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Notre Dame Gets Its Offense Rolling

Irish ground previously undefeated Air Force, 21-14, to improve to 7-0, their best start since 1993.

October 20, 2002|Associated Press

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Notre Dame offense finally produced an effort worthy of a top-10 team. That doesn't mean the Fighting Irish defense took the game off.

Ryan Grant ran for 190 yards and a touchdown, and the seventh-ranked Fighting Irish stuffed the nation's top rushing team, beating Air Force, 21-14, Saturday night to remain unbeaten and set up a showdown against No. 12 Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla.

Notre Dame (7-0) won its first six games despite an offense that was among the nation's worst. The Irish won Saturday by taking advantage of their size up front -- up to 60 pounds heavier than Air Force's line -- to produce a season-high 447 total yards.

"I think our offensive line, our backs, our entire offensive team did an excellent job of execution," said Tyrone Willingham, who joined Jesse Harper (1913-14) and Ara Parseghian (1964) as the only Notre Dame coaches to win their first seven games.

Air Force (6-1), playing in front of a record crowd of 56,409, couldn't keep Notre Dame's defenders out of the backfield and wasn't able to get around the speedy Irish on the outside.

The 18th-ranked Falcons finished with only 104 yards rushing, 235 below their average.

"They didn't surprise with anything particularly they did. They just executed very well," Air Force Coach Fisher DeBerry said.

The Irish did it by focusing on Chance Harridge. The diminutive Air Force quarterback had been elusive during Air Force's first six games, running for 615 yards and 15 touchdowns -- tied for most in the nation.

Notre Dame consistently had two players in Harridge's face immediately after he made the first fake on the option. The Irish also kept the running backs from reaching the corner on the outside.

Harridge finished with only 31 yards in 13 carries. He also was only six of 14 passing for 57 yards, and he had a pass intercepted by Shane Walton in the third quarter.

"I thought they had a good plan and I thought they executed that plan," DeBerry said. "We didn't block them very well."

Notre Dame totaled 199 more yards than Air Force in the first half. But the Irish had three fumbles and two missed field goals by Nicholas Setta.

Carlyle Holiday fumbled on Notre Dame's first drive when he was sacked by Cameron Hodge, then he put the ball on the ground again when he was blindsided by Jon Hicks.

Air Force's Marchello Graddy returned the second one 21 yards for the game's first score.

Willingham said he didn't think the turnovers had much of an effect. "The mistakes that cause turnovers, I don't think they bothered our guys one bit," said Willingham, whose team is off to its best start since opening the 1993 season with 10 consecutive victories.

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STILL UNBEATEN

The eight remaining undefeated Division I-A schools and their remaining schedules:

*--* Rank School Record Remaining Opponents Total, Pct (Records) No. 1 Miami 6-0 at West Virginia (5-2), 23-18, .561 at Rutgers (1-6), at Tennessee (4-2), Pittsburgh (5-2), at Syracuse (1-6), Virginia Tech (7-0) No. 2 Oklahoma 7-0 Colorado (5-2), at Texas 21-15, .583 A&M (5-2), at Baylor (3-4), Texas Tech (5-3), at Oklahoma State (3-4) No. 3 Virginia Tech 7-0 Temple (3-4) , 26-16, .619 Pittsburgh (5-2), at Syracuse (1-6), West Virginia (5-2), Virginia (6-2), at Miami (6-0) No. 4 Ohio State 8-0 Penn State (5-2), 23-14, . 622 Minnesota (7-1), at Purdue (3-5), at Illinois (2-5), Michigan (6-1) No. 5 Georgia 7-0 at Kentucky (5-2), 23-13, .639 Florida (5-3), Mississippi (5-2), at Auburn (4-3), Georgia Tech (4-3) No. 7 Notre Dame 7-0 at Florida State (5-2), 16-18, .471 Boston College (4-2), at Navy (1-6), Rutgers (1-6), at USC (5-2) No. 13 N. Carolina St 8-0 at Clemson (4-3), 24-12, .667 Georgia Tech (4-3), at Maryland (5-2), at Virginia (6-2), Florida State (5-2) No. 25 Bowling Green 6-0 Ball State (3-4), at 23-21, .523 Kent State (2-5), at Northern Illinois (5-3), at South Florida (5-2), Eastern Michigan (3-5), at Toledo (5-2)

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