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Published Sunday, September 9, 2001

No ghosts, just Huskers this time

Last modified at 12:45 a.m. on Sunday, September 9, 2001

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Terry Douglass
LINCOLN -- Apparently the Ghost of Knute Rockne and Touchdown Jesus don't do road trips. At least not to Lincoln, Nebraska.

The Luck of the Irish was virtually nowhere to be found Saturday night as the Cornhuskers answered some questions and raised some others in a 27-10 victory over Notre Dame. Nebraska, backed by a record crowd of 78,118 fans -- most of them participating in a "red-out" -- cheered on a home team that, although 3-0 on the season, finally showed some signs that it just might be a top-5 team in the country.

However, just when it started to look like the Huskers were going to blow Notre Dame out of the water in front of the Sea of Red, the Nebraska offense started taking on water. Still, Good Fortune was apparently wearing a cornhead hat and bib overalls as the Irish couldn't take advantage.

Nebraska began the game with an impressive 9-play, 64-yard touchdown drive. The Irish responded by fumbling the ball on their first play from scrimmage into the waiting arms of Huskers middle linebacker Jamie Burrow.

One quick 22-yard Eric Crouch-to-John Gibson scoring pass later, Notre Dame found itself on the short end of a 14-0 score against a team that had won 54 of its last 55 games at home. Now that's unfortunate.

The special teams play that allowed the Irish to make up a 21-7 deficit and hang around in last year's game at South Bend backfired for most of Saturday night. Notre Dame suffered a major blunder as deep-snapper John Crowther cut loose with a cannon shot over punter Joey Hildbold's head, which led to a 45-yard loss and eventually, three more points for the Huskers.

Even when Nebraska gave the Golden Domers a pair of gift turnovers in the first quarter, the Fighting Irish couldn't convert them into the points against a starless Blackshirt defense bent on making a name for itself. With ESPN's GameDay boys in town, here's guessing Craig Bohl's wrecking crew won't be known as the No-Name Defense much longer.

This was the answer the entire state was looking for Š well, sort of. The Huskers played truly inspired football for the first time in this young season and then flamed out without denting the scoreboard in the second half.

Nebraska may have been jacked up an extra notch after dedicating its entire week of preparation and the game to the family of Frank Solich Sr., who died on Aug. 31 and will be buried this morning in Johnstown, Pa. After sleepwalking through wins over Texas Christian and Troy State, there's little doubt that the Big Red boys had a little extra fire in their eyes with college football's most storied program trying to invade their FieldTurf. Too bad for them, they couldn't sustain it.

Still, luck was on Nebraska's side. As if playing the charged-up Huskers wasn't enough, the Irish had the added misfortune of taking on Mother Nature, too. Trailing 27-3 and needing to pass the ball to make any kind of a serious comeback attempt, a steady rain started to fall late in the third quarter, making for a slippery football and all but washing out Notre Dame's chances.

What Nebraska did offensively in the first half was anything but a fluke. The Cornhuskers briefly re-established their vaunted inside power running game that had been AWOL so far this season. It appeared that coach Solich dusted off a few plays that he hadn't called on for a while.

Nebraska finally put some of its non-Crouch offensive weapons on display. Just as he showed last year with a key third-and-9 catch in overtime, Nebraska tight end Tracey Wistrom proved that he's once again a big receiving threat with four first-half catches for 71 yards. Crouch, who is trying to improve on last year's 48-percent passing, was a tidy 6-of-8 passing for 88 yards at halftime and had just one attempt in the final 30 minutes.

I-back Dahrran Diedrick exhibited that he can be a punishing horse of a runner for a second straight game, this time with 32 carries for 133 yards and two TDs against a bunch of blue-chippers. Still, Solich would no doubt like to get a little more production from his fullbacks.

What has to be scary for future opponents is that Crouch and Co. won easy and still didn't operate with maximum efficiency. There were still intensity lulls and breakdowns sprinkled in among the big plays as the Huskers managed just 270 total yards -- 70 in the second half no thanks to an ultra-conservative gameplan.

That made the play of the defense all the more impressive. Only a special teams mistake -- NU had a punt blocked inside its own 10-yard line -- allowed Notre Dame to finally reach paydirt in the fourth quarter. But it was too little too late.

It probably should have come as no surprise to Bob Davie that Irish luck wasn't going to play here. Heck, if the "Four Horsemen" couldn't win in Lincoln, what made anyone think that sophomore quarterback Matt LoVecchio (11-of-24 passing) would be able to turn the trick?

The Luck of the Irish may be revived next week at Purdue and Notre Dame may once again go on a BCS bowl run, but on this night, it wasn't to be. Good Fortune was wearing red.

Contact Independent sports editor Terry Douglass via e-mail at tdouglass@theindependent.com or by phone at (308) 381-9414.

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