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Complete effort keeps Irish rolling

Undefeated Notre Dame beats Air Force, stifling the nation's top rushing team.

©Associated Press
October 21, 2002

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Notre Dame's offense finally produced an effort worthy of a Top-10 team. But its defense didn't take the night off.

Ryan Grant rushed for 190 yards and a touchdown, and the Fighting Irish stuffed the nation's top rushing team, beating Air Force 21-14 Saturday night to remain unbeaten. Notre Dame, which moved up one spot to No. 6 in the rankings, plays at FSU on Saturday.

The Irish took advantage of its size up front -- up to 60 pounds heavier than Air Force's line -- to produce a season-high 447 total yards.

Quarterback Carlyle Holiday scored two touchdowns, a 1-yard sneak in the third and a 53-yard run in the first, Notre Dame's longest of the season.

The Irish (7-0) have their best start since opening the 1993 season with 10 straight wins despite an offense that was among the nation's worst coming into the game against the Falcons, who dropped from No. 18 to No. 22.

"I think our offensive line, our backs, our entire offensive team did an excellent job of execution," said Tyrone Willingham, who joined Jesse Harper (1913-14) and Ara Parseghian (1964) as Notre Dame coaches to win their first seven. "We eliminated a lot of the mistakes."

Air Force (6-1), playing in front of a record 56,409, couldn't keep Notre Dame's defenders out of the backfield and was unable to get around the speedy Irish on the outside.

The Falcons finished with 104 yards rushing, 235 below their average.

Coach Fisher DeBerry said nothing the Irish did was surprising.

"They just executed very well," he said. "It seemed we were a step, maybe an inch or two, from making a play."

The Irish all but shut down Chance Harridge. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound quarterback was elusive in his first six games, running for 615 yards and 15 touchdowns -- tied for most in the nation.

But Notre Dame consistently had two players in Harridge's face immediately after he made the first fake on the option. The Irish also kept running backs from reaching the corner on the outside.

Harridge had 31 yards on 13 carries and was 6-of-14 for 57 yards and an interception.

Notre Dame dominated most of the way, totaling 199 more yards than Air Force in the first half. But the Irish allowed the Falcons to stay close with three fumbles and two missed field goals by Nicholas Setta.

Offensively, the Irish easily sealed off the smaller Falcons at the line of scrimmage, giving Grant up to 4 and 5 yards of cushion before he reached any tacklers.

Grant had 129 yards on 15 carries in the first half and scored on an 18-yard run late in the second through a huge hole.

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