Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com™
October 6, 2001
QB Combo Saves
By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service
NOTRE DAME, Ind., Oct. 6, 2001 (IE) – After Notre Dame was jilted by hot quarterback prospect C.J. Leak on Signing Day in 1999, Bob Davie and his coaching staff seemingly overcompensated during the 2000 recruiting period. When the fax machine stopped ringing with the commitments that year, the Irish had recruited no less than four hot-shot signal-callers.
That personnel decision has contributed mightily to the mess the Irish are in right now. But, on this day under the Dome, two of that QB Class of 2000 came through in a setting that can accurately be described as "desperate."
With numerous fans wearing "Dump Davie" sweatshirts and even the student section chanting "Lou, Lou" during the 1812 Overture, Carlyle Holiday provided an offensive spark and Abram Elam came up with two difference-making defensive plays as the 1-3 Irish snapped a three-game losing streak with a 24-7 victory over 1-3 Pittsburgh.
"I never dreamed I would be part of an 0-3 Notre Dame football team," said Elam. "But we're not 0-3 any longer and we'll never be again. This is a fresh start."
Holiday, Elam, Matt LoVecchio and Jared Clark were the four quarterbacks who signed with the Irish in February 2000. "Oh yeah, I wanted to be a quarterback, no doubt," said Elam. "That's how I was recruited."
But the coaching staff quickly realized in pre-season drills Elam would not factor into the signal-calling mix, especially with Arnaz Battle in the mix. He was moved to strong safety.
With Ron Israel sidelined for the Pittsburgh game, Elam got an extended look and came through. He intercepted a David Priestly first-quarter pass to give the Irish a field position edge that ultimately led to the game's first touchdown. Then he recovered a freak fumble by Pittsburgh wide receiver R.J. English at the Notre Dame one late in the third quarter, the Irish clinging to a 10-7 lead.
English was seemingly sailing into the end-zone with a 26-yard touchdown reception when, inexplicably even to Elam, he just lost the handle on the ball. The ball popped in the air and the closing Elam cradled it.
"I forgot about the fundamentals and didn't tuck the ball away," said English, who entered as Pittsburgh's leading receiver with 14 receptions.
"I don't think I was going to get him, it was a touchdown," said Elam. "But then the ball was in the air. Coach Davie has been telling us all week to swarm to the ball, go after the ball. I did that and it worked out."
"Unbelievable," is how Davie described the play, quickly adding, "But you know what? We deserved it. All this football team has been through."
Having done his part, Elam watched his fellow QB recruit, Holiday, turn the game around. On the second play following the English fumble, Tony Fisher popped off the longest Irish run of the year – 28 yards to the Pittsburgh 30. Two plays after that, Holiday brought genuine excitement to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time this season with a tackler-shedding 67-yard touchdown run off the option.
"It felt like the play of my life," said Holiday. "I felt like it was a big lift for me, this football team and the community. And it felt like a first step in building my career here."
What Notre Dame is building right now could be described as a starter home rather than a national championship dream house. The Irish victory was fueled by five Pittsburgh turnovers, and all were unforced. The 1-3 Panthers did not run the ball particularly well (81 yards on 26 carries) and juggled their quarterbacks with head-scratching irregularity. It was nice to see another team in Blue and Gold with an identity crisis and a struggling head coach.
"It's pretty simple to see what type of plan we have to have to win a football game," said Davie. "This is the first time we have been able to follow the plan. There's not much margin for error for us."
Notre Dame's plan on this windy day was conservative, and effective. The Irish rushed for a season-high 249 yards on 57 carries. Holiday, in his second start, had a career-best 122 yards rushing and also connected on 10-of-13 safe passes for 70 yards. Notre Dame had a whopping 15-minute edge in time of possession and NBC has a load of make-good time coming to its advertisers. The game was over in a speedy two hours and 48 minutes.
"It was by design," offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers said. "It was batten down the hatches and build our confidence a bit. But you won't grow in confidence until you score some touchdowns and today we were able to get into the end-zone.
"Still," Rogers admitted. "We had glitches. Lots of them. Carlyle's touchdown run wasn't particularly well blocked. The kid did it all himself."
Julius Jones (25 carries, 69 yards) scored the first and last Irish touchdowns on runs of five and one yard. The first ended a 52-yard drive and gave the hosts a 7-0 lead, their first advantage since the USC game last November 25.
But even that lead only lasted one series. Pittsburgh's brilliant wide receiver Antonio Bryant tied things up with a 32-yard scoring pass on a play where Notre Dame only had 10 players on the field.
How many times can this happen? Davie had an explanation.
"We were in dime defense and in the dime, we have a situation where Glenn Earl and Donald Dykes are both in there, and one is free safety and one is dime," Davie said. "Donald actually lined up as safety instead of dime where he should have been, and when Glenn saw that he came off the field."
It was 7-7 at the half and Nick Setta gave the plodding Irish a 10-7 lead with a third-quarter 40-yard field goal into the wind. That set up the Elam/Holiday heroics.
"This is a pretty significant win," said Davie. "It's not near as big for me as it is for those kids in the locker-room. These kids have done everything we have asked, we got some tremendous kids, I'm so proud of them.
"I realize a lot of people thought we were a lousy football team, I realize a lot of people gave up on us," said Davie. "All that matters is that these kids did not give up on themselves."
It's a start.