Irish Looking to Pass Mid-Term Character Test

Bob Davie brought himself back to a more pleasant place yesterday, a bus trip down a California freeway when the Notre Dame coach was high on victory and headed toward a major Bowl and a contract extension. That was the 2000 USC trip and now the 2001 Trojan game has dawned dark and uncertain. IrishEyes has the report here.

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October 17, 2001

Only Past Glories
For Davie, Rivalry

By The IrishEyes.Com News Service

NOTRE DAME, Ind. (IE) -- Bob Davie Tuesday related what was probably his happiest time as Notre Dame football coach -- the afterglow of last season’s 38-21 victory over USC at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

"I’m sitting on that bus back to Pasadena after we won that game, after we got to nine wins, with my son Clay," Davie said. "And then you think of the contrast of getting in your car and going out to Granger (Davie’s suburban home) after a game.

"It’s such a contrast. It’s such a neat rivalry."

There is indeed a contrast that applies here. A dramatic "then and now" contrast.

When Davie sat on that bus with his son last November 25, Notre Dame had just clinched a Fiesta Bowl berth its win over USC. The Irish moved into the No. 10 spot in the rankings the next day and, within two weeks, Athletic Director Dr. Kevin White rewarded Davie with a contract extension through the year 2005.

How things have changed. The Irish lost by 32 points in the Fiesta Bowl to Oregon State and lost their first three games of this season. That was followed by flawed home victories over second-tier Big East opponents.

And now South Bend Tribune columnist David Haugh has written a piece that has Joe Theismann trashing Davie and Oakland Raiders’ coach Jon Gruden expressing his love for Notre Dame and northern Indiana. ESPN is reporting that Gruden would be Notre Dame’s "first choice" if a change were made.

Davie has almost made the decision for Dr. White, questioning his own preparation for the Nebraska and Texas A&M losses. The Irish continue to be a vanilla team on offense, running on first down 48 of the last 49 possessions. If not for the outstanding play of four players – quarterback Carlyle Holiday, defensive end Anthony Weaver, tailback Tony Fisher and kicker Nick Setta – there’s a real chance the Irish would be 0-5 right now.

Now Notre Dame and USC are set to meet for the 73rd time and expectations couldn’t be lower. The Trojans are struggling at 2-4 under their own questionable choice of head coach, Pete Carroll. Sports Illustrated coined this match-up "The most overrated rivalry" in college football. Technically, that’s inaccurate. It’s a dated observation. There’s been no sizzle in this game since, at best, 1996. The last time IrishEyes had its pulse quickened by this game came in 1995 when the Irish blasted the No. 5 ranked Keyshawn Johnson-led Trojans, 38-10, in South Bend. The last time both teams were ranked in the Top 10 was 1989.

This rivalry has turned out to be a burial ground for coaches in recent years. The last vision we have of Lou Holtz on the Irish sidelines came with his head buried in his hands following the 27-20 overtime loss in 1996. USC has fired John Robinson and Paul Hackett in the last four seasons and Carroll is already drawing the ire of LA fans.

There isn’t a lot on the line here. USC can only afford one more loss before becoming ineligible for a Bowl. Notre Dame probably needs to sweep its remaining seven games to earn consideration for the Gator Bowl, against either a Maryland, Georgia Tech or even Florida State. Big deal.

Davie is realistic. He knows the biggest thing on the line is pride and he applauds his team for approaching the game with the same vigor it would a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown.

"I’m proud of the way our team is showing confidence and working to get better," Davie said. "In this profession, you really appreciate strong people, and you really appreciate character, and you really appreciate people that know what competition is all about. That’s what we’re doing. We take that tape every week and see what our strengths are, what our weaknesses are. I appreciate the sincerity and character of our guys."

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THE NOTEBOOK: It’s mid-term exam week at Notre Dame, which means the Irish will have to deal with mental exhaustion on the field Saturday. "Academics mount up on these kids," said Davie. "This is a very demanding week."………Julius Jones and Fisher have been extremely limited in practice this week but are expected to go Saturday. Safety Ron Israel is out…….Carroll feels Notre Dame’s secondary is "the toughest we’ll face this year." That says volumes about the performance of Irish players like Vontez Duff, Justin Smith and Abe Elam, who have filled in the voids left by the injuries to Clifford Jefferson, Gerome Sapp and Glenn Earl and the early defection to the NFL by Brock Williams…….Carroll and Davie have one statistical oddity in common. Their most convincing (margin of victory) collegiate head coaching victory came by the exact same final score against the same team – Arizona State, 48-17 (Davie in 1999, Carroll last week).

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