That performance was the bar for which Jimmy Clausen was to aspire in future outings, and though he'd probably never be "perfect" again (22-26, 401 yards, 5 touchdowns with "four dropped passes." according to Weis) at least Clausen knew exactly how good he could be.
Clausen fell short of perfection today in Notre Dame's 35-0 victory over Nevada, but neither he nor the coaching staff will complain about a sterling 15 completions in 18 attempts for 315 yards, 4 touchdowns, and zero turnovers in a season-opening victory.
According to Weis, Clausen made just two mental errors: checking out of a slant route to Golden Tate (in favor of a go route that landed out of bounds); and with one of his three incomplete passes, missing sophomore tight end Kyle Rudolph over the middle of the defense.
"Other than those two plays I can't remember a play that he wasn't right on. I was pleased with his effort."
The Irish began the 2009 season with a 12-play, 67-yard drive culminating in a 3rd and 16 touchdown pass to the post from Clausen to sophomore Kyle Rudolph. After Nevada stressed Notre Dame's defense for 52 yards in 8 plays, Wolf Pack kicker Ricky Drake pushed a 38-yard field goal attempt wide left, ending Nevada's momentum, and turning the ball over to the potent Irish offense and one of the hottest quarterbacks in the nation.
The Irish continued to attack the visitors through the air as Clausen connected on a 36-yard go-route to junior Golden Tate; an 8-yard comeback to Tate; a 10-yard pass to senior slot receiver Robby Parris, and finally a 24-yard post route to sophomore Michael Floyd, who motioned into the left hash mark prior to the first of his three receiving scores on the afternoon.
Floyd finished the contest with four receptions for 189 yards and three touchdowns, including a career-best 88-yard jump-ball-and-run early in the third quarter. The athletic play extended Notre Dame's lead to 35-0 where it remained for the game's final 25 minutes, providing Weis his first shut-out victory in his 51-game Irish career.
"I think the defense was pretty much on track. Now I'm sure the defensive staff will all be miserable tomorrow at the staff meeting; telling me how many things they screwed up, but I couldn't help but have (5th-year senior safety and defensive captain) Kyle McCarthy sing the fight song in there (in the locker room) after pitching the first shutout since I've been here.
The Irish defense held the potent Wolf Pack running game to 153 yards on 29 carries while allowing Nevada 307 yards of total offense over 56 snaps.
Notre Dame countered with 510 yards from scrimmage (61 snaps) including a 41-carry, 178-yard team rushing effort. Junior half back Armando Allen totaled 78 yards on the ground on 15 rushes (as well as another 25 on three receptions) while sophomore Jonas Gray carried 9 times for 51 yards in a backup role.
Floyd's day included a third touchdown, a scrimmage-line catch and subsequent 70-yard run aided by his wide receiver mate Tate, who efficiently (and separately) shielded two Wolf Pack defenders to spring Floyd for his sideline sprint.
While Clausen and the Irish air show deserve kudos for another dominant effort, Irish fans and players will likewise breathe a bit easier (for at least seven days) due to the consistent effort of the team's offensive line and ground game. The Irish churned out 4.3 yards per rush on the afternoon vs. a Nevada defense that finished sixth nationally in 2008 allowing just 88 yards and 3.06 yards per attempt.
"We were efficient, obviously there are still areas we need to improve upon," explained senior center and offensive captain Eric Olsen. "That was a major emphasis we had from Hawaii – talking through the whole off-season. That was something (starting fast) that we hadn't done a great job of in the past and it was something that was definitely emphasized.
"It's definitely a confidence booster but we have a big one coming up next week and we have to get focused and get back to work."
Execution, physicality, intensity and renewed confidence were on display for the Irish in Saturday's season-opener…attributes that helped Olsen and his offensive mates make good on a promise the senior center made to fans in The Stadium's south end zone at the 12:10 mark. of the third quarter.
With the offense backed up to its own one-yard line, Olsen explained to the Irish faithful that they wouldn't have an extended opportunity to watch the team's potent offense at such close range for long.
"I told them (the fans) when we started that drive that we were going 99 yards for a touchdown…so I told the (team) when I got back into the huddle ‘Don't make me look bad, guys.'"
Olsen's teammates didn't let him or any member of Irish Nation down during a dominant season-opening performance.
- Passing: Clausen (15-18, 315 yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions); Crist (2-2, 17 yards)
- Rushing: Allen (15-78); Gray (9-51); Hughes (6-20); Riddick (5-20).
- Receiving: Floyd (4-188-3); Rudolph (4-29-1); Tate (3-59); Allen (3-25)
- Total Tackles: K. McCarthy 9, H. Smith 6, T. Smith 5, B. Smith 3, S. Smith 3, G. Gray 3, Ryan 3, Slaughter 2, Te'o 2, Blanton 2, Brown 2, McDonald 2, Filer 2, E. Johnson 2, I. Williams 2, Herring 1, Anello 1, Fleming 1, Cywnar 1.
- Interceptions: Blanton, K. McCarthy
- Fumbles Recovered: Lewis-Moore
- Passing: Kaepernick (12-23, 149 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions); Lantrip (1-4, 5 yards).
- Rushing: Taua (18-114); Kaepernick (10-39); Ball (1-0)
- Receiving: Session (5-51); Taua (3-38); Wimberly (2-36); Wellington (2-27)
- Total Tackles: J.M Johnson 10, Amaya 9, Bethea 9, Harvey 8, Moch 6, Marshall 6, Frey 5, Agaiava 4, Thompson 3, Roy 2, Coulson 2, Madonick 2, Silve-Purcell 1, Grimes 1, Liranzo 1, Taua 1, Slack 1, Barker 1, Miller 1.
- Interceptions: None
- Fumbles Recovered: None