It didn't matter which 11 players Notre Dame had on the field. It didn't matter whether the Irish offense was going up against the Beavers' defense, or the Irish defense against the Beavers' offense. In every phase of the game, Oregon State thoroughly outplayed Notre Dame on Monday night. The final score, 41-9, served merely as a punctuation mark for the once beaten Beavers, who came into the game ranked No. 5.
Oregon State, at 11-1, will maintain, if not improve, its final ranking. No. 10 Notre Dame, on the other hand, not only dropped to 9-3 on the season, it will likely plummet in the rankings.
In a game that was supposed to establish the return of Notre Dame's football program to the college football summit, a game that was supposed to establish the team as a national championship contender heading into the 2001 season, the Irish looked bewilderingly overmatched.
In a game that was supposed to be a contest between Oregon State's speed and Notre Dame's size, the Beavers were both fleeter and tougher. In the first half alone, Oregon State quarterback Jonathan Smith shredded the Irish secondary, throwing for 246 yards on 12-of-17 passing. He finished 16-of-24 for 305 yards and three touchdowns.
The only evidence of the luck of the Irish was the fact Notre Dame, despite being thoroughly outplayed, trailed only 12-3 at halftime.
That the lead wasn't bigger could be credited to the Irish's red-zone defense, which limited Oregon State to field goals on its first two scoring drives.
With just over four minutes remaining in the first half, Oregon State receiver Chad Johnson was credited with a 76-yard touchdown reception despite dropping the ball in premature celebration 2 yards shy of the goal line. With the phantom score, the Beavers went up 12-0. But what could have been a seminal moment in the game was rendered moot by Oregon State's offensive explosion in the third quarter.
The quarter began quietly enough for the Irish, who forced Oregon State to punt on its opening possession after just four plays. Two plays later, however, Beavers linebacker Darnell Robinson tore through the line and clocked Notre Dame quarterback Matt LoVecchio, forcing the ball loose. Defensive tackle Eric Manning recovered. Forty-five seconds later, T.J. Houshmandzadeh took a 23-yard rainbow from Smith into the right corner in the end zone, giving the Beavers a 19-3 lead.
Even its own mistakes ultimately benefited Oregon State. Houshmandzadeh, returning a punt following Notre Dame's next possession, fumbled the ball at the 50-yard line. Five yards up the field, teammate Terrell Roberts scooped up the football and ran it into the end zone. A two-point conversion increased the lead to 27-3.
Within two minutes, the Beavers had increased the lead to 34-3 on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Johnson.
And with an eerie symmetry, another two minutes later, with 4:54 remaining in the third, Oregon State tailback Ken Simonton ran the ball into the end zone from 4 yards out, increasing the lead to 41-3.
Notre Dame's vaunted special teams, which had blocked five punts this season, barely had a chance to show their stuffOregon State punted only three times.
And Notre Dame's offensive line, which was supposed to be supple, stable and strong, proved to be no match for an undersized but ferocious Oregon State defense. The Irish, who had been advertised as an all-run, little-pass offense this season, managed to do neither well. In the final six games of the regular season, Notre Dame had averaged 263 rushing yards. For the season, the average was a more-than-respectable 213. Monday, through three quarters, the Irish had run for just 19 yards. In the third quarter, Notre Dame ran 26 times for zero yards.
The only victory the Irish could claim was moral, playing a cleaner game than the Beavers. By the end of the third quarter, Oregon State had amassed 14 penalties, breaking the Fiesta Bowl record of 13 for a game, set by Florida State in the early 1990s.