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Irish prove they're all the way back

10/27/2002

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Carlyle Holiday stepped out of the
tunnel, back onto the field and was immediately surrounded by a
reporters. The band was still playing, fans were still cheering and
Holiday was still smiling.

This one felt good, maybe better than all the rest.

Holiday threw for 185 yards and two touchdowns as No. 6 Notre
Dame took its turnaround to a new plateau Saturday, earning a 34-24 victory over Florida State (No. 13 ESPN/USA Today, No. 11 AP) 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.''

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.

Done.

"I think it says we're back,'' center Jeff Faine said.

Much like Oklahoma and Miami reclaimed their place among college
football's elite teams after several rebuilding years, the Fighting
Irish (8-0) are on track to do the same this season.

With their next three games against Boston College, Navy and
Rutgers, the Irish could be 11-0 when they play at Southern
California on Nov. 30. They have a legitimate shot to make the
national championship game, especially if they keep playing like
they have this season -- with a solid defense and an opportunistic
offense.

It's the same way they beat Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State
earlier in the season. Now add Florida State (5-3) to the list.

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. ... They beat everybody the same way.''

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.

"They kept us bumfuzzled all day with their alignments and
things,'' Bowden said.

With a week off following Florida State's one-point loss at
Miami, many thought the Seminoles had found an identity as a
running team and might be successful behind Jones and one of the
best offensive lines in the country. Notre Dame didn't let it
happen.

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.''

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.

In all, the Irish used six big plays to score six times -- the
biggest of which were the three turnovers. But not to be overlooked
was Notre Dame's first play from scrimmage, when Holiday faked a
handoff, rolled right and hit Arnaz Battle for a 65-yard touchdown.

That was when Holiday started smiling.

Now those days as underdogs and overachievers probably are over
for Notre Dame. But Willingham doesn't want to overstate the
victory.

"It means an eighth victory and one more step. That's all,'' he
said. "If you don't get the next one, what does it mean? Anytime
you're undefeated, it's a good thing.''

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