Buckeyes Burn Irish Deep

TEMPE- Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis wanted to win the 2006 Fiesta Bowl to end the season on a high note and make fans remember a 10-2 team instead of a 9-3 squad. Only one problem: their opponent, the Ohio State Buckeyes, were just better.

"You have to compliment Ohio State," Weis said. "They were the better team and deserved to win. There is no reason to sit there and make some second guesses because they were the better team."

This was evident on the field at Sun Devil Stadium as a packed house saw Ohio State rack up 617 yards of total offense and score four touchdowns of 56 yards or longer to propel the Buckeyes to a 34-20 victory over Notre Dame. For the Irish, it was their eighth sraight bowl loss and now runs the mark to 12 years without a bowl win. For Ohio State, it was their third Fiesta Bowl win in four years and helped head coach Jim Tressel improve his bowl record to 4-1. The Buckeyes came into the game with a plan to strike Notre Dame deep and it worked perfectly.

"That was a huge part of our game plan," Tressel said. "Coach (Jim) Bollman and his staff worked hard and long for a month to see where we could make some big things happen. I thought they had a tremendous plan. Our guys executed it so well. We wanted to make sure we didn't overthrow the deep ball because we knew it would be open. What some teams had been doing was overthrowing them or missing them. We're so proud of the way they executed."

Trailing 21-7 at halftime, Notre Dame clawed their way back into the game. With score at 21-13 in the third quarter and the Buckeyes facing a third down inside the red zone, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith threw a pass over the middle to Anthony Gonzalez. The Ohio State receiver lost the ball, it was picked up by Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski and returned for a touchdown. Although a block in the back nullified the score, video replay officials ruled Gonzalez did not possess the ball and the pass was ruled incomplete, thus giving the ball back to the Buckeyes.

An 80-yard, 13 play drive late in the fourth quarter ended with Darius Walker running off right end for a 3-yard touchdown run to cut the Ohio State lead to 27-20. The Irish defense, burned all night long, forced the Buckeyes into a third-and-nine on the subsequent possession but Smith hit running back Antonio Pittman for a 10 yard pickup and a first down. Smith, who was 19-of-28 for 342 yards and two touchdowns, hit Gonzalez three plays later on a crucial third-and-11. The next play sealed the deal as Pittman (21 carries, 136 yards) raced down the left sideline for a 60-yard touchdown scamper to finish out the scoring at 34-20.

"They got up pretty good in the first half and we battled back to get it to a one score game at 27-20," Weis said. "But the bottom line is that they made the plays when they needed to and came up with some third downs when the game was in question. We would have liked our chances to get it to a tie game and overtime."

The Buckeye defense lived up to their fourth in the nation billing. They held Notre Dame to their second lowest point total of the season and 348 yards of total offense. Irish quarterback Brady Quinn did not throw a touchdown pass for the first time this year. The junior was 29-of-45 for 286 yards. All-American Jeff Samardzia did not have his normal impact game as he ended up with six catches for 59 yards. Senior Maurice Stovall, playing his last game in a Notre Dame uniform, led all Irish receivers with nine grabs for 126 yards.

For the Irish, it's a disappointing end to a season full of excitement. This thrill was present early on as Notre Dame took the opening drive 72 yards in just 2:01, culminating in a 20-yard touchdown run by Walker to give the Irish a 7-0 lead. Against the top-ranked rushing defense in the country, the sophomore running back finished the night with 90 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns.

The Buckeyes struck back quick and in big fashion. Smith lofted a perfect 56-yard touchdown strike to Ted Ginn, Jr. to tie the score at 7. The speedy sophomore got way behind the Notre Dame secondary on the left sideline and got the Ohio State offense going. Ginn struck again three plays into the second quarter as he took a reverse pitch from Smith and outran the Irish defense 68 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-7 Ohio State. For the night, Ginn caught eight balls for 167 yards and had two carries for 72 yards.

"Notre Dame is a fast defense," Tressel said. "When they are chasing one way and Teddy is running the other way, they got a problem."

The big play barrage would not end there. Smith, who was the game's offensive MVP, found a streaking Santonio Holmes down the middle of the field for a 85-yard scoring strike to increase the Ohio State lead to 21-7. Holmes finished with five catches for 124 yards and easily beat Irish safety Chinedum Ndukwe on the fly pattern for the score, which set a new record for the longest scoring reception in Fiesta Bowl history.

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