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Published Sunday, September 9, 2001

Irish can't find any magic against Nebraska
Turnovers, bad plays cost Notre Dame in Lincoln


Last modified at 12:44 a.m. on Sunday, September 9, 2001
  

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  By Tony Brott
tbrott@theindependent.com

LINCOLN -- Everything that was magical about Notre Dame's game against Nebraska in South Bend, Ind., a year ago was missing Saturday night at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.

Not-so-special teams play and costly turnovers made the Irish's 27-10 loss to Nebraska especially hard to take for Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie.

"We weren't a very well prepared football team," a dejected Davie said afterward. "I take responsibility for that.

"I don't care how many games Nebraska's playedÅ how many people are in the standsÅ there's no excuse."

Davie's disappointment came from the fact that areas where Notre Dame had excelled in a year ago, especially in its 27-24 overtime loss against Nebraska, let them down in their 2001 season opener.

A year ago, Notre Dame used two kick returns to propel them against Nebraska. This year, a snap well over punter Joey Hildbold's head was recovered at the Notre Dame 9-yard-line by Justin Smith and led to a Husker field goal and a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. Also, the Irish gave up two long kickoff returns to Nebraska and were spared giving up a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown only by an illegal blocking penalty on the Huskers.

Besides special teams, Davie was upset with his team's intensity and execution in the opening quarter.

"I was worried about that first drive on defense," Davie said. "Nebraska takes it down and scores. [Then] the first play of the 2001 season (on offense), we put the football on the ground. Then, we throw an interception, they complete one pass on us, it's 14-0."

After having set a major college mark by only fumbling eight times in 2000, the Irish were more generous on Saturday, fumbling three times and losing two while having two passes intercepted.

"It's no excuse," he said. "We had that deer-in-the-headlights look. We got better in the second half, but not enough to win at this level of football."

Going into the game, there were questions about who would direct the Irish offense. Sophomore Matt LoVecchio started, but he was replaced midway through the second quarter by fellow sophomore Carlyle Holiday. Although Holiday sparked the Irish to a first-half field goal, neither quarterback found much success against the Huskers. Altogether, Notre Dame finished with 162 yards total offense.

LoVecchio said his team didn't make the statement they wanted.

"I'll take a lot of the blame for not moving the ball when I was in there," LoVecchio said. "It's certainly not acceptable."

LoVecchio finished with 11 completions in 24 attempts for 78 yards and one interception.

Holiday, who Nebraska had desperately wanted to play for the Huskers two years ago, had more success initially, but also suffered from a subpar performance overall. He completed 5 of 8 passes for 41 yards and one interception. He ran for 21 yards on 8 carries.

"We felt like we were ready, but things didn't go our way," Holiday said.

While Notre Dame's offense struggled, its defense held Nebraska in check for the most part. The Huskers gained only 70 yards total offense in the second half. But the damage was already done.

"I think we kind of settled down in the second half," linebacker Rusty Boiman said. "There's a difference between knowing your assignments and getting there and banging around and playing hard.

"We knew coming into the game what we had to do and in the second half we just bore down and did it."

Not everything was off for the Irish. Notre Dame's special teams offered the Irish a spark when Shane Walton blocked a Kyle Larson punt at the 3-yard-line at the end of the third quarter. That led to Tony Fischer's 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down.

Davie said his team's performance was poor, but there were some bright spots.

"I credit our guys in the second half for competing," he said. "I thought defensively once we got settled down a bit, we made some plays and made some hits.

"We are not leaving our season out here. We're going to get this thing right."



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