The key number from Notre Dame's 33-7 blowout win over Washington on Saturday evening other than the score was zero.
Notre Dame's first-string defense played three-plus quarters against the Huskies and allowed virtually nothing.
Zero, as in the numbers of points the first-team Irish defense allowed. Zero, as in the amount of times the Huskies crossed midfield before their final drive against the Notre Dame backups. Zero, as in the number of passes caught by someone not named D'Andre Goodwin through three quarters. Zero, as in the number of rushes longer than eight yards and number of passing plays longer than 14.
"That's a heck of a performance," head coach Charlie Weis said after the game. "They put a lot of heat on the quarterback and pretty well shut down the run game. That's as good of defense as we have played in quite some time."
Zero was the number of times that Washington turned the ball over too, but it was also the number of Husky drives through three quarters that did not end in a punt. Meanwhile, Notre Dame punter Eric Maust saw the field six times and all six were as the holder on the placekicking unit.
The Irish took control of the game right away as the defense forced Washington into two three-and-outs and each was followed by Notre Dame touchdowns.
"I think that the first two series both ways really were the most significant, three-and-out, three-and-out, touchdown, touchdown," Weis said. "By that point in the game after how things have gone on the road so far this year, I think the team's confidence was sky high early in the game."
Notre Dame put the game away with an early fourth-quarter touchdown to take a 33-0 lead and Weis did his best to empty the bench.
In three quarters of action the starting defenses limited Washington to just 51 total yards, 31 rushing and 20 passing. Notre Dame held Washington to an average of 1.1 yards per carry and 2.6 yards per play. The Huskies gained just four first downs against Notre Dame's number one defense and their longest drive before the late touchdown drive was 14 yards.
"We just could not mount enough from an offensive standpoint to make it a ball game," Washington's Ty Willingham said after the game. "It was a very difficult night. We anticipated their pressure, but we were not able to execute adequately against it, again, to be productive."
Through the first half of the season, Corwin Brown and his defensive staff were happy with the way the unit got off the field on third downs, but wanted them to raise the level to get after the quarterback. On Saturday, the defense did both. Notre Dame recorded a season-high four sacks and stopped the Huskies on eight of their first 11 third-down attempts.
Notre Dame bothered Washington quarterback Ronnie Fouch all day and while the Huskies did waste some opportunities, they never had any legitimate scoring threats. Sophomore linebacker Harrison Smith had a two of the four sacks to go along with a 35-yard run for a first down on a fake punt in the third quarter.
"We never had a game where we showed up and just dominated the whole time," Smith said. "We just knew that we needed to break out."
Ray Herring and Maurice Crum led Notre Dame with six tackles apiece and while the defensive effort was spread out, there were no great tackle numbers simply because there were not many tackles to be made.
The Washington offense ran a total of 48 plays in the game and that includes the 10-play, touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Contrast that with the Irish offense that had 43 snaps in the first half alone and 79 in the game.
The defense was nothing short of dominant, but now Notre Dame needs to find a way to carry this performance into next week's game against Pittsburgh and throughout the second half of the season.
"I think we can obviously take all of the good from it, but again it wasn't perfect," Crum said. "We've still got a lot of stuff that we can do, but I definitely think it's a great stepping stone for us to hang our hat on."
The win over the Huskies was close, but Notre Dame has yet to play a true complete game this season and if – when – the Irish are able to play to their potential on both sides of the ball they have the talent to compete with anyone in the country.