Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com
September 8, 2001
Its Ugly, But Its Not Davie Ugly
By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service
LINCOLN, Nebraska (IE) By the standards set in the Bob Davie Era, the 50th game of the head coachs tenure really wasnt that bad.
After 30 minutes of play Saturday night, the Irish only trailed by 24. Thats a far cry from the 39 they were in arrears of Michigan State in another ABC-TV primetime blowout in 1998.
Starting quarterback Matt LoVecchio completed only 11-of-24 passes for 78 yards and an interception. But at least he left Memorial Stadium with his health. The same couldnt be said for Jarious Jackson after the botched intentional safety versus LSU in 1998.
And while Nebraskas 27-10 victory over the 0-1 Irish was convincing, at the least Davies troops battled and hit until the end, unlike the January 1, 2001 Fiesta Bowl where Notre Dame quit at halftime. The 17-point loss was only the sixth most lopsided under Davie.
Another season. Another big-time collegiate opponent. Another record crowd. Another stinker. When will the madness end?
Dr. Kevin White left the Memorial Stadium playing surface into the runway and let out a deep sigh. The A.D.s credibility is at stake and he knows it. He extended Davies contract last December and since the Irish are 0-2 in "opportunity games" having been outscored 68-19. They never led in either game.
Davie also knows there is no more time for excuses, and he didnt even try to offer them. Sitting in a 100-year-old Field House adjacent to Memorial Stadium, surrounded by the aura of the productive Nebraska program, Davie let himself have it.
"We werent a very well prepared football team and I take responsibility for that," Davie, with a career-record of 30-20, said. "I dont care how many games Nebraska has played, I dont care how many people there are in the stands, I dont care what the crowd noise is. There is no excuse, no excuse."
Davie bit off his words as he said them. He did not look up. He was seated at a small table that did not fit his long, lean frame. He looked lost.
As did his football team. Playing before the biggest, perhaps reddest crowd in Memorial Stadium history, 78,188, Notre Dame rolled over less than five minutes into the game. A 30-yard kickoff return set up a 64-yard Nebraska touchdown scoring drive. Notre Dames Terrance Howard fumbled on the first Irish offensive snap of the season. Eric Crouch threw a scoring pass to John Gibson on the play immediately following Howards fumble.
It was 14-0 before the sun had fallen and the Husker fans were asking "I scalped a ticket for $300 to see this team?"
It got worse. Senior long-snapper John Crowther FedExed a snap over the head of punter Joey Hildbold. It led to an incredible 45-yard loss and a Nebraska field goal. (We also use FedEx as a reference here since its higher unlikely the FedEx Orange Bowl will associate itself with Notre Dame after this effort.)
Notre Dame gained 22 yards in its first 15 snaps with LoVecchio under center before Davie and offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers decided, "What do we have to lose with Carlyle Holiday?" Immediately, the sophomore drives the Irish 63 yards in six plays. But he doesnt get off a successful third-and-five shovel pass to Tony Fisher inside the Nebraska 10 until the play clock has expired. "Just inexperience," Holiday explained later.
Just a field goal for the Irish. And whatever momentum was gained was quickly erased when Josh Davis returned the ensuing kickoff past midfield. It took Nebraska nine plays to make it 24-3, Dahrran Diedrick (32 carries, 135 yards) scoring his second touchdown.
Thats all you need to know play-by-play wise about this disaster. You have to be wondering what was Davie, Rogers and Greg Mattison thinking when they put that game plan together. Trouble is, the coaches are asking themselves the same question.
"There are some things we need to do as a coaching staff, we need to coach better," said Davie. "We had that deer in the headlights look again."
"It was just extremely disappointing," said Rogers who is still looking for his signature game calling the offensive shots. "Our quarterbacks made poor decisions and we didnt help them on the sidelines."
At least the coaching staff has the loyalty of the players. None of them would bite at the questions about preparation, or lack there of. And the assembled media asked the question in every shape and color.
"You cant pin it all on the coaches," said cornerback Shane Walton, who blocked a third quarter Nebraska punt, setting up Notre Dames only touchdown. "We didnt execute as a team."
"It wasnt the coaches fault, it was our fault," said tailback Tony Fisher, who had Notre Dames longest play, a 38-yard rush. "They put us in the position to make some plays, we just didnt make them. I thought we matched up well with Nebraska and their defense didnt do anything difficult."
After turning the ball over eight times the entire 2001 season, the Irish gave the ball to Nebraska four times on this night. NDs total net yardage was 162, a scant seven yards better than the Fiesta Bowl fiasco. Thats 317 total yards in two games on prime time national television.
"Its certainly not acceptable," said LoVecchio, who has shown a troubling lack of poise in his last two efforts. "Its not a reflection of our team, we have a bunch of guys who want to work hard. Ill take a lot of the blame for not moving the ball on offense when I was in."
How long LoVecchio will be leading the offense is in question. Davie said it was likely the sophomore would start Saturday at Purdue but quickly added "We have to do whatever necessary to turn this around."
Holiday looked and played young. He had a 17-yard run and a 13-yard completion to Javin Hunter. But Nebraskas vaunted Blackshirt defense got the best of him emotionally.
"It was a little fast at first and I had trouble getting used to it," Holiday admitted. "You get in there and you do what you can. I think Matt is still the solid starter for this team but we (number three quarterback Jared Clark, who was spared the carnage in this one) have to keep pushing him."
Nebraska, now 3-0, was not menacing beyond the games opening drive. Eric Crouch accounted for just 119 yards total offense and put the ball on the ground twice. The Cornhuskers were awful offensively in the second-half, gaining just 76 yards in six possessions while being shutout. It also had its own special teams miscue, an illegal block nullifying a 76-yard punt return TD by DeJuan Groce.
"I was disappointed with the way we played the second-half," said Nebraska coach Frank Solich. "We were satisfied with one half of football."
Apparently, that is all a quality team needs to defeat Notre Dame.
The Irish chartered back to South Bend 90 minutes after the contest, a cold rain in their faces on the tarmac. The Cornhuskers provided the cold slap of reality earlier.
"Theres not one thing leaving here you feel really comfortable knowing you can do," said Davie, clearly exasperated. "It makes me feel lousy. I thought we would be further along right now."
So did the fans.