Rain Brings Out Courage in Davie, Irish

A cleansing rain came across Notre Dame Stadium, and the football program, Saturday afternoon. The Irish rushed against West Virginia like a team determined to turn its season around. Was that a rainbow that was spotted following the victory? IrishEyes contributor Tim Casey has the report from on campus.

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October 13, 2001

Rain Washes Away
September Memories

By Tim Casey
For The IrishEyes.Com News Service

NOTRE DAME, Ind. (IE) – Maybe all it took was some rain to wash away the harsh veneer of this Notre Dame football season.

Today against West Virginia, Notre Dame became a smash-mouth football team again. Using the elements to its favor and receiving clutch performances from its "difference-making" athletes, the Irish upended the pesky Mountaineers, 34-24.

It was the first truly entertaining Irish football game of the season. It had its quirks, it had its flaws, but it also had its promise. Maybe the season has some hope after all.

"It was a bizarre game," said head coach Bob Davie, but it was also a thing of beauty in the sense that Notre Dame ran the football like, well, Notre Dame of the past. The Irish were so effective on the ground that they even extricated Davie from his conservative shell.

Two minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Irish facing fourth and one on their own 33, the game tied 24-24. Surely this was a place where Davie would play it safe. That’s his style normally.

Instead, the embattled head coach became a risk taker, and it paid off. Tony Fisher responded, gaining two yards for the first down, and 12 plays later, Nick Setta connected on a 42-yard field goal, giving the Irish a lead they would never relinquish.

Notre Dame entered as a team that, in its first four games, averaged just 11.8 points and 238 yards total offense per contest. Both of those statistics put them in the same neighborhood as Buffalo, Navy and Rutgers in the NCAA offensive rankings.

There was nothing rank about this offense today.

The Irish running game came alive in muddy, rainy, windy conditions. Carlyle Holiday (139 yards), Fisher (129 yards), and Julius Jones (92 yards) all made the West Virginia defense look like its usual self. Entering the game, the Mountaineers allowed over 225 rushing yards per game. Granted, they faced two of the nation’s top backs in Boston College’s William Green and Maryland’s Bruce Perry, but even Ohio (without the State) and Kent both rushed for more than 175 yards against them earlier this season.

Besides the gaudy statistics, the running game also helped the Irish, now 2-3, control the ball for nearly 40 minutes. So successful was Notre Dame’s running game that the Irish rushed the ball on 27 of 30 snaps in two second-half scoring drives.

"If our offense doesn’t have those long, time-consuming drives I’m not sure we could have won the football game, based on how we played on defense," Davie said.

Notre Dame’s defense was dented badly by 2-4 West Virginia, but it was a defensive play from a little known fifth-year senior that sparked the Irish. With 7:41 left in the game, West Virginia quarterback Brad Lewis (9-of-23 for 91 yards and two touchdowns) was intercepted by Justin Smith. Smith, who graduated in May with a computer engineering degree, returned the ball to the 45-yard line. On the next play, Fisher ran 55 yards for the game’s final score.

Whereas Lewis struggled most of the afternoon, running back Avon Cobourne had another solid performance. The junior ran for 169 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown, but he had 109 of his yards in the first quarter.

"That little joker was fast," Smith said. "And he was hard to bring down."

For most of the game, the Mountaineers employed 3 or 4-receiver sets and ran out of the shotgun with no huddle. It was an offensive game plan that the Irish have not faced all year.

"These guys come in where they’re like ‘Spot the ball, spot the ball, we want to get 100 snaps in a game’," linebacker Courtney Watson said. "When you’re playing against that, it’s hard, especially with substitutions. At the beginning it was very hard but as the game went on, we had no problem."

In the post-game news conference, Davie was surprised when he noticed the Mountaineers gained only 270 total yards.

"Is that accurate?" Davie said. "That seems like a misprint to me. It seemed to me like they were running up and down the field on us."

After the game, Davie was asked about new-found confidence in the offense.

"We’re not real conservative," Davie said. "It all kind of ties together now that we’re playing a little bit better, we’re ahead in games. We’ve done a lot of things over the last few years, it’s just that we’ve been behind so much. Certainly when you’re ahead you can take advantage of some things."

After an 0-3 start, Notre Dame’s recent October heroics continue. And the coaches are going to savor a victory.

Any victory.

"I really believe in my heart that any Division One win is a good win," offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers said. "They’ve got 85 scholarship football players on that side of the field, too."

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