Clausen's 401 yards passing, 5 TDs lead way as Irish end bowl skid

HONOLULU -- Jimmy Clausen ended Notre Dame's long bowl drought -- and Hawaii's bid for a fourth straight Sheraton Hawaii Bowl victory -- with a record-breaking passing night.

Clausen set Notre Dame bowl records with 401 yards passing and five touchdowns to lead the efficient Fighting Irish to their first postseason victory in 15 years, 49-21 over Hawaii on Wednesday night.

"I told the team that's the only thing I wanted [for Christmas]. I just wanted to win a bowl game," Irish coach Charlie Weis said.

"I heard it a hundred times in the locker room after the game and they wanted to know what I was giving them for Christmas. I told them: 'a flight home.'"

Golden Tate had six catches for 177 yards and three touchdowns, also Notre Dame bowl records, including a 69-yarder that sparked a 28-point outburst to help the Irish (7-6) end their NCAA-record bowl losing streak at nine.

"I'm very happy for Notre Dame. This was a great step forward for us," Weis said. "It leads us into 2009 with a good taste in our mouth."

With Weis calling the plays from the coaches box for the first time because of knee problems that require him to walk with crutches, the Irish were unstoppable.

The offense scored at will. The blitzing defense shutdown Hawaii's run-and-shoot. And the special teams wasn't too shabby, either.

"The guys came out here on a mission," Clausen said.

After the Warriors (7-7) scored to end Notre Dame's 28-point run, Armando Allen returned a kickoff 96 yards for a score. Allen also caught an 18-yard TD pass on the Irish's opening drive of the second half.

Weis said he had an injection in his knee before the game but still couldn't walk. The last time he coached from the box was in 2001.

"It's 10 times easier. It's night and day easier," Weis said. "I haven't been up in the box since Drew Bledsoe got hurt. ... You don't want to do that long term, but calling a game from up there is pretty sweet. As a head coach, you want to be on the sideline."

It was evident Weis, who was all smiles after the game, and his players cherished its long-awaited bowl victory.

As Notre Dame was presented the Hawaii Bowl's pineapple-football trophy at midfield, each player came around to put their hands on it.

Notre Dame's victory was its first in the postseason since it beat Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl to end the 1993 season. The Irish also avoided consecutive losing seasons.

Clausen was confident and sharp, completing 22 of 26 passes. He racked up 300 yards passing and three TDs by halftime alone, sending the crowd home early.

The sophomore broke Brady Quinn's postseason school record of 286 yards passing set against Ohio State in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl.

Warriors coach Greg McMackin said, including his years in the NFL, Clausen was "as accurate as I've ever seen."

"He was outstanding, his receivers were outstanding," McMackin said.

With Notre Dame up 14-7, Clausen broke open the game by connecting with Tate on a 69-yard TD play, the Irish's longest play from scrimmage of the season.

Clausen faked a handoff, turned and heaved it to Tate, who had blew past cornerback Calvin Roberts along the left sideline. With the catch, Tate became the fifth Irish receiver to break 1,000 yards receiving in a season.

The Irish made it 28-7 with a second left in the first half on an 18-yard hookup between Clausen and Tate on third-and-goal. Hawaii challenged the play, but replays showed Tate got his left foot down before stepping out.

Tate followed it up in the third quarter with a 40-yard TD reception that pushed the lead to 42-7 and gave the Warriors flashbacks of the pounding they received from Georgia in the Sugar Bowl to end last season.

Clausen and Tate shared the MVP award.

Hawaii couldn't get much going. Quarterback Greg Alexander was kept off balance and on the run by the Irish defense, which had eight sacks and forced two turnovers.

The Warriors, who didn't call a running play until 6 minutes left in the first half, were held to 32 yards rushing.

Alexander was 23-of-39 for 261 yards, throwing 10- and 21-yard TD passes to Aaron Bain. Bain had a career-best eight receptions for 109 yards.

Hawaii fans had little to cheer about. One of the biggest roars came when the Notre Dame leprechaun's flagstick snapped in half as he charged out to the field.

Game notes
Notre Dame was designated the home team, so Hawaii wore white jerseys and used the visiting locker room and sideline. ... The Irish had player names on their jerseys for the first time since the Cotton Bowl to end the 1987 season. It renewed a tradition from the Ara Parseghian years when Irish teams did not have names on the backs of their jerseys during the regular season, but added them for bowl games.