TALLAHASSEE, FLA. Irish click in Seminoles' lair
Notre Dame continued unbeaten as quarterback Carlyle Holiday led a 34-24 win at Florida State.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Carlyle Holiday stepped out of the tunnel, back onto the field and was immediately surrounded by reporters. The band was playing, fans were cheering and Holiday was smiling.
This Notre Dame victory felt good, maybe better than all the rest.
Holiday threw for 185 yards and two touchdowns as the No. 6 Fighting Irish took their turnaround to a new plateau Saturday, beating No. 11 Florida State 34-24 to remain unbeaten and in the hunt for the national championship.
The victory solidified Notre Dame's return to national prominence under first-year coach Tyrone Willingham.
"To come in here and win was a big thing for our program," Holiday said. "Now we just have to keep on moving."
Had been underdog
Despite its best start since 1993 and three wins over ranked opponents, Notre Dame entered the game as a double-digit underdog. The Irish needed a win over perennial powerhouse Florida State to prove that their fast start was no mirage.
"I think it says we're back," center Jeff Faine said.
The Irish capitalized on three turnovers during a four-minute span in the third quarter and shut down Florida State's productive running game. The Seminoles finished with 93 yards rushing, becoming the sixth team Notre Dame has held under 100 yards on the ground this season.
"When you watch film on Notre Dame like we did last week, you see how they win games," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "Then you wonder how you lose the very same way. Notre Dame doesn't make any turnovers, and they win. The biggest risk when you play Notre Dame is turnovers."
The 'Noles, meanwhile, continued to struggle with Chris Rix at quarterback, losing for the seventh time in 20 games.
Rix was 13-of-32 passing for 207 yards with two interceptions and a fumble. He looked sharp at times, making crisp throws and smart decisions to scramble out of the pocket for big gains. But he also threw two more passes that could have been picked off.
The Irish kept several defenders near the line of scrimmage, stopping Greg Jones and forcing Florida State to beat them with the pass. It worked perfectly. A week after stopping Air Force's ground attack, Notre Dame held Jones -- who was coming off a 189-yard performance against No. 1 Miami -- to 34 yards on 14 carries.
"If you can shut down the running game, which I think we were able to do and not allow them to have any big plays, then you make it difficult for them to sustain a drive," Willingham said. "If you can eliminate them sustaining a drive, then eventually at some point a team stops themselves."
Turnovers are difference
Florida State stopped itself on three straight drives in the third quarter, turning the ball over three times in what proved to be the difference in the game.
On the Seminoles' second drive of the third quarter and with the game tied at 10, Rix threw his first interception since an overtime loss to Louisville. Notre Dame turned it into a field goal and a 13-10 lead.
Two plays later, Glenn Earl hit Rix as he tried to scramble and caused a fumble. Ryan Grant scored on the next play, taking a pitch from Holiday and cutting back for the touchdown and a 20-10 lead.
Leon Washington botched the kickoff, and Brandon Hoyte recovered at the Florida State 17. Holiday found Omar Jenkins in the corner of the end zone two plays later for a 27-10 lead.
When the flurry was over, the Irish had scored 17 points in just 4:23 -- plenty of cushion for a defense that hasn't given up more than 23 points in any game this season.
Grant sealed the victory with a 31-yard touchdown run in the fourth. He finished with 19 carries for 94 yards and two touchdowns.