The Sweep

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Golden Tate caught six passses for 177 yards with three touchdowns,
AP

The secret to Notre Dame finally snapping its nine-game bowl losing streak was simple:

1. Get off the mainland (first time in 12 years).

2. Put names on the back of their jerseys (first time in 20 years).

 

3. Surreptitiously superimpose Jimmy Clausen with Joe Montana.

 

While it wasn't altogether surprising to see Notre Dame trounce Hawaii -- Notre Dame should trounce Hawaii -- the masterful performance of its previously erratic sophomore quarterback was truly astounding. Clausen, last seen completing 11 passes for 41 yards in yet another USC rout of the Irish, picked apart the Warriors' defense like a seasoned pro. He left early in the fourth quarter having completed 22 of 26 attempts for 401 yards and five touchdowns, including three to receiver Golden Tate (two picture-perfect bombs of 69 and 40 yards and a well-placed 18-yarder with one second left before halftime).

 

All those jubilant Domers who spent Christmas Eve on their couches had to be wondering: Where has this been the past two years?

 

Give Clausen credit for making all the right reads, placing the balls where they should be, etc. ... but there's a greater explanation: Notre Dame's offensive line finally protected its quarterback. (Clausen was sacked just once.) Perhaps this is what the Irish's offense would like more often if Clausen had as much time to throw as he did Wednesday night.

 

While Hawaii's defense isn't exactly USC's, it hadn't been all that bad during the season, either. The Warriors ranked 21st nationally in sacks (34), and in their last regular-season game held Cincinnati's All-Big East QB, Tony Pike, to 108 yards on 13-of-21 throws.

 

But Hawaii's front seven barely touched Clausen, and its defensive backs looked absolutely lost trying to keep pace with Tate (six catches for 177 yards and three TDs) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (four catches, 78 yards).

 

Again, this shouldn't come as a shock. Clausen, Tate and Rudolph are all freshmen or sophomores, but they're also all future pros. The bigger mystery is how this same collection of talent managed to lose to Syracuse and look so overmatched against USC and Boston College. After watching the 7-6 Irish finally play to their potential, it seems more evident than ever that everything begins and ends with their oft-maligned offensive line.

 

I've never been one to read too much into bowl results -- particularly third-tier bowls -- so I'm not apt to proclaim the Hawaii Bowl a preview of things to come for the Irish in 2009. All those late-season meltdowns did not happen by accident. But there's no question Clausen reestablished the once-lofty expectations of him with this "breakout performance." For him to fulfill those next season, and for Notre Dame to get back into BCS bowl contention, the Irish offensive line will need to start handling their major-conference foes like they did Hawaii.

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