Friday, December 13, 2002
Oregon State 41, Notre Dame 9
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Oregon State University's unbelievable journey from pitiful to powerhouse was celebrated in a sea of Beaver orange in the stands and a convincing rout on the field.
Of Notre Dame, no less.
The Fiesta Bowl trophy is the latest example of how quickly and how well Dennis Erickson has turned around the Oregon State program.
"When you step on the field, you respect Notre Dame," said Oregon State linebacker Darnell Robinson, the defensive player of the game. "But when you're on the field, it's not about tradition, it's about making plays."
The brash, belligerent, Beavers (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today; No. 5 Associated Press) backed up their pregame boasts and then some Monday night in a 41-9 rout of the Irish in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
"We got our butt kicked," Notre Dame coach Bob Davie said. "We got outcoached, we got outplayed."
Oregon State, college football's laughingstock for more than a quarter-century, handed the 10th-ranked Fighting Irish their worst bowl defeat since a 40-6 loss to Nebraska in the 1973 Orange Bowl.
The crowd of 75,428 was the third-largest at the Fiesta Bowl, and the biggest when the national title wasn't on the line. Most of them were dressed in orange, celebrating the resurrection of a program that just two years ago set an NCAA record with its 28th consecutive losing season.
"What can you say?" Oregon State coach Dennis Erickson said. "We came out and played in all three phases about as well as we can play."
Jonathan Smith, the 5-foot-10 former walk-on who was mistaken for the team manager when Erickson first saw him, completed 16 of 24 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns, then sat out the final quarter.
"Nerves played no part in it," Smith said. "We were more excited than nervous, and we were clicking from the start."
It was one of the most humiliating nights ever for college football's most storied program. Only a late touchdown against the Beavers' reserves prevented it from being the worst Notre Dame defeat in 24 bowl appearances.
Had Oregon State (11-1) not committed a Fiesta Bowl and school record 18 penalties for 174 yards, it would have been even more one-sided as the plodding Irish (9-3) were no match for the speed of the hard-hitting Beavers.
"We had some dumb penalties," Erickson said, "but we're a very aggressive football team. That's just how we play and just how we are."
The Beavers had a 446-155 advantage in total yards and held Notre Dame to 17 yards rushing.
"If we can't run the football any more effectively than we did tonight, we have no chance," Davie said.
Robinson forced a fumble and intercepted a pass to set up two touchdowns in the Beavers' 29-point third quarter.
"Their defense was on top of everything we were doing," Notre Dame running back Julius Jones said. "It's kind of hard to execute when they're calling out the plays we're going to run."
Chad Johnson caught touchdown passes of 74 and 4 yards, but he got away with a big mistake on the first one when officials didn't see him drop the ball 2 yards short of the goal line.
Ken Simonton, Oregon State's big-talking 5-foot-8 tailback, gained 85 yards on 18 carries, including a 4-yard touchdown run. In the process, he broke his own single-season school rushing record.
Notre Dame's 18-year-old freshman quarterback Matt LoVecchio, under extreme pressure most of the night, threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball away -- all in the third quarter. LoVecchio completed 13 of 33 passes for 138 yards. He was sacked six times.
LoVecchio, who was 7-0 as a starter entering the game, had thrown just one interception and Notre Dame had just eight turnovers -- tying an NCAA record -- through the regular season.
The Irish, criticized for getting a Bowl Championship Series bid over teams ahead of them in the BCS standings, lost their fifth consecutive bowl game.
The Beavers had a 278-98 advantage in yardage at halftime, but led just 12-3.
Any doubts ended, though, with four touchdowns in a span of 7:10 in the third quarter.
Notre Dame forced the Beavers to punt for the first time, but LoVecchio fumbled on a blindside hit by Robinson. Eric Manning recovered for the Beavers at the Irish 26.
Two plays later, Smith lofted a perfect 23-yard scoring pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh to make it 19-3 with 12:04 to play in the quarter. Notre Dame punted on its next possession.
Houshmandzadeh returned it to midfield, then fumbled. Teammate Terrell Roberts picked the ball up at the 45 and ran to the end zone. The two-point conversion pass from Smith to Robert Prescott put Oregon State up 27-3 with 9:08 to go in the third.
It got worse for LoVecchio, who threw a pass right into the hands of Robinson to give Oregon State the ball on the Irish 22. The Beavers scored in four plays, on Smith's 4-yard pass to Johnson that made it 34-3 with 7:02 left in the quarter.
The final touchdown came on Simonton's 4-yard run at the end of a five-play, 55-yard drive to put the Beavers up 41-3 with 4:54 to go in the third.
The most interesting play was Johnson's long touchdown catch. He raced down the sidelines and casually dropped the ball as if he had crossed the goal line. But replays clearly showed he was 2 yards short of the end zone.
No official saw it, though, and the touchdown put Oregon State up 12-0 with 4:18 to play in the half.
"I slowed down, not paying attention, and it's my fault," Johnson said. "I should've been focused on the game and not my celebration."
Consecutive sacks of LoVecchio pinned the Irish at third-and-31 on their own 2, but Oregon State free safety Calvin Carlyle was called for a personal foul for shoving a player after the play. Notre Dame got a first down, LoVecchio threw 40 yards to Javin Hunter and the Irish ended the half with Nick Setta's 29-yard field goal.
The Beavers drove to the Irish 15, 10 and 1 on their first three possessions but had to settle for field goals of 32 and 29 yards by Ryan Cesca to go up 6-0.
"I'm obviously embarrassed by the way we played, but I'll never be embarrassed of this football team," Davie said.
|Ken Simonton rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame.|