Backed up by a bend but don't break defense, Darius Walker and Jeff Samardzija's career days led No. 16. Notre Dame to a 36-17 win over Washington. In front of over 71,000 at Husky Stadium, Brady Quinn had another big day, throwing for 327 yards to help Charlie Weis and the Irish improve to 3-1 on the season. Weis is happy to rebound after last week's overtime loss and get on track going into next week's game against Purdue.
"Obviously, we are very happy to come out of here with a victory," Weis said. "I think it was a week after coming off the Michigan State loss where our players had to focus. I thought it was a typical bend but don't break type of performance from our defense. Obviously we gave up a lot of passing yards. You have to give a lot of credit to Washington."
For Willingham, the chance for revenge and payback never materialized. Two turnovers near the goal line and 2-of-10 on third down conversions hampered an offense that gained 449 total yards, including 408 through the air. After the game, Willingham once again downplayed the contest as just another football game.
"It was a football game that obviously contained a lot of emotions but a football game that came down to what all football games come down to, the ability of one team to make plays and the inability of the other team to make plays," Willingham said in his classic stoic style. "They did a great job of making plays when they had to have them and conversely we did not do the same. Therefore we separated ourselves and put ourselves in a hole which we could not dig out of."
The Irish offense was steamrolling once again, piling up 560 total yards and committing no turnovers. This is the third time in four games they have gone over the 500-yard mark in total offense. Walker had a career high 128 yards on 21 carries and Samardzija had his best game in a Notre Dame uniform with 8 grabs for 164 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter to make it 29-3. Balance was present as well with 327 passing yards and 233 rushing yards.
"The offense did a pretty good job of running and throwing today," Weis said. "Brady got a lot better protection and they were bringing the house a lot today. We did a much better job of picking up the zone blitzes than the last few weeks. If you give this quarterback some time to throw it, he's going to complete a lot of passes."
This game was closer than what the final score might convey. Notre Dame took a 12-3 lead into halftime but could not add to it early on in the third quarter. The Irish turned the ball over on downs on consecutive series, electing to go for the first down instead of the field goal. It backfired and gave the Huskies hope.
Notre Dame middle linebacker Corey Mays put an end to the hope. With Washington inside Irish territory, he stripped Huskies running back Kenny James of the ball and recovered it. Seven plays later, Rashon Powers-Neal bulled his way into the end zone for a two-yard touchdown to give Notre Dame an insurmountable 19-3 lead.
The day didn't start bright for the Irish. Husky quarterback Isaiah Stanback hit Anthony Russo for a 39-yard reception on the opening drive of the game to give Washington a first down at Notre Dame's 12. One play later, Irish safety Chinedum Ndukwe hit Washington's Craig Chambers after a pass reception, stood him up at the goal line, stripped the ball and recovered it for an Irish takeaway and to end the Husky drive. Ndukwe now has four fumble recoveries on the year (two on defense, two on special teams).
Field goals by both teams made it 3-3 in the second quarter. A defensive holding penalty on the Huskies allowed an Irish drive to continue and four plays later, Walker ran up the middle and cut it back left for a beautiful 17-yard touchdown gallop to give the Irish a 9-3 lead. The extra point was no good when Samardzija, who is the holder, let the ball fall from his grasp at the last second.
Washington tried to answer but another costly mistake ruined their chances. They were driving when Stanback, who finished the day 17-of-34 for 353 yards, floated a pass towards the end zone but was intercepted by Ambrose Wooden, his first career pickoff. D.J. Fitzpatrick made them pay for the turnover with a 39-yard field goal to increase the Notre Dame lead to 12-3 at halftime.