for this game

Clausen's strong fourth quarter lifts Notre Dame

Sep 7, 2008 - 1:47 AM SOUTH BEND, Indiana (Ticker) -- For three quarters, Notre Dame looked every bit as bad as it was during last year's 3-9 campaign.

But Jimmy Clausen came alive in the fourth quarter Saturday, throwing two of his three touchdown passes, as the Fighting Irish overcame a sloppy, mistake-filled performance to hold off San Diego State, 21-13, in their season opener.

Expecting to be much improved following the worst season in the program's storied history, Notre Dame avoided what would have been an embarrassing defeat.

"Things don't always go as planned," said Notre Dame safety Sergio Brown, whose blocked punt set up the first score for the Irish. "We came out a little shaky and rough, but we ended well enough. As long as we come out one point ahead of our opponent, I'm happy."

Notre Dame (1-0) committed four turnovers and also botched a short field-goal attempt. However, the game turned following a huge play by Fighting Irish safety Kyle McCarthy when it appeared that the Aztecs were headed for a possible clinching score early in the fourth quarter.

With San Diego State leading, 13-7, McCarthy jarred the ball loose from running back Brandon Sullivan, resulting in a fumble and touchback. The call was upheld after a review.

"In my eyes, I got stopped but reached across the goal line and the ball got across," Sullivan said. "I thought that was a touchdown, but the referees had a whole different vantage point. They'd already called it and I guess there wasn't enough evidence to reverse the call."

The Fighting Irish responded with their best drive of the game, a six-play, 80-yard march capped by Clausen's 38-yard strike to Golden Tate with 9:38 remaining.

Clausen, who completed 21-of-34 passes for 237 yards, played better after the second of his two interceptions, connecting on 11 of his final 12 tosses. The sophomore added a 6-yard strike to David Grimes with 2:08 remaining.

"It's the first game of the year," Notre Dame defensive end Pat Kuntz said. "You can't always expect to come out right away clicking on all cylinders. I thought we came together well at the end."

Still, Notre Dame was facing a porous San Diego State team allowed nearly 500 yards last week in a 29-27 loss to Cal Poly of the Football Championship Subdivision.

The Fighting Irish also were their own worst enemy, sputtering for three quarters.

Robert Hughes fumbled at San Diego State's 4-yard line in the first quarter and John Leonis mishandled the snap on a 27-yard field attempt in the second quarter.

T.J. Mackey's interception on Clausen's pass that slipped through the hands of Duval Kamara set up the game's first score - a 1-yard run by San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley with 5:32 left in the first half.

Brown's blocked punt allowed the Irish to tie the game before halftime, as Clausen fired a 22-yard TD pass to Michael Floyd with 1:14 left in the half.

Notre Dame, however, continued to self-destruct in the third quarter, and the Aztecs converted an interception by Vonnie Holmes into Lindley's 15-yard TD pass to Darren Mougey with 8 1/2 minutes left in the third.

But Lane Yoshida's extra point hit the crossbar and was no good.

Notre Dame's line surrendered no sacks, a marked improvement from last season, when the Irish surrendered an NCAA-record 58.

"We never got down," Tate said. "Jimmy never lost his focus and the team kept its focus."

Lindley attempted 59 passes, completing 29 for 274 yards, but the Aztecs went three-and-out on their final two possessions.

"I was joking with the guys and I told them we were going to do a Colt Brennan and throw it 60 times, so 59 sounds right," Lindley said. "I think we came in with a great game plan."

The Aztecs know they might have been one play away from springing a major upset and perhaps the biggest win in school history.

"We showed a lot of good things as a team but we have to learn how to finish and to win these games," Mougey said. "We came in knowing we had a chance."