SAN ANTONIO - Golden Tate scored two touchdowns, including a spectacular grab of a desperation heave at the end of the first half, and No. 25 Notre Dame got it’s first easy win in almost two months by clobbering Washington State 40-14 on Saturday night.
The previous six games for Notre Dame (6-2) were nerve-wrackers decided in the final seconds. But Washington State (1-7) was buried by halftime.
Robert Hughes ran for 131 yards on 24 carries and had a touchdown, delighting a Texas crowd that was overwhelmingly filled with Fighting Irish fans. The Alamodome blowout debuted Notre Dame’s plan to play one offsite home game a year.
Jimmy Clausen was 22 of 27 for 268 yards and two touchdowns, including the 50-yarder that Tate somehow pulled down between three defenders.
Officials reviewed the catch — perhaps the only time the Irish were in suspense all night. Tate sprung for the ball and tumbled to the ground in a tangled mass, but after the replay booth confirmed the junior had possession, the stadium erupted.
San Antonio might as well have been South Bend, Ind.
Hughes had a career game starting in place of Armando Allen Jr., who has been bothered by a right ankle he sprained a month ago. Standing on the sideline without pads, Allen watched Notre Dame get their most convincing win since routing Nevada 35-0 in the season opener.
Tate’s Hail Mary haul was his second sensational score. He earlier went on a 16-yard touchdown run that began with him running smack into two linebackers before spinning around, leaving the would-be tacklers colliding and grasping for air as Tate dashed to the end zone.
Tate finished with 141 total yards.
Washington State freshman Jeff Tuel was 12-of-23 for 104 yards and two touchdowns, both to Jarred Karsetter. Tuel was also picked off twice.
After finishing 2-11 last season in coach Paul Wulff’s first season, the Cougars have four games left against Arizona, UCLA and Washington. Washington State beat SMU in overtime but hasn’t been close any other week, losing by an average of 25 points.
Notre Dame has had the opposite problem. Six consecutive games decided by seven points or fewer were a school record for Notre Dame, which didn’t put away Boston College last week until an interception in the final two minutes.
This time, the Irish could finally relax as the clock wound down.
Clausen sat out the fourth quarter after one of his most accurate games of the season, keeping his name in the Hesiman Trophy conversation. Clausen now has 18 touchdowns on the season to just two interceptions.
He was replaced by sophomore Dayne Crist, who went 2 of 6 for 69 yards and had a 64-yard touchdown to John Goodman. But Crist was carried off the field in the fourth when the sophomore’s left ankle appeared to get trapped under the 285-pound frame of Washington State defensive end Toby Turpin.
Nick Tausch kicked field goals from 16 and 23 yards and set a Notre Dame record with 14 consecutive field goals without a miss.
The Irish didn’t sell out the 65,000-seat Alamodome but likely impressed those they wanted to most: sought-after Texas recruits. Notre Dame will play its future offsite home games in Texas, Florida or New York.
The Irish are already scheduled to be back in the Lone Star State in 2013 to play Arizona State at Cowboys Stadium.