Up Close at Notre Dame

Notre Dame appeared to be in trouble, from Bob Davie's media meltdowns to the hiring of resume fibber George O'Leary to the departure of leading returning rusher Julius Jones and quarterback Matt LaVecchio to the removal of three players for breaking university rules. Well, it's late October and the Irish are back where they belong -- in the national title hunt. Click here to read more on the Notre Dame from Darin Pritchett of Newstalk 960 WSBT Radio in South Bend.

Darin Pritchett, Newstalk 960 WSBT Radio in South Bend, Ind.

Through Bob Davie's media meltdowns, to the hiring of resume fibber George O'Leary, the departure of leading returning rusher Julius Jones and quarterback Matt LaVecchio to the removal of three players for breaking university rules, the Notre Dame football team is back where they are supposed to be in late October.

In the National Championship hunt.

The reason why the dark cloud was lifted from above the golden dome was the hiring of Tyrone Willingham.

On Jan. 1, 2002, Notre Dame Athletic Director Kevin White made the best decision he could make in hiring Willingham, the former Stanford head coach. He brings personality and grace to a position that was in desperate need of an upgrade.

Any fire that begins, Willingham immediately extinguishes the fire with style and grace. He is passionate about his job and the players feed off his desire to win. He's not interested in credit, he's interested in wins. Dont be fooled, there are no "I's" in Willingham.

The "take a chance defense" installed by Davie has now been replaced by more conservative bend but don't break defense using much more zone coverage.

Defensive coordinator Kent Baer has been surrounded by a veteran defensive coaching staff. Former Oklahoma State head coach Bobby Simmons, longtime Michigan and Notre Dame coach Greg Mattison who handles the offensive line. And former Viking assistant Trent Walters, father of former Stanford and current Colt wide receiver Troy Walters, handles arguably the nation's best secondary.

There is no doubt the defense is the reason why Notre Dame has won and will continue to win. Shane Walton six interceptions along with Vontez Duff's big play ability has formed the best corner duo in the country. Safety Glenn Earl provides the punishment to receivers coming over the middle or stuffing running backs at the line.

An early season problem of getting pressure on the quarterback has been tempered by the play of sophomore Justin Tuck. The defensive end is a pass rushing specialist who helped the Irish record eight sacks vs. Pittsburgh.

The front seven has shown the ability to stuff the run allowing just 80 yards per game. Inside linebacker Courtney Watson, a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, leads the team in tackles and is the vocal leader of one of the nation's top defense's.

The West Coast offense brought in by Willingham and former Washington State and Stanford coordinator Bill Deidrick has been slow to develop. But what do you expect when the team you have taken over runs the an ice age option offense that featured play calling of run-run-pass...run-run-pass?

You have option QB Carlyle Holiday running the show with former QB Gary Godsey starting at tight end (backed up by former QB Jared Clark), while Arnez Battle is the team's leading receiver. Yep the same Battle who nearly quarterbacked Notre Dame to an upset win over #1 Nebraska in 2000. But with all the quarterbacks on the roster, the backup is a walk on Pat Dillingham, who played his high school ball just two miles away from the football office at Stanford University of Willingham.

There were not a great amount of expectations in South Bend since the likes of Jayvin Hunter, David Givens, John Owens, Anthony Weaver and Rocky Boiman graduated and playing in the NFL.

In fact the one thing that all Irish followers knew was a slam dunk lock for this season was their field goal kicker Nick Setta. After hitting five of six field goals versus Maryland, the junior has missed nine of his last 12 tries including his last four.

The Irish have not blown out an opponent other than Stanford this year. And they have not played an opponent with the talent of Florida State.

But if the luck of the Irish continues to be on their side, anything is possible this Saturday in Tallahassee.

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