SOUTH BEND, Ind. San Diego State coach Chuck Long was asked after giving Notre Dame a scare who was better, the Fighting Irish or Cal Poly, which beat the Aztecs a week earlier.
"That's a tough question," Long said, chuckling a bit at the question. "It's hard to say who's better. They both beat us."
That might say as much about Notre Dame's play in a 21-13 come-from-behind victory as the Fighting Irish's four turnovers and struggles to establish a running game against a makeshift San Diego State defensive line.
San Diego State (0-2), a 21-point underdog that opened the season by losing to an FCS team, 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.
"They had a chance to put the game away," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said.
Still, Weis told his players they should be happy with the victory.
"The guys will come in here and everyone will talk about an ugly win. Are you happy with an ugly win? I told them, 'Yes, you're happy with an ugly win because it's better than an ugly loss,"' he said. "I'll take an ugly win any day of the week."
Moments after the crucial fumble by San Diego State, Jimmy Clausen threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate. Clausen was 5-of-5 passing for 76 yards on the 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.
"We've come a long way since last year," Clausen said. "We didn't panic when we were down in the fourth quarter and we needed a score, we needed to get points on the board. We just rallied together."
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.
"He continues to amaze me every game he plays and he's only played two games. Every practice he seems to get better," Long said.
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.
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.
Notre Dame defensive end Pat Kuntz said the Irish should just enjoy the victory.
"Sure, we would have liked to win in a different fashion today," he said. "But that's the benefit of playing San Diego State in the first game."
AIR FORCE 23, WYOMING 3: At Laramie, Wyo., a defense that forced five turnovers, a superb kicking game and one long run proved to be a winning combination for Air Force.
Kyle Halderman's 74-yard run set up quarterback Shea Smith's 1-yard touchdown run and Ryan Harrison kicked three field goals to lead Air Force over error-prone Wyoming 23-3 on Saturday.
Todd Newell added a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter for Air Force (2-0).
The Falcons held Wyoming (1-1) to 216 total yards. Junior strong safety Chris Thomas led the Air Force defense with 13 tackles, including eight unassisted, a sack and a forced fumble.
TEXAS A&M 28, NEW MEXICO 22: At Albuquerque, Jerrod Johnson replaced the injured Stephen McGee and threw three touchdown passes as Texas A&M gave coach Mike Sherman his first win with the Aggies.
Texas A&M (1-1), making its first trip to Albuquerque, survived New Mexico's swarming defensive scheme and bounced back from an embarrassing season-opening loss, 18-14 to Arkansas State.
Johnson completed 10-of-19 for 124 yards in place of McGee, who sprained his right shoulder on the opening series and didn't return. Aggies running back Mike Goodson also left with a sprained right knee, through he briefly returned in the second half.
COLORADO STATE 23, SACRAMENTO STATE 20: At Fort Collins, Colo., Mike Pagnotta recovered a late fumble and freshman kicker Ben DeLine hit a 20-yard field goal with no time remaining, lifting Colorado State to a win over Sacramento State.
DeLine also connected on a 36-yard field goal to tie the game with 1:29 remaining.
After the Hornets got the ball back, James Morehead broke through the line and nailed tailback Evander Wilkins, jarring the football loose. Pagnotta jumped on the football, setting the stage for DeLine's game-winning kick in Rams coach Steve Fairchild's home debut.
TCU 67, STEPHEN F. AUSTIN 7: At Fort Worth, Texas, Michael Turner found the end zone three times in the first half to help lead TCU to a win over Stephen F. Austin.
TCU's offense converted on its first five possessions to build a 42-7 halftime lead. The Horned Frogs' 67 points is one point short of the school record set against Austin College in 1932.
In the second quarter, TCU (2-0) got some good fortune when defensive end Jerry Hughes recovered a fumble by Lumberjacks quarterback Jeremy Moses on their 7-yard line. Two plays later, a 2-yard scamper by Turner increased the lead to 28 points.