Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com
September 22, 2001
Horrible, Miserable Loss Leaves Players Feeling the Same
By The IrishEyes.Com NewsService
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (IE)—Kurt Vollers, the big fifth-year senior who has never beaten Michigan State, said he felt "horrible, just miserable."
Vontez Duff, the sophomore cornerback who learned some crucial lessons the hard way, said he feels the same way as the older guys.
It was not fun Saturday—for the players, the coaches and, certainly, the fans who broke out in booing when a fake field goal on a fourth-and six failed miserably and snuffed out the last chance for Bob Davie's Irish to catch up with a Spartans team that took care of Notre Dame handily on its home turf, 17-10.
Everybody knows it marks only the second time in Irish history that any football team has beaten Notre Dame five times in a row—the only other time was USC between 1978 and 1982. But that isn't the ignominy of the loss.
Bob Davie, who hasn't beaten MSU at all during his tenure as head coach, has repeatedly said this team is his most talented. If it is, only he and his assistants can accept the blame. With a visit next week to 3-0 Texas A&M, the Irish can easily start 0-3, headed for oblivion again.
"I still believe in this football team and I believe in this coaching staff," said Davie, who added he understands the fans' frustration in booing. "We got ourselves in this hole, we have to dig ourselves out of this hole. We're a talented team, but we play a lot of talented teams."
The offense was anemic on Saturday.
Even without David Givens, who didn't play his usual role because of a quadriceps strain, and Arnaz Battle, who left early with a broken fibula, the Irish should be expected to roll up more than 280 yards and score more than three points.
Yes, even Davie said the only touchdown the Irish scored—in the waning seconds of the first half—was really a feat of the special teams, Julius Jones' 53-yard punt return to MSU's six. On the next play, a scrambling Matt LoVecchio hit Javin Hunter in the end zone for a 10-10 tie with seven seconds before the half.
That was as good as it got for the Irish, who gained only 40 yards in the third quarter. Hell, even Central Michigan rolled up 21 points and 287 yards in their loss to Michigan State in the both teams' opener.
Michigan State went ahead midway in the fourth quarter on a play eerily similar to the one which the Spartans used to beat Davie last season in the final seconds.
Last year the hookup on the slant was from QB Jeff Smoker to flanker Herb Haygood with Tony Driver getting beat and Ron Israel slipping for that crucial second. This time, Ryan Van Dyke hooked up with Charles Rogers on a third and six. Rogers easily picked up the first down but then Duff failed to wrap him up and he went all the way, 47 yards for the go-ahead and winning score.
Like last year, the Irish were in a blitz. Davie had said earlier in the week that his defensive call last year in the MSU game still haunts him and if he had to do it over, he maybe wouldn't be in a blitz. This time, he said the situation was different because more than seven minutes still remained in the game.
"It was a little bit different because we had time left in the game. I knew we'd have an opportunity to come back and win," Davie said. "It entered my mind that it was a similar situation. We missed a tackle but with the time left in the game, [I was thinking] how were we going to win this football game rather than reminiscent of last year."
The way the Irish played, there was no way they were going to win.
In their last gasp, they moved from their own 35 to the Michigan State 17. On third and six, Lovecchio's pass was incomplete to Javin Hunter. On fourth and six, Davie brought in Nick Setta. Holder Adam Tibble handed the snap off to Setta who was smeared by linebacker Mike Labinjo for a loss of three yards, and all hope.
Davie said the fake field goal was his call and given the way his offense was sputtering, it gave the Irish the best chance to tie 17-17.
"We had something that we had gone back and researched the last two years," he said of the fake kick. "We thought it was there, but we didn't execute. I made the call. I thought particularly the way we were executing on offense at that point, it really gave us just a good opportunity to convert the first down."
Davie bemoaned the lack of explosiveness on offense. LoVecchio was 12 of 22 with one interception in the waning seconds for 119 yards. Givens, who didn't play except to execute a pass late in the game on an option play, was 0-1 throwing and Carlyle Holiday was 1-1 for five yards.
"When you're not real explosive, you really have to execute," Davie said. "There's no margin for error and that's the kind of team we are right now."
"It's definitely not a good feeling," LoVecchio said of the loss. "I don't even know what to say right now. "
"Something wasn't right. I don't know what it is," said Jones, who carried 13 times for 62 yards.
Only once did the Irish offense really seem to be in a rhythm. Down 3-0, Tony Fisher rushed three straight times for 11, 13 and 15 yards. LoVecchio hit Hunter for 14 yards to the Michigan State 30 and Fisher tore off another run for 15 yards.
There, the Irish stalled and Nick Setta settled for a 43-yard field goal, the second longest of his career to tie the score 3-3.
Despite the rhythm of the offensive line in that 11 play, 54-yard drive, on the next Irish possession Davie inserted Holiday at quarterback; and the play calling changed from power up the middle to quarterback draws and option. It was Holiday's only appearance in the game, and he finished seven net yards on four carries.
Holiday was circumspect about the play-calling, but it's pretty clear he doesn't like a part-time role.
"It's hard," he said. "It takes a while to get warmed up and you don't' have that much time."
The Irish still have nine games to turn things around. Given their uneven performance so far, it's uncertain if they will.
"We know we're a good team," said Fisher. "And there's no better place to start showing it than on the road. It's kind of hard to say what our problem is. We just got to go out there and get focused and not get embarrassed."
Like they did on Saturday.