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Irish sport workmanlike form in opener



Published: Mon, September 4, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



They struggled at times against Georgia Tech, but pulled out the win.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

ATLANTA -- If this was the start of a national championship season for Notre Dame, it was a stumbling one.

The Irish offense didn't snap, crackle or particularly pop and there even appeared -- at least in the first half -- a better early-season Heisman Trophy tout on the opposing offense.

Getting key plays when it counted, though, second-ranked Notre Dame outlasted riled-up Georgia Tech, 14-10, before a sellout crowd at venerable Bobby Dodd Stadium.

One game down, with 11 more to go for the 1-0 Irish, with the likelihood some will be as workmanlike as this Labor Day weekend effort.

Every week is title game

The problem with Notre Dame vying for national championships is that every week feels like a title game, with opposing teams waiting years sometimes for the opportunity to stare down America's most loved and hated college football team.

"We understand being at Notre Dame that's just the way it's going to be," said Irish tailback Darius Walker, who finished with 99 rushing yards and a touchdown.

Saturday night's pregame hype had a Jan. 2, not a Sept. 2, feel, what with the confetti and balloons and even a fighter-jet flyover after the national anthem.

Home run champion Hank Aaron called the ticket office this week looking for two tickets (He got them).

You don't get that kind of buildup for Valdosta State at Georgia Tech.

Notre Dame, although it took its sweet-tea time, was able to overcome the background noise.

The Irish scored the go-ahead touchdown midway through the third quarter when Walker, who grew up near Atlanta, zipped around left end and beat corner Kenny Scott to the edge on a 12-yard scoring run.

It was a scuffle the rest of the way, with Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis finally reaching a point in the game where he could get a stranglehold on the clock.

Nursing a four-point lead, the Irish took possession with 5:29 left and never gave up the ball.

Gutsy call

In the end it was Weis, in his usual take-charge way, who went for it on fourth-and-one at the Georgia Tech 47 with 1:10 left, knowing a first down would win the game because the Yellow Jackets had no more timeouts.

Brady Quinn plowed forward for the first down on a quarterback sneak and Notre Dame players began their run for the bus.

This wasn't the kind of game you bragged about afterward -- although the much-maligned Irish defense did pitch a second-half shutout and held star Georgia Tech receiver Calvin Johnson -- 6-foot-3 with a 45-inch vertical leap -- to only two second-half catches after a 95-yard, five catch first half.

Notre Dame's defense ranked 75th overall last year and ended the year by allowing 617 yards in a Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State.

"That's all I've heard this whole off season," Weis said. "Six hundred and seventeen yards. If I hear that again I'm going to vomit."

The Irish held Georgia Tech to 233 total yards and to 71 in the second half.




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