Notre Dame can't handle Oregon St.'s team speed
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- The only thing beaten more often than Notre Dame's offensive line Monday night was its defensive secondary.
"Their team speed was definitely a factor," Irish coach Bob Davie said. "Based on tonight, we've got a long way to go. A long, long way to go."
Instead of re-establishing themselves among college football's elite, the 10th-ranked Irish were exposed by No. 5 Oregon State's lightning quick defense and the Beavers' speedy receivers in a 41-9 loss in the Fiesta Bowl.
"A win tonight would have really put us in the driver's seat to get back in the college elite," linebacker Rocky Boiman said. "A loss tonight makes it that much tougher."
The Irish (9-3) finished with a loss for the seventh consecutive season -- the fourth straight time under Davie -- and will finish out of the Top 10 for the seventh time in a row. That matches the longest such streak in school history from 1981-1987.
"We have a lot of work to do," Davie said. "We need to improve in a lot of areas."
It was Notre Dame's second worst bowl loss. Their worst was a 40-6 defeat by Nebraska in the 1973 Orange Bowl. A late touchdown by Tony Fisher against Oregon State's reserves allowed the Irish to avert their eighth worst loss ever.
The worst quarter was the third. The Irish, who tied an NCAA record by turning the ball over only eight times during the regular season, had three in the quarter leading to two touchdowns.
"The linebackers were real fast-flow guys and their defensive ends were tremendously fast," Irish tight end Dan O'Leary. "It was just a matter of us getting bodies on bodies. We were unable to do that tonight."
Matt LoVecchio, who threw one interception all season, threw two as the Beavers scored 29 points in the quarter.
"We just got pounded," said LoVecchio, who was sacked six times. "We fell off the game plan. We had penalties and second-and-long situations and downs where they knew we were passing. It just made it tougher for the whole offense."
The speed discrepancy was seen early as the Beavers picked on cornerback Clifford Jefferson before he pulled his left hamstring on a 74-yard touchdown pass to Chad Johnson.
Jefferson had so much trouble covering Oregon State's three receivers that he started to run back before the ball was snapped.
The Beavers went at Jefferson on the game's first play, an 8-yard pass to Chad Johnson. Jefferson was called for pass interference on the third play of Oregon State's third possession.
"I don't know if they picked on Clifford any more than our other two guys," Davie said. "I think they picked on everyone."
It wasn't only on offense that the Beavers were too fast. The Irish, who said establishing a running game was a priority, had zero yards rushing at the end of the third quarter and finished with 17 yards. The Irish went three-and-out on their first three possessions and six of the first nine.
"We just couldn't execute," said tailback Julius Jones, who ran for 30 yards on 13 carries. "Their defense was on top of everything."
The Beavers scored on seven of their first nine possessions.
On their only prolonged drive of the first half, the Irish lost 19 yards on the first two plays and appeared to be trapped on their own 2-yard line, but Oregon State safety Calvin Carlyle was called for a personal foul.
Instead of having a third-and-31, the Irish had a first down on the 17 and eventually kicked a 29-yard field goal.
Even on special teams, which provided the margin of victory in three games for the Irish, Notre Dame gave up a touchdown on a bizarre punt return. Returner T.J. Houshmandzadeh returned the kick 28 yards, fumbled it to the Notre Dame 45-yard line and Terrell Roberts picked it up and returned it for a touchdown.
"They were legit," Notre Dame guard Mike Gandy said. "Their linebackers swarmed to the ball and shutdown our offensive game. We just couldn't get things going the way we wanted to."