Jimmy Clausen threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate moments after Notre Dame forced San Diego State to fumble in the end zone and the Fighting Irish rallied for a 21-13 victory on Saturday.
San Diego State (0-2), a 21-point underdog which lost to an FCS team last week, appeared to be on the verge of an upset early in the fourth quarter.
Brandon Sullivan was inches away from a 4-yard touchdown run and a two-score lead for the Aztecs. But safety David Bruton jarred the ball loose and recovered it in the end zone to help the Irish (1-0) avoid an embarrassing loss.
Clausen was 5-of-5 passing for 76 yards on the ensuing drive to rally the Irish to victory, as they avoided losing back-to-back season-openers at home for the first time since 1887-88, its first two seasons of playing football. Clausen added a game-clinching 6-yard TD pass to David Grimes with 2:08 left.
Clausen, who also had a 22-yard TD pass to freshman Michael Floyd late in the first half, was 21-of-34 passing for 237 yards with two interceptions.
Ryan Lindley carried San Diego State's offense, completing 29-of-59 passes for 274 yards with one interception and scoring a touchdown on a 1-yard keeper.
For much of the game the Irish didn't look significantly better than last year's 3-9 squad, as they trailed most of the way and repeatedly made mistakes at key times. Robert Hughes fumbled the ball away on San Diego State 3 and linebacker Luke Laolagi recovered. Later in the second quarter, Tate was open in the back of the end zone but Clausen's pass was wide of the mark.
The Irish also missed a 48-yard field goal wide right, and failed to get a second attempt off when holder Eric Maust muffed the snap.
The Irish defense made its share of mistakes, too. Defensive captain Maurice Crum was called for a flagrant pass interference, then three plays later on a late hit on the quarterback to keep a drive alive, although the Aztecs still didn't score.
San Diego State did finally score, though, after Lindley connected with a Darren Mougey on a 43-yard pass play. Mougey, who had five catches for 97 yards, was wide open at 30 and was tackled at the 1 by Bruton. Lindley scored a play later on a keeper.
The Aztecs went ahead 13-7 midway through the third quarter on 80-yard scoring drive with Lindley completing 6 of 7 passes for 49 yards, capped with a 15-yard pass to a diving Mougey in the back of the end zone. Lance Yoshida's point-after attempt bounced off the right upright.
Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said he wanted the Irish to pound the ball, but they struggled often against a makeshift San Diego State defensive line that had linebacker Russell Allen playing end because of injuries.
On third-and-1 from the 35-yard line, Hughes was stuffed for a 4-yard loss by a blitz by Laolagi. Armando Allen was crushed by safety Corey Boudreaux at the end of a 22-yard run and fumbled.
But it was still a marked improvement over last year, when the Irish had -14 yards rushing through three games. The Irish finished with 105 yards on 34 carries.
The crowd of 80,795 was the sixth largest the Aztecs had ever played before. They have lost all six games, although they have had other close calls, losing 24-21 at No. 17 Michigan in 2004 and 16-13 at No. 2 Ohio State in 2003.
Playing before its 200th straight sellout crowd and for the 400th time in Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish improved to 299-96-5 in the House that Rockne Built.
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