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Davie's Irish get outclassed in opener vs. Nebraska
Dennis Dodd Sept. 9, 2001
By Dennis Dodd
SportsLine.com Senior Writer
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Bob Davie promised this was his most talented Notre Dame team. Bob Davie did not promise he knew what to do with that talent.

'Probable' starting QB Matt LoVecchio was an ineffective 11-of-24 for 78 yards in the loss Saturday night. 
'Probable' starting QB Matt LoVecchio was an ineffective 11-of-24 for 78 yards in the loss Saturday night.(AP) 

In other words Notre Dame Nation: here we go again. Big buildup, bigger let down. Watching Davie's Irish is like getting tickets to see Jerry Seinfeld and Carrot Top shows up.

Nebraska 27, Notre Dame? Well, it finished with 10 points, but we're still waiting for them to show up. Domers vs. Gomers II had all the pregame hype, but none of the in-game tensions thanks to the unprepared Irish.

"Once again, we had that deer in the headlights look," Davie said.

Once again? It's tragic enough the coach recognizes this disturbing trend. It's another that the symptoms show up in the season opener.

The quarterback is ... who? Starter Matt LoVecchio, a better passer, shuffled back and forth with Carlyle Holiday, the better runner. In key situations, LoVecchio came in to run and Holiday came in to pass.

The special teams were ... a push, at best. Former third-team walk-on deep snapper John Crowther celebrated his first-team status with a really deep first-quarter snap over the head of punter Joey Hildbold that set up a Nebraska field goal.

The defense was ... where? Still in the wings while Nebraska's was jacked out of its mind for Notre Dame's first visit here since 1948.

The saving grace ... that ball security? Notre Dame set an NCAA record with only eight turnovers all of last season. They got halfway to that total in the season opener, committing four.

"Obviously, we weren't a very good football team," Davie said. "I take responsibility for that. I don't care how many games Nebraska's played. I don't care how many people were in the stands. I don't care what the crowd noise was, there's no excuse, no excuse."

Davie admirably fell on the grenade, which should distract the detractors until it happens again. The Irish were utterly unprepared for this clash of traditions. Before Notre Dame ran its second offensive play, it was down 14-0.

After those measly eight turnovers in 2000, senior tailback Terrance Howard fumbled away the first handoff of 2001.

"The first play of the 2001 season, we put the ball on the ground," Davie said. "Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? The team that turned the ball over eight times all last year, the first play of the 2001 season we put the ball on the ground ... it's my fault."

After falling behind 17-0, the No. 17 Irish (0-1) played credibly, but unfortunately in this day and age they measure games by four quarters. Taken as a whole, the performance raised more questions than it answered.

"Whatever happened out there, we need to fix it quick," said LoVecchio who might be, could be, probably will be, the starter next week against Purdue.

The problem is, Davie himself doesn't know for sure, issuing only a "probably" on LoVecchio's starting status.

It's obvious the way Notre Dame was outclassed in the first half the Oregon State hangover has not passed. Even if it had, it is back. The Fiesta Bowl performance against the quicker Beavers took a significant edge off a 9-2 regular season in 2000.

In the season opener, Notre Dame faced the same demons with its whole season ahead of it.

"I look at it like it's two opportunities in a row (we missed) to be honest, the Fiesta Bowl and this game," Davie said.

The quarterback situation is on the cusp of becoming a full-blown controversy. It is still painfully obvious LoVecchio cannot throw decently downfield. Holiday, a fellow sophomore, is the better runner of the two, but was actually the more efficient passer.

POLL
Which player had the biggest impact Saturday?
LaBrandon Toefield of LSU with 183 yards rushing and 4 TDs
Omare Lowe of Washington with blocked kick and INT for TD
Dahrran Diedrick of Nebraska with 133 yards rushing and 2 TDs
Bernard Berrian of Fresno State with 300 total yards and kickoff return TD

There wasn't much of a pattern to their playing time either. Holiday led the Irish on its only legitimate scoring drive, which resulted in a field goal that cut the lead to 17-3. Then LoVecchio started the second half.

After Shane Walton blocked a Nebraska punt to set the Irish up on the Husker 4, LoVecchio entered. On fourth-and-goal, Tony Fisher scored Notre Dame's only touchdown out of the wishbone, of all things.

Can a team win with two quarterbacks sporting such diverse styles?

"Yes, definitely, but you're going to need a backup player," said Holiday, who then paused, adding, "I'm not really sure, but it's possible."

You'd think nine months separation from the Beaver Blowout in the Fiesta Bowl would expunge the Irish's demons. Davie's talent-rich proclamation actually gave hope his team could compete with the nation's No. 5 team in its own crib.

Uh, not really. The loss was more disappointing than surprising. The Domers could have lived with a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire, face-saving battle. Instead, they got the Memorial Stadium Monster thrown in their faces.

For the 84th time in the past 87 games, Nebraska (3-0) won at home. The Notre Dame faithful that were outclassed in their own stadium last year (30,000 Nebraskans at Notre Dame Stadium) showed little faith this time. The Irish allotment of 4,000 occupied little more than the sliver of the Memorial Stadium stands it was supposed to.

Aside from the quick start, questions still abound for the Huskers. They remain ordinary on offense. After the first quarter, Nebraska gained only 172 yards. The 270-yard total output was the fewest since last year's game at Kansas State (239) -- Nebraska's last loss.

"It's something beating Notre Dame two times in a row," Crouch said. "It probably doesn't happen to too many teams. Notre Dame is a great program with a top-notch tradition. Any time you play a team like that and you come out with a win, then you're doing something right."

Nebraska still can't judge itself from this two-year sweep. The Big 12 is still to come. TCU actually played Nebraska tougher last month in the season opener. Notre Dame got the usual golf-clap treatment from the Nebraska fans, who are used to saluting vanquished opponents.

"Nice job Notre Dame," one fan yelled as the players entered the locker room. "Come back soon."

It can't be soon enough for Nebraska.

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