By ANDREW SOUKUP
Associate Sports Editor
The Irish had hoped they were past the humiliating loss suffered last year at the Fiesta Bowl.
But in front of the largest crowd in Memorial Stadium history and a national television audience, Notre Dame showed it still has light-years to go to climb back into the upper echelons of college football programs. Hampered by an ineffective offense and multiple turnovers, Notre Dame fell to Nebraska 27-10. The Irish dropped to No. 23 in the AP poll, while the Huskers remained at No. 4.
"Obviously, we weren't a very well prepared football team. I take responsibility for that," Irish head coach Bob Davie said.
Notre Dame had problems executing offensively all night long. Husker defense held the Irish to 162 yards of total offense and only three drives where Notre Dame gained over 25 yards.
The offensive woes were particularly upsetting for Davie, who said before the season started that he hoped the offense would be more dynamic and more consistent.
"I'm disappointed right now in our offense," Davie said in obvious disgust. "Too many penalties, too many self-inflicted mistakes. Once again, we had that deer in the headlights look. We got a little bit better in the second half, but still not enough to win at this level of football."
Davie also has a quarterback controversy on his hands. Although sophomore quarterback Matt LoVecchio played 12 of Notre Dame's 15 series, Carlyle Holiday led the Irish on their longest drive, a 64-yard campaign that ended in Nick Setta's 29-yard field goal. But in his collegiate debut, Holiday generally looked tentative in the pocket and threw an interception in the third quarter — a pass that so upset Davie that he pulled Holiday for the rest of the game.
"I really don't care about [who plays]" said LoVecchio, who finished 11-for-24 passing with just 78 yards. "Whoever can move the team down the field should be in the game."
But it was turnovers, not the play of the quarterbacks, that put the Irish in an early hole. The Irish — who only committed eight turnovers last year, tying an NCAA record — turned the ball over four times, including interceptions by LoVecchio and Holiday, a Terrance Howard fumble on Notre Dame's first offensive play and a botched snap on a punt. In all, Nebraska scored 10 points off Irish mistakes.
"The first play of the game, the first play of the 2001 football season, we put the football on the ground. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?" Davie said. "A team that turned the ball over eight times all last year, the first play of the 2001 season, we're going to put the ball on the ground? That's my fault. We didn't do a good enough job."
"Whatever happened out there, we need to fix it quick," LoVecchio said. "We need to put points on the board ... throwing an interception, fumbling the football, it all led to momentum swings."
It wasn't all negative for the Irish. Shane Walton blocked a punt at the end of the third quarter, setting up Tony Fisher's 1-yard touchdown run and the Notre Dame defense held Nebraska scoreless in the second half.
"The defense in the first half made some mental mistakes and bad decisions," Irish defensive end Ryan Roberts said. "In the second half, we just made the adjustments, played better, and shut them out. All we did in the second half was play to our ability and eliminate the mistakes."
But the Irish defense was, according to Davie, "back on our heels" early. On the opening drive, the Huskers took the ball 64 yards in nine plays, culminating in Dahrran Diedrick's two-yard touchdown run. And on the first play after Howard's fumble, Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch hit Josh Gibson for a 22-yard touchdown pass to put the Huskers up 14-0 less than five minutes into the game.
"I think that the way we got down there so quickly on the first drive really set the tone for the entire game," said Diedrick, who added a three-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and finished with 133 yards rushing on 32 carries.
"We dominated in the first half," added Crouch. "We were really excited to get out there and to show the country that we have a great offense."
"When you take the field, the first snap, you have to play," Irish defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "You can't give a team a half to get a lead on you and then say, `OK, we're going to play now'."
Husker tight end Tracy Wistrom also gave Notre Dame problems. Several times during the game, Notre Dame dropped back into zone coverage, leaving Wistrom wide open in the middle of the field. He led all receivers with four catches for 71 yards.
All Sports Stories for Monday, September 10, 2001