A little trickery on offense. A lot of jarring hits on defense, especially the one that knocked the quarterback on his back and out of the game.
That was all No. 17 North Carolina State needed to dissolve the Irish mystique Wednesday in the Gator Bowl and state its case as a program on the rise.
Led by quarterback Philip Rivers and a defense that didn't give up a touchdown for the second consecutive game, the Wolfpack (11-3) finished off the best season in school history with a 28-6 victory over Notre Dame.
"We had a great season, then we put a stamp on it," Coach Chuck Amato said. "To have [victory] No. 11 be Notre Dame, to win back-to-back against Florida State and Notre Dame, two of the best programs in America.... It's hard to do."
The defense didn't allow a touchdown in the last two games, and while the trick plays were entertaining Wednesday, it was linebacker Dantonio Burnette who set the tone.
The Irish had second-and-goal from the one on their second possession of the game when Carlyle Holiday ran right and was hammered by Burnette, separating Holiday's shoulder.
"When I hit him I heard him groan, and when I looked down he was still on the ground," Burnette said. "I was like, 'OK, this is going to turn the game around now.' "
The Irish had to settle for a field goal, and they never found an answer for Rivers and a Wolfpack offense that made them look bad for the second game in a row.
Rivers completed 13 consecutive passes as N.C. State scored three touchdowns in the second quarter, one of them on a fumblerooski and another set up by a flea-flicker.
Early in the third quarter, Wolfpack receiver Bryan Peterson had more passing yards on two trick players (27) than either of the Irish quarterbacks.
"Every game they show you something you haven't seen," Notre Dame safety Glenn Earl said. "They were able to get us off balance. And they executed well."
The 11th-ranked Irish (10-3) not only lost Holiday, they lost their temper with three personal fouls and wound up losing their sixth consecutive bowl game.
This one put a damper on an otherwise remarkable year.
Coming off a 5-6 season, Notre Dame won its first eight games and started thinking about a record ninth national championship. Instead, the Irish lost three of their last five games, and the last two were embarrassing.
"It's still a very good season," Coach Tyrone Willingham said. "There are not that many 10-win teams in the country. At the same time, we have to become accustomed to winning our last game, whether it's the regular season or a bowl game."
Notre Dame gave up a school-record 610 yards in a 44-13 loss to USC, and a defense determined to show that game was a fluke looked hapless against the Wolfpack.
N.C. State went 96 and 76 yards on consecutive drives, and there was nothing the Irish could do about it.
Notre Dame, which allowed 145 points in its first 11 games, gave up 72 points in its last two.
Rivers, bobbing and weaving through the pass rush, completed 23 of 37 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns. Jerricho Cotchery caught 10 passes for 127 yards.