Notre Dame 42,
-- When Charlie Weis became Notre Dame's head coach in December, he dedicated himself to building solidarity among players who had been jilted after watching their previous coach, Tyrone Willingham, get fired following a winning regular season record.
Once he had unilateral support, Weis said, he felt the program was in best position to accomplish his prime objective: "Win as fast as we can." Weis wasted no time, issuing a resounding statement Saturday when his Fighting Irish earned a season-opening road victory against a nationally ranked opponent that had played in the Bowl Championship Series only eight months ago.
The 42-21 victory over 23rd-ranked Pittsburgh before a sellout crowd of 66,451 at Heinz Field demonstrated an efficient and, at times, nearly flawless operation. Consider this: The 319 total yards accumulated by the Fighting Irish in the first half eclipsed their total in five complete games last season.
Weis, who returned to coach his alma mater after spending the past five seasons as an offensive coordinator with the NFL's New England Patriots, helped quarterback Brady Quinn look like Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback with three Super Bowl rings. In the first half, Quinn completed 14 of 16 passes and threw for two touchdown passes, as Notre Dame scored 35 points in an opening half for the first time since 1996.
"By halftime, I think our players started to realize that they are better than they thought they were," Weis said. "That's what I have been trying to tell them."
In all, Quinn completed 18 of 27 passes for 227 yards. The strongest evidence of Notre Dame's superiority, however, occurred during the first 7 minutes 1 second of the third quarter. A 20-play, 80-yard drive -- capped by a four-yard touchdown run by fullback Rashon Powers-Neal, his third score of the game -- sucked the life out of Pittsburgh.
Considering that Weis had 10 returning starters to work with, Notre Dame's offense was expected to be explosive, although not quite this potent so soon. Its defense, which returned just three starters, was seen as most vulnerable. But take away Pittsburgh's opening drive, a 73-yard march that resulted in wide receiver Greg Lee's 39-yard touchdown reception, and Notre Dame allowed only 80 total yards the rest of the half.
No coach had ever lost the first game of his Notre Dame career on the road.
And with a road date at Michigan looming next week, Weis could hardly afford to be the first. During the days leading up to Saturday's game, Weis rejected the idea of pressure, saying that he does not care about the expectations of outsiders.
Toward the end of the second quarter, he showed his lighthearted side. Weis approached his quarterback as Quinn walked to the sideline following Notre Dame's fifth touchdown of the half. Weis uttered a few words, no more, patted the junior on the back and smiled.
Notre Dame spoiled the debut of Pittsburgh Coach Dave Wannstedt, who all day Saturday appeared to turn the clock back to 1976, when Pitt won the national title with Wannstedt as a graduate assistant and Matt Cavanaugh, its current offensive coordinator, as the star quarterback.
Hundreds of fans gathered in the morning on the Great Lawn next to the stadium to watch ESPN's College GameDay crew. And Pittsburgh alums Dan Marino, Tony Dorsett and Mike Ditka were honorary captains. Ditka said before the game that Wannstedt's hiring created excitement unseen around the program in 20 years.
By the end of the second quarter, fans looked bored. By the end of the third, about half had left.
Notre Dame's first score came when running back Darius Walker caught a screen pass and turned it into a 51-yard touchdown.
Two nine-play drives both culminated in the second quarter with rushing touchdowns. One of Quinn's only miscues of the first half occurred when he underthrew wide receiver Maurice Stovall, an errant pass that was intercepted by cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Most often, though, he was precise when it mattered most. From 19 yards out, Quinn fired into the end zone to wide receiver Jeff Samardzija, who dived for the ball, stretching completely horizontal in the air, and cradled it in his left arm as he fell to the ground.
"It has been a long time," Weis said, "since there were that many smiles in the locker room."