There’s almost no history between Notre Dame and this weekend’s opponent, Nevada, save for one thrashing in 2009 that featured plenty of future NFL stars.
The Nevada Wolf Pack have only existed as a FBS program for 25 seasons since joining the Big West Conference in 1992, so there hasn’t been a whole lot of time for Notre Dame to develop anything close to a rivalry with them.
But in 2009, the Irish opened their season at home against the Wolf Pack. Ranked 23rd in the preseason polls, Notre Dame was expected to roll over Nevada behind the lead of quarterback Jimmy Clausen, and that’s exactly what the Irish did, kicking off the final season of Charlie Weis’s reign with a 35-0 victory.
Clausen’s stat line from that day reads like a video game: 15-for-18 passing, 315 yards, four touchdowns. But as good as he was, sophomore receiver Michael Floyd was even better, needing just four catches to collect 189 yards and three touchdowns.
But of course, there was someone on the other sideline for Nevada in 2009 who every football fan would come to know: Colin Kaepernick. Then, of course, he wasn’t the highly divisive superstar we know today, but a strapping young kid generating a little preseason hype and getting named to the Maxwell and Davey O’Brien Award watch lists.
His performance against the Irish defense was certainly not a harbinger of future NFL glory. He was 12-for-23 passing for just 149 yards. He threw two interceptions and ran the ball 10 times for 39 yards.
Nevada running back Vai Taua had a slightly better day, rushing for 114 yards on 18 attempts, but he also fumbled once and was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 that was Nevada’s best chance at scoring all game.
Taua went on to play briefly in the NFL as an undrafted free agent, but he and Kaepernick were far from the only future pro talents playing for the Wolf Pack that day.
Broncos linebacker and Super Bowl champion Brandon Marshall was credited with six tackles against the Irish. Tight end Virgil Green, who is currently reunited with Marshall in Denver, caught one pass for two yards. Browns offensive lineman Joel Bitonio was on the bench as a freshman.
For Notre Dame, Clausen and Floyd also went on to have pro careers, as did many of their teammates. Theo Riddick, Armando Allen, Manti Te’o, Jonas Gray, Robert Hughes, Golden Tate, Kyle Rudolph, Harrison Smith, Kyle McCarthy, Ian Williams and Jamoris Slaughter all went on to play professionally.
McCarthy led the Irish in tackles that day, with nine, and also intercepted a pass. Te’o, in his first ever game at South Bend, collected two tackles. Rudolph caught one touchdown, while Tate, in his final season opener with the Irish, caught three passes for 59 yards.
On the heels of a disappointing loss to Texas to open this season, Notre Dame is probably hoping for a repeat performance against Nevada this weekend, though the gameplan will definitely be far different. Even if the Wolf Pack lose, though, they still win, as Nevada is guaranteed $1 million just for showing up.