MIAMI -- After a night's rest, Colorado coach Bill McCartney said he should not have allowed his punter to kick to Notre Dame returner Raghib "Rocket" Ismail in the closing moments of Tuesday night's Federal Express Orange Bowl.
Ismail, who runs the 40-yard -- in 4.28 seconds and has averaged 24 yards on kickoffs and 11.6 on punt returns, returned the punt 91 yards for an apparent touchdown with 45 seconds left in the RTC game, but Notre Dame's Greg Davis was called for clipping Tim James, nullifying the score.
Colorado (11-1-1) won the game, 10-9, and was ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll yesterday.
"I think I could have used a little better strategy in that situation," McCartney said yesterday before the team left for Boulder, Colo. McCartney previously had ordered punter Tom Rouen to kick away from Ismail.
"It was a risky thing to do," said McCartney. "He's always a step away from going all the way."
McCartney and Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz watched replays of the Ismail's run yesterday.
"I saw the film clip of the punt return, and there's no question it was a clip," McCartney said. "Tim James had a legitimate chance to make a play on the Rocket. If he hadn't gotten him to the ground, he certainly would have slowed him up some. So I thought it was a good call."
Holtz didn't agree.
"The first time I played it back, it didn't look like one of those obvious clips you sometimes see," Holtz said. "When I played it back two more times, you can see Greg's head was in front of the guy but his shoulders were behind. Maybe technically it was a clip. But I thought the criterion was if your head was in front of the guy you're blocking, it's not a clip."
Davis said: "I still don't think it was a clip. I thought it was borderline, but I thought I had my head in front of the guy."
McCartney said after the game that he ordered Rouen to kick to Ismail because during the past four years, the Buffaloes led the nation in net punting and their coverage had been good on Ismail most of the game.
McCartney said yesterday that Rouen is not a good directional punter, and said he was afraid that aiming for the sideline might have given Notre Dame possession at the 30-yard line and possibly have led to a Fighting Irish field goal.
"Rouen is good at kicking it high and letting our coverage guys come down under it," McCartney said. "In this case, he actually out-kicked his coverage a little. We had a chance to tackle the Rocket, but he's brilliant. He's in a class by himself."
But Notre Dame's errors, along with the play of Buffaloes reserve quarterback Charles S. Johnson, helped Colorado to victory. Notre Dame committed three turnovers in the third quarter, with one leading to a touchdown by Buffaloes halfback Eric Bieniemy.
Notre Dame tailback Ricky Watters fumbled, and outside linebacker Paul Rose recovered at the Irish 40. Eight plays later, Bieniemy, who rushed for 76 yards on 14 carries, ran 1 yard over right guard for the winning touchdown with 4 minutes, 26 seconds left in the third quarter.
Notre Dame's Craig Hentrich, who had a 22-yard field goal in the third quarter, missed two attempts in the first half, from 50 and 48 yards. His only extra-point try was blocked.
Johnson, who on Oct. 6 engineered an 88-yard drive in the final two minutes that culminated in the infamous fifth-down touchdown against Missouri, replaced the injured Darian Hagan -- his ruptured tendon above the left kneecap was operated on yesterday -- to start the third quarter.
Johnson, named Colorado's Most Valuable Player in the game, connected on five of six passes for 80 yards, three of the completions in the 40-yard drive that produced Bieniemy's touchdown.