Irish explode for 28 third-quarter points in rout of Rutgers
By JOE LINDSLEY
The Irish offense finally had more fight than fright as No. 8 Notre Dame slammed 1-9 Rutgers 42-0 Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
Carlyle Holiday tied a Notre Dame school record with his four touchdown passes as the Irish notched their tenth win of the season, making head coach Tyrone Willingham the winningest first-year coach in Notre Dame history.
"You don't get many shutouts in your career," Willingham said. "So being able to start with a shutout and ending at home with a shutout its special when that day comes and you sit down and reflect on it. Our team carries an understanding of what we can be and our team is excited about the brand of football we have been playing and that we are having fun."
With his team now 10-1, Willingham surpassed Terry Brennan's and Ara Parseghian's previous first-year records of nine wins in a season. However, the freshman Irish coach did not wish to discuss that.
"I can't talk about that," he said. "That is not anything about Tyrone Willingham, it is about our team — our assistant coaches and our players."
Under Willingham, this Irish squad made the biggest one-season turnaround since 1964, when Parseghian transformed a previously 5-6 team into a 9-1 power.
The offense took time to get started in the first quarter against a lowly Scarlet Knights squad that had entered Saturday's game allowing 198.1 rushing yards per game.
In the second quarter, though, Notre Dame put its first points on the board after Holiday's 38-yard touchdown pass to Arnaz Battle. Then Shane Walton gave the Irish their eighth non-offensive touchdown of the season as he followed a disputed interception of a Ryan Hart pass with a 45-yard return to the end zone. It was Walton's seventh interception of the season.
Replays showed Walton trapped the ball on the ground, and Rutgers coach Greg Schiano vehemently protested the touchdown.
"That was huge for us," said linebacker Mike Goolsby, who made seven tackles for the Irish. "The defense, the whole team, prides itself on displays like that. That's what we've been doing all year. It's good to finally get back to it."
The third quarter was when Notre Dame gave reason for its high-ranking. During the second play of the half, Battle scored his second touchdown of the season after catching a 63-yard pass from Holiday.
The Irish went on to score on their next three possessions, with Holiday throwing touchdown passes of 37 and 26 yards to Omar Jenkins and Maurice Stovall, respectively, and with Ryan Grant running 28 yards into the end zone.
It was Holiday's first career four-touchdown game.
"I said that I believe that at some point the offense would begin showing some of its potential," Willingham said. "Today it did that. The passing was exceptional in that stretch in the third quarter, really for the whole game to be quite honest about it. I thought that they did a great job in playing in a way that I think they can play."
While Willingham said he did not say much at halftime, the players said he challenged them to step up their efforts.
"We came out Coach Willingham presented a challenge to us at halftime," Jenkins said. "We answered the challenge, basically we saw what can happen when we execute fully, and that's what happened."
While Holiday said it was the offense's best performance of the season, he still acknowledges that there is work to be done before the Irish take on No. 6 USC next Saturday.
"I don't know if we're back on track," Holiday said. "I know we came out second half how we wanted to play and how we thought we could play, but this should carry on for the rest of the season and until the bowl game, we just have to keep that there."
Saturday's domination of the Scarlet Knights still serves as a confidence boost for the Irish, especially after the near-loss to Navy and the upset by Boston College.
"It's a big momentum builder," Holiday said. "It shows we can put points on the board, put our game together, what we can do those kind of things for our team, it's a big confidence booster for us."
The Scarlet Knights' coach acknowledges the improvements the Irish offense has made.
"If Holiday can throw like that and they can run routes like that, they are going to be pretty tough to beat," Schiano said. "Because that has been something that hasn't been a big part of their offense, and certainly it was today."
While the offense showed its potential, the Irish defense remained strong as ever, with second-string players entering the game in the season's final game at Notre Dame Stadium.
"I think that we added some offense to it makes it impressive," Willingham said. "Our defense has been extremely consistent all year in not giving up a great deal and today is no difference."
"We smell blood and we just go and get it," senior linebacker and Butkus Award candidate Courtney Watson said. "Anytime you show a team up, it's just huge, [especially] playing with second team guys who don't play much on the field."
The Irish have never been beaten by the Scarlet Knights, who have not defeated a ranked opponent since beating No. 15 Penn State in 1988. Notre Dame's 42 points was the lowest it has scored against Rutgers in the teams' three meetings.
"There's no better way than to play your final home game as a shutout," Jordon Black said. "Everybody got to play. I couldn't ask for more."
All Sports Stories for Monday, November 25, 2002