock. It just seemed to make sense not to get too fancy or exotic."

Notre Dame finished with 43 rushing yards in 30 attempts, a cloud-of-dust 1.4 yards-per-attempt average. The Irish were held to 162 total yards.

Nebraska tailback Dahrran Diedrick, by contrast, finished with 133 yards in 32 carries.

"I didn't expect to get the ball that many times," Diedrick said. "I'm glad it happened."

There were questions about Nebraska's fortitude after less-than-compelling home victories against Texas Christian and Troy State, but there are not as many questions today.

It may have helped that Nebraska (3-0) had played two games before Notre Dame played its first, then again, it might not have mattered one whit. Nebraska looked like the team that demolished Northwestern, 66-17, in the Alamo Bowl, while Notre Dame resembled the outfit that suffered a 41-9 Fiesta Bowl loss to Oregon State. If you're keeping score in South Bend, Notre Dame has now been outscored, 68-19, in its last two games. It would be difficult to describe Saturday's effort as anything but a trip in the wrong direction.

"We had that deer-in-the-headlights look," Davie said. Again?

Last year, the Irish set an NCAA record with only eight turnovers during the regular season. Saturday, Notre Dame had three turnovers in the first half and finished with four--two fumbles and two interceptions. The game was just about over before Nebraska fans had time to settle in their seats. Nebraska drove 64 yards on its first possession for a touchdown, with Diedrick scoring on a two-yard run.

"I think everyone's emotion was at a high level," Crouch said of the opening drive. "We wanted to show everyone that our offense is a powerhouse."

Notre Dame's first play from scrimmage this season was a disaster, with Jamie Burrow pouncing on Terrance Howard's fumble at the Irish 22.

"First play of the game, the first game of the 2001 football season, we put the ball on the ground?" Davie asked. "Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?"

No kidding, Coach. On first down after the fumble, Notre Dame safety Ron Israel bit on a fake and got burned on a scoring pass from Crouch to John Gibson to make the score 14-0 before five minutes had expired.

Later in the quarter, Notre Dame long snapper John Crowther sailed a snap over punter Joey Hildbold's head that ended up a 45-yard Nebraska gain, which set up Sandro De Angeles' 19-yard field goal to give Nebraska a 17-0 lead. Notre Dame cut the lead to 17-3, but Nebraska answered with a three-yard scoring run by Diedrick with 2:57 left and a 21-yard field goal by DeAngelis for a 27-3 lead.

Davie showed little patience with Matt LoVecchio, replacing his sophomore quarterback with Carlyle Holiday on the Irish's first possession of the second quarter. Holiday led Notre Dame to its first-half field goal, but Davie went back to LoVecchio later in the quarter and in the second half. There had been questions about Nebraska being too one dimensional to contend for a national title this season. Crouch had thrown only 33 passes entering the game, with no touchdowns and one interception.

But, against the Irish, Crouch used the pass effectively, especially with tight end Tracey Wistrom. Crouch completed six of nine pass attempts for 88 yards and a touchdown. Wistrom had four catches for 71 yards.

Nebraska appears to be one of a select few teams in contention for one of two spots in this year's national championship game, to be played Jan. 3 at the Rose Bowl. The Cornhuskers have eight home games this year, including crucial Big 12 Conference showdowns against Oklahoma (Oct. 27) and Kansas State (Nov. 10).

The road is not as rosy for Notre Dame, which has a schedule that features seven schools that went to bowl games last year. While the victory Saturday gave Nebraska only an 8-7-1 edge in the series, the Cornhuskers have inflicted more than their fair share of humiliation.

The famed Notre Dame "Four Horsemen" squads, coached by Knute Rockne, lost two games in a three-year span from 1922-24. Both defeats were against Nebraska.

Then, there was last year's indignity, when more than 25,000 Cornhusker fans bought their way into Notre Dame Stadium to turn what was supposed to be an Irish home game into a neutral field.

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