Then, in a span of 2:21 in the third quarter, the sixth-ranked Irish helped the Florida State Seminoles self-destruct. In a dramatic and startling turn, three consecutive FSU turnovers led to 17 Notre Dame points.
"I haven't seen three turnovers in a row like that since I've been playing," said Seminole receiver Anquan Boldin. "We had them on their heels before the turnovers and after that, they just kept picking up confidence."
And No. 11 FSU (5-3) is now left to pick up the pieces following the Irish's 34-24 victory at Doak Campbell Stadium.
The Seminoles didn't have to search very hard for reasons behind their second-consecutive defeat for just the third time since 1991 -- turnovers. An interception and fumble by Chris Rix and a fumble by Leon Washington on a kickoff return led to FSU's demise in a game that was tied 10-10 midway in the third quarter.
The Irish (8-0) have scored 95 points off 24 turnovers this season and also tied their season-high with four takeaways.
"It happened so quickly that you felt like you were in quicksand," FSU senior offensive lineman Montrae Holland said. "With turnovers, you are never going to win a game like this. The other team is well-disciplined and well-coached, and they are going to take advantage of it. And they did."
*With first-and-10 at the FSU 34, Rix, who had not thrown an interception in 49 consecutive pass attempts, was picked by Irish linebacker Courtney Watson. That led to Nicholas Setta's 35-yard field goal and a 13-10 Irish advantage with 5:26 left in the third quarter.
*On FSU's ensuing possession, a scrambling Rix rushed for 2 yards to Seminole 17 but fumbled when hit by Glenn Earl. The ball was recovered at the FSU 2-yard line, and Notre Dame pushed its lead to 20-10 one play later on Ryan Grant's run at the 4:09 mark.
"We had them right where we wanted them at halftime and then we came out and couldn't execute in the second half," said Rix, who was 13 of 32 for 207 yards with two nterceptions before being lifted midway in the fourth quarter.
"Turnovers hurt us bad, put our defense in a bad position. They out-executed us. We didn't play our second half like we did the first half, and that's what we needed to do. We gave them too many opportunities and they are a team that capitalizes on those opportunities."
Irish defenders pointed to Rix's lack of patience for the Seminoles' struggles. Rix had suffered just four turnovers -- all interceptions -- in FSU's first seven games. The Seminoles were forced to punt as the Irish stacked the line and held tailback Greg Jones to 34 rushing yards, 83 below his game average.
"Sometimes I guess he was under duress," Earl said. "He wanted to get the ball to who he wanted to get it to right away. He wasn't patient."
Now the Seminoles, who travel to Wake Forest Saturday, appear to be losing their patience.
"They capitalized on what they had to do and they won, so today they came out the better team," defensive end Kevin Emanuel said. "But there's no way you can tell us they are better than us. No way."
QUICK STRIKE: Notre Dame scored on its first offensive play of the game, as quarterback Carlyle Holiday connected with receiver Arnaz Battle on a 65-yard touchdown pass with 12:40 left in the first quarter. It was the first time the Irish had scored on their initial offensive play since Oct. 25, 1985, against USC.
Battle beat FSU cornerback Stanford Samuels on the play-action pass down the sideline. Seminole defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said the play was not a surprise. The scoring pass was the longest completion of Holiday's career and the longest reception of Battle's career.
"We worked on the same pass, which we ran 10 to 15 times in practice. It was a stutter and go," Andrews said. "You either play smart on it or you play dumb on it. We didn't play smart on that play."
Said Samuels: "I cost us a lot. I really put us in the hole at the beginning of the game."
SOLID EFFORT: Boldin had nine catches for 175 yards, both career highs. His previous career-high in yards was 110 against Duke earlier this season. His previous career-high in receptions was seven, set three different times.
Boldin's thoughts, however, weren't on his effort.