The season began as Notre Dame faced Georgia Tech on Monday night national television. Georgia Tech scored first, but the Irish came back to score 31 unanswered points. Wayne Bullock tied it with a 14-yard touchdown run after a Tech fumble. the Fighting Irish took the lead in the second quarter on a 22-yard Dave Reeve field goal and a 7-yard touchdown pass from Tom Clements to Pete Demmerle. in the second half, Bullock scored from the one and Al Samules slashed in from the 8 on a sweep. The national telecast caught a great play when Steve Sylvester blindsided a pursuing Georgia Tech linemen as he Clements on a broken play.[clarification needed]
Notre Dame dropped four fumbles in the first half and Northwestern held the Irish to a 14-3 halftime lead. the first Fighting Irish score followed a pas to Demmerle that reached the Northwestern 2; Russ Kornman scored. Bullock scored for the second touchdown after a Northwestern roughing penalty boosted a drive. Ron Goodman ran 62 yards to score on the fourth play of the new half. Clements followed a fumble recovery with a drive and a 14-yard touchdown pass to Robin Weber. Frank Allocco scored akeeper after another fumble. Reserves Mark McLane punched over an 11-yard touchdown and Terry Eurick a two-yarder. Future All-America tight end Ken MacAfee (6'5" and 245 pounds0 made his freshman appearance. Notre Dame won 49-3.
Purdue stopped the Notre Dame winning streak at 13 with a 31–20 victory. The Fighting Irish self-destructed with early fumbles and interceptions. Purdue enjoyed a 21-0 lead after only 11 plays. Their scoring came on a one-yard quarterback keeper around end, a 52-yard scoring sprint, and a 21-yard interception return. Notre Dame shanked a punt and Purdue nailed a 47-yard field goal. Bullock scored early in the second quarter. At the half, the score was 24-7, and Notre Dame had 208 yards to Purdue's 168. Bullock scored on a short run in the third quarter after a busted play. Two scoring opportunities were wasted with loss of possession on downs and an ineligible receiver penalty. Purdue intercepted a pass and made a 6-yard follow-up touchdown. Clements hit Demmerle late with a touchdown pass, too late to change the outcome. The Fighting Irish beat themselves with offensive mistakes, although they outgained Purdue 407 yard to 270.
The Fighting Irish came back the next week against Michigan State. In the first quarter, Kevin Nosbusch recovered a fumble caused by Mike Stock and Mike Fanning. Clements almost got a touchdown out of a pass play to Weber; Bullock plowed in for the score. The Spartans fumbled at their 10 and Bullock scored on the next play. Reeve made a field goal from 38 yards after a bad Spartan punt. he added a 32-yarder in the last period. The Spartans drove 99 yards for their first touchdown, scored again, but Randy Payne intercepted a pass to kill their last good chance. Bullock ran the ball against MSU 36 times, a new record.
Rice, normally a patsy, went down by the surprising score of 10-3. Notre Dame spotted Rice an early field goal and spent the rest of the game searching for their missing offense. In the second quarter,the Fighting Irish were flagged for illegal procedure; a referee claimed the linemen's posteriors were not on the same horizontal plane, within an inch's variance. Ara protested with all he had, only to add to the penalty. After 5 futile drives, Reeve kicked a 45-yard field goal. Rice was kept in check for the rest of the game. in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame used 20 plays to execute an 80-yard drive. Bullock scored from the two around left end.
Army was again mismatched, 48-0. The game featured an unexpectedly early fall snowstorm. Bullock scored from the six to lead Fighting Irish backs to 525 yards rushing and 30 first downs, a new record. Bullock scored the second touchdown as well. Clements ran a seven-yard keeper before halftime for a touchdown and a 20-0 score. in the third period, Russ Kornman scored twice, form the seven and the four, and Al Samuels went 35 yards on a pitchout to score. Tom Baker scored the same way in the fourth quarter, form the six.
Miami was 4-1 and had stars Rubin Carter, Dennis Harrah, and Mike Archer but fell to Notre Dame. Demmerle caught a 53-yard touchdown in the first two minutes of the game. Miami later fumbled on a 69-yard punt, at their nine; Bullock rammed in to score on the next play. Reeve made an 18-yard field goal after MacAfee set him up with a 24-yard pass play. Randy Harrison intercepted a pass and ran it back 44 yards for a touchdown. Clements scored on a keeper from the Miami 8, and MacAfee made a four-yard touchdown catch. Clements was 13 of 19 for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
The 14–6 win over Navy was a turning point in Notre Dame football history; on the flight back from Philadelphia, a weary Ara Parseghian decided he would leave football. He had important family considerations and constant pressure; the fun was gone. Goodman fumbled a punt early in the game and Navy kicked a field goal. They added another in the second half for a 6-0 lead. The only decent Fighting Irish drive to that point ended in a missed field goal. The defense turned it up, forced a punt, and Goodman took it back to their 28. Surviving a bad snap at the five, Clements found Demmerle for a touchdown. Randy Harrison made an interception and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown.
In their next game, Notre Dame looked proficient on the first possession and Bullock scored from the seven. But then they had to wait until the fourth quarter. in the interim, Pitt kicked a field goal and scored from the one. notre Dame had stopped a Pitt scoring attempt after a blocked Irish punt—this proved to be the game-saver. With 8 minutes left, and 55 yards away from the goal, Clements used Bullock for 32 yards on line smashes, and hit Demmerle with a 3-yard touchdown pass for the win. Bullock's 25 runs gave him 193 for the year to break Neil Worden's old record.
Kornman, in for an injured Bullock, scored from the one, but Parise got in there with a 62-yard jaunt. Parise scored in the second quarter from the 11, and Clements scored from the nine. Allocco scored on a keeper from the one for a 28-0 halftime score. in the second half, Reeve booted a 33-yard field goal and Allocco hit Kevin Doherty with a 25-yard touchdown pass.
The Fighting Irish blew a 24-0 lead as USC scored 55 points in a strange game. Drew Mahalic intercepted a Pat Haden pass, and Bullock scored from the two to end the short drive. Clements threw to Demmerle for a touchdown from the USC 29. Reeve hit a field goal, and McLane scored from the nine with a draw play. Anthony Davis scored from the eight with a swing pass for the Trojans, but they missed the point after. Then they hammered Notre Dame for 49 unanswered points in the second half. Davis ran the second half opening kickoff back 102 yards for a touchdown, scored from the six, and then from the four. J.K. McKay caught an 18-yard touchdown pass, and also a 44-yarder on the last play of the third quarter. The Fighting Irish fumbled, and Diggs caught a 16-yard touchdown pass on the ensuing possession. A long Clements pass was intercepted and returned 58 yards for the final touchdown, and a 55-24 win for USC. Four of the last five Trojan touchdowns came off Irish turnovers.
Notre Dame bounced back from its stunning loss at USC to ruin Alabama's perfect season and national championship hopes, in Ara Parseghian's final game as coach. A Crimson Tide fumble at the 16 resulted in a Bullock score from the four. Notre Dame rolled on a long drive, mostly running, and McLane scored from the nine in the second quarter. The point after was missed, and Notre Dame led 13-0. An Irish fumble earned Alabama a field goal, making the halftime score 13-3, Irish. The third quarter was scoreless. The Crimson Tide scored on a 48-yard pass play in the fourth quarter and made a 2-point conversion. The wishbone had foundered on the Notre Dame defense, so Alabama had to pass. it was their undoing. Reggie Barnett intercepted a pass and zigzagged all over the Orange Bowl for the win. The wishbone gained only 62 yards all evening. The Fighting Irish players carried Ara off the field and into history.