Photo courtesy of Notre Dame athletics
From the early and middle parts of the 1990s to the latter parts, Notre Dame had taken a slight step back as a program.
There was still something about South Bend however, that allowed the Fighting Irish to rise to the occasion. On this day 20 years ago, Notre Dame gave Nebraska all it wanted.
When it was said and done however, the top-ranked Cornhuskers survived in overtime, 27-24.
Setting the Stage
Head coaches Frank Solich and Bob Davie were trying to forge their own legacies as the teams met at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 9, 2000. Both had replaced legends in Tom Osborne and Lou Holtz, respectively.
With a loaded backfield that included quarterback Eric Crouch, running backs Dan Alexander and Correll Buckhalter, Nebraska was preseason No. 1. The Cornhuskers had finished 11-1 in 1999 and No. 2 in the final Coaches Poll. They opened the year with a 49-13 blowout of San Jose State.
In 1999, Notre Dame had its first losing season since 1986, finishing 5-7. The 2000 campaign got off to a promising start, however. Notre Dame opened the year with a 24-10 home victory over Texas A&M. In Week 2, the No. 23 Fighting Irish took on an even bigger goal.
A pair of touchdown runs by Crouch, including a 62-yarder, gave Nebraska a 14-7 halftime lead. After the Cornhuskers doubled their advantage midway through the third quarter, Notre Dame found a spark on special teams.
Following Alexander’s 28-yard touchdown run with less than nine minutes to play in the third quarter, Notre Dame’s Julius Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. The Fighting Irish managed just 224 yards of offense, but the special teams would make it a 4-quarter game.
Early in the fourth quarter, Joey Getherall took a punt back 83 yards for a score to knot the game at 21 with less than 13 minutes to play. Neither offense was able to score for the remainder of regulation.
The first possession of overtime went to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish reached the 4-yard-line, but on 3rd-and-goal, Nebraska’s Jeremy Slechta sacked Notre Dame quarterback Arnaz Battle. Nick Setta’s 29-yard field goal gave Notre Dame its first lead of the day.
Nebraska’s possession didn’t begin promising as Alexander gained a yard before Crouch’s incomplete pass. On 3rd-and-9, Crouch found tight end Tracey Wistrom, who stretched for a first down at the 15. An 8-yard run by Alexander on the ensuing play set the stage for Crouch to be the hero.
On a triple-option, Crouch decided to keep the football. The junior was able to outrun defenders to the corner for the game-winning 7-yard touchdown.
Notre Dame had woke up the echos, but it was the Cornhuskers who emerged.
Alexander led all rushers with 112 yards on 24 carries. Crouch accounted for 103 yards passing to go with his 80 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
Battle completed just three passes for Notre Dame, but led the Fighting Irish with 107 yards rushing on 14 carries. Jones added 52 yards rushing to go with his kick return for a score. Junior Tony Fisher scored Notre Dame’s only offensive touchdown.
The victory kept Nebraska at No. 1 — a spot it would hold through September. The Cornhuskers would fall to Oklahoma and Kansas State later in the season before blasting Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl to finish in the top 10 for a seventh time in eight seasons.
Notre Dame would split match-ups against ranked teams the next two weeks with a win over Purdue followed by a loss to Michigan State. The Fighting Irish rattled off seven straight wins to close the regular season. They capped the season with a 41-9 loss to Oregon State in the Fiesta Bowl.
The contest would serve as the first meeting between Nebraska and Notre Dame in South Bend since 1947. They’ve met just once and not in South Bend since the 2000 thriller. That contest was a memorable one and it came on this day 20 years ago.