The Irish struggled the entire first half and some of the second half on offense. It seemed that everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The Irish regrouped at halftime on offense and started to play like a top 20 team.
"We eliminated some of the mistakes in the second half," said Willingham. "We contributed to almost 16 points that they scored in the first half, somewhere in that area (13 actually) and you can't do that. We've got to be a better team that that. We are very fortunate to win against a good football team when you make those kind of mistakes."
Quarterback Carlyle Holiday was getting pounded by the Cougar blindside blitz and Willingham said they made the necessary adjustments at halftime. "We had to make some (adjustments) in our protection because they were giving us some strong-side pressure. Our coaches did a good job of adjusting that and then hopefully putting our team in a better position to where the protection would be a little more solid and they could give him time and we could do some things."
The Irish defense spent most of the first half on the field trying to hold the Washington State offense from putting the game out of reach. Willingham said the turnovers really put them in a bad position. "We were continuing to make turnovers, when you do that it's impossible to keep them off the field. When you eliminate the turnovers, eliminate the mental mistakes,they can get the chance to get some rest and we control the clock and the game. We still had a ton of mistakes. That was very much a first ballgame for us. It's a thing that coaches have nightmares about."
The defense did hold for the Irish and forced some very critical turnovers that kept Notre Dame in the game. Willingham said Duff's forced fumble in the third quarter was a very big key to the game. "We needed some things to happen all afternoon. Anytime you can get a big play, Duff's hit put the ball on the ground now we recover it, now you have a chance to get your team in gear. Without those kind of big plays, you're still struggling to gain the edge so that play allowed us to do that."
The Irish did have their weapon in Nicholas Setta. Setta's five field goals won the game for Notre Dame including the 40-yard game-winner in overtime. Willingham says he has all the confidence in the world in Setta. "We opened the year last year with Nick having five field goals. Nick is very confident and he adds to our football team because he's a little bit more than just a kicker. He's more of a frustrated wide receiver. When you have someone like that it adds a great deal of leadership to your team and that is what he does. We were very comfortable and confident he could make the play."
The Irish also had some help from their two-headed monster—Julius Jones and Ryan Grant. Grant rushed for a team-high 98 yards and two critical big runs of 32 and 37 yards. The latter setting up a Julius Jones 19-yard scamper for a touchdown giving the Irish the 23-19 lead. Jones finished the game with 72 yards on 11 carries.
Willingham was very pleased with the performance of Jones and Grant. "I don't think I need to say anything about that, it really speaks for itself," said Willingham of Jones' performance. "A couple of plays in there he just ran with sure determination. It was impressive, it's what we hoped and anticipated that he might add to our football team. I think that one-two combination of Julius and Ryan Grant really gives us something to be proud of."
The defense held Washington State in the first half and did an excellent job of shutting them out in the fourth quarter. Willingham was pleased his defense responded to the challenge. "Our defense did a great job of doing just enough to hold us in there to where we could turn the tide at some point to get us over the hump."
Washington State coach Bill Doba said the Irish just kept on fighting and his team didn't respond. "Notre Dame didn't quit," Doba said. "They had the opportunity to let down, we had a good lead on them and they just kept coming back."
Notre Dame was able to keep the Cougar defense on the field most of the second half. Doba says the lack of Cougar offense in the second half left his defense worn out. "Our defense was on the field too much. We've got to get first downs and we didn't do that in the second half."
The Cougar defense certainly did their job in the first half but the Cougar offense couldn't put the game out of reach. "Our defense took the ball away and gave us opportunities early and we got field goals instead of touchdowns. We made some really stupid mistakes on penalties."
Doba said he was impressed with the Notre Dame offensive line in the second half. "I guess you'd have to say their offensive line got tougher in the second half. They played well and Coach McDonell does a great job. I think we got tired but they're out there as much as we are. There's an easy way for the defensive line not to get tired and that's to stop them."
Irish fans got to get a glimpse of future quarterback Brady Quinn. Quinn was inserted into the game with 7:07 left in the fourth quarter right before Ryan Grant took off on his 37 yard run setting up the go ahead touchdown. The situation was not an ideal situation to break-in a freshman quarterback but Quinn responded looking very comfortable under center.
Willingham says Quinn should have a bright future at Notre Dame. "I've seen prior to his arrival on this campus, what we thought was a young man who had a chance to be an outstanding quarterback. He's done nothing since he's arrived to change that opinion. He is quick study, he's confident; he has a laser-like arm. At some point he's going to do some great things which I think he did in a limited role today."
Starting linebacker Courtney Watson was forced to sit out of the game. Willingham only made one comment on Watson and why he had to sit out the game. "I want it to be very clear there were events that happened outside of Courtney's control that necessitated us to set him for one football game. That penalty has been used on today's game and he will be prepared and ready to play next week."The Irish are now 1-0 and have to head to Ann Arbor next weekend to face 7th-ranked Michigan. Willingham knows his team has a lot of work to do to fix the mental mistakes before September 13th. "We've got to clean that up because next week we play one heck of a football team that I think is possibly 2-0."