After so many close games, not coming down to the wire had to feel good for Charlie Weis and Notre Dame.
Playing in front of a prime time audience on NBC from San Antonio, Texas, the #23 ranked Irish viciously tore through Washington State, dominating both sides of the ball, and marching on to a 40-14 victory. No one is under the illusion that we're talking about USC here but the Irish are a talented team that needed to be reminded of just how effective they can be when they play up to form.
Jimmy Clausen was his normal elite-self, displaying pinpoint accuracy (22/27) and posting 268 yards and two touchdowns. Because of the blowout situation, sophomore Dayne Crist saw some field time, going 2/6 for 69 yards and a touchdown. Golden Tate once again led the receiving core with a modest (for him) four catches for 61 yards a touchdown. Clausen spread the ball around on Saturday, even more so than usual, hitting sophomore receiver John Goodman with two catches for 73 and a score and wrecking-ball TE Kyle Rudolph with six catches for 59 yards.
But most of the damage the Irish inflicted on this night was done — in the traditional way — on the ground. Robert Hughes was the unquestioned star of the game, rumbling and slamming his way to 131 yards and a touchdown. Even Golden Tate got in on the ground attack, handling the ball four times while netting an impressive 61 yards (15.3 a carry) and a touchdown. In all, 255 of the 592 total yards the Irish posted Saturday night were gained on the ground, a good sign for a team that has struggled at times mightily in this respect.
Most importantly, the Irish defense finally put on a dominating show (regardless of the quality of the opponent). Giving up only 14 points (seven coming on garbage time in the fourth quarter) the Irish D forced two interceptions and held Washington State to a measly 206 total yards including only 104 yards through the air, finally containing the big play, as the secondary has been the focal point of Notre Dame's defensive struggles.
Washington State is by no means an opponent whose defeat a team can hang their hat on. But with so many close, tough games for the Irish this season, the team needed this, at the very least from a mental standpoint. The offense was machine-like, the defense was ruthlessly brutal, and even though Washington State is bad, a few big time schools have lost to "bad" teams this season. There is something to be said for the Irish performing with the power and precision that a top team should against an opponent of the class and caliber of the Washington State Cougars.