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Easy Win Over Huskies Not Great Gauge for Irish

Notre Dame rolls to a 28-point halftime lead and cruises to a 38-3 victory over winless Washington. Tougher games are ahead.

September 26, 2004|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Two things were obvious after Notre Dame's 38-3 dismantling of Washington on Saturday:

* It is going to be a long autumn for football fans in Seattle.

* The Notre Dame vultures are confused.

Washington is 0-3, including losses to Fresno State and a work-in-progress UCLA. Worse, next week it plays at Stanford and follows that three weeks later with a game at No. 1 USC.

Washington Coach Keith Gilbertson, who had suffered while coaching some dreadful California teams (4-7 in '92 and '94 and 3-8 in '95), took the lectern after the game and said, "I see they make you stand for your execution here."

Washington has not finished under .500 since 1976, just before Don James got the machine oiled. A .500 finish this season might put Gilbertson on the list of coach-of-the-year candidates.

The Irish led at the half, 31-3, which led to an entire second half of garbage time. Notre Dame receivers Matt Shelton and Anthony Fasano each caught two scoring passes from Brady Quinn.

Gilbertson talked afterward about how big and tough and strong the Irish were, and Fasano, at 6 feet 4 and 256 pounds, fulfills that description. But Shelton, who now has eight catches for 243 yards and four touchdowns, a 30-yard-a-catch average, is listed as 6 feet and 175 pounds, which appears to be about two inches and 15 pounds worth of press-book exaggeration. At first look, Shelton, a senior who is finally getting a shot to play here, looks like a choirboy. And a soprano at that.

The victory by the Fighting Irish, making them 3-1 and actually on the radar now for poll voters, certainly has the hungry birds who fly over this national-interest program uncertain whether to keep circling or land and rest for a few weeks. Coach Tyrone Willingham has them attached to his yo-yo.

Willingham arrived here two years ago from Stanford. He won his first eight games and came to the L.A. Coliseum with a 10-1 record for the annual blood-letting with USC. In a second half that probably won Carson Palmer the Heisman Trophy, USC exposed Notre Dame as overachievers. Willingham's Irish then lost eight of the next 10 and finished the 2003 season with a 5-7 record that, in these parts, was only seven victories away from being acceptable.

Then, with the vultures -- alumni and wannabe alumni -- circling, Notre Dame started 2004 by rescheduling a game with Brigham Young as a season opener so it could have a warmup game before it played rival Michigan. And lost.

But somehow, Willingham brought his team back from the dead after the first half to beat Michigan, and followed that with a victory against nemesis Michigan State. Now, with success the next two weekends against strong Purdue and Stanford teams, both games here, it is not inconceivable that a 7-3 or 8-2 Irish team could show up at the Coliseum Nov. 27 for a game that might even satisfy the vultures.

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