— SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Jimmy Clausen must have felt as if he was still in paradise.
Clausen, last seen playing nearly flawless in a Hawaii Bowl victory, completed 15 of 18 passes for 315 yards and four touchdowns to lead No. 23 Notre Dame to a 35-0 victory over Nevada on Saturday.
For Fighting Irish coach Charlie Weis, a pivotal season began with Notre Dame’s first easy season-opening win since his first game in 2005. The Irish ended a disappointing 2008 season, one in which they finished 7-6 and had to deal with plenty of speculation about Weis’s job security, with a 49-21 victory over Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl that provided at least some hope for the future.
“How do you keep momentum rolling from a game that was so long ago? A lot of it has to do with hunger. These guys are hungry,” Weis said. “This was their first opportunity to show that they’re a different team. It was just a good start.”
A much needed one, too, with a trip to Michigan, coming off its own impressive opening victory, up next week.
Clausen started the game by completing 10 of 11 passes for 184 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by a career-long 70-yard pass for a touchdown to Michael Floyd. He bettered that in the third quarter with an 88-yard scoring pass to Floyd.
It was the third longest pass completion in Notre Dame history.
“He just makes plays any time the ball comes to him,” Clausen said.
Weis said he planned to throw a bomb to open the third quarter, although he had to wait four plays when Nevada downed a punt on the Notre Dame 1.
“As soon as we got out to the 10 or 11, where ever it was, we were going to lay it up there,” Weis said. “That was a big productive day for him.”
Floyd also had a 24-yard TD catch and tight end Kyle Rudolph opened the scoring with a 19-yard TD catch. The other touchdown by the Irish (1-0) came on a 1-yard run by Armando Allen Jr.
It was the first shutout for Notre Dame during the Weis era. The last shutout for the Irish was a 42-0 win over Rutgers in 2002. It was just the third time in Nevada coach Chris Ault’s 25 years as coach that the Wolf Pack was shut out.
“I’m very disappointed in the way we played in particular on the defensive side of the ball. When you get shut out you’re not going to pat the offense on the back,” Ault said. “But they just had the ball too doggone long on us for us to establish anything offensively.”
The Irish couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start. The defense stopped Nevada on its first three third-down attempts and linebacker Toryan Smith stuffed Wolf Pack running back Vai Taua for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-1. Even highly touted freshman linebacker Manti Te’o got in on the act for Notre Dame on his first play early in the second quarter.
Smith said the effort was a carry-over from Hawaii.
“I think we started it last December in Hawaii and I thought we were just going off that momentum and building on it,” Smith said.
The Irish held the Wolf Pack to 153 yards rushing and 307 total yards.
The play of the defense against a Nevada offense that was third in the country in rushing last year had to inspire Notre Dame fans.
The play of Clausen must of had them giddy — even if it was more against a pass defense that ranked behind Hawaii’s last season.
Clausen was 22 of 26 passing for 401 yards with five touchdowns in the Christmas Eve bowl victory. Nevada, which ranked last in the nation in pass defense, was just as helpless to stop him.
Kaepernick was 12 of 23 passing for 149 yards with two interceptions. He also ran for 39 yards on 10 carries. Taua ran for 114 yards on 18 carries.
Weis said the victory will make it easier this week for the players, who hear the criticism of the team more than the coaches do.
“They said a long time ago, enough is enough. I don’t think they’re going to have to worry about that for one week. They got a one week reprieve until we go to the Big House. We’ll see what happens there.”