Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com
October 20, 2001
ENJOY IT: WATCH HOLIDAY PLAY
By The IrishEyes.Com NewsService
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (IE) – Winning is great, isn't it!
As the Irish wrapped up its 27-16 victory over a curiouser and curiouser USC team on Saturday, athletic director Kevin White stood near the north goal post taking high fives and congratulatory hand shakes from athletic department members, the coaching staff and just about anyone who passed him.
The students, some of whom earlier wore T-shirts that read, "We Drink Because We Suck," now chanted over and over: "This is our house! This is our house!" And there was no problem this time with the players making their way over to the student section and lofting their helmets in the traditional post-game salute.
All this was in stark contrast to four weeks ago when Bob Davie and his Irish were sinking to the bottom, enroute to becoming the first Notre Dame team to start 0-3 with its second loss of the season to Michigan State.
Then, the tight grimace on White's face looked like he was trying to pass a bowling ball; and David Givens, as captain, had to remind those same teammates to go through the helmet-saluting ritual while many of them demurred.
This time, it was no sweat. Even Davie, who did not speak at the pep rally Friday night, hurled a hearty wave to the student section as he ran off the field and into the tunnel.
In short, the post-game atmosphere after this one made it seem like old times, as if the Irish were on track for a national championship instead of playing for a modicum of respect and, as some of them acknowledged, to save Davie's job.
In the unabashed jubilation of the moment it was easy to forget Davie's Irish had climbed to only 3-3 and that they did it beating teams the last three weeks that are now a collective 5-14.
So what, Irish fans? Enjoy what this game showed and promises: the continued development of Carlyle Holiday who, barring injury and more coaching foul-ups. is on his way to emerging some day, (not this season or maybe even next, but certainly some day) , as one of the most dominant quarterbacks in college football.
Notwithstanding the fact that Holiday almost lost this one with three fumbles that gave USC two scores for nine points and stopped cold a Notre Dame drive at the USC two, it is unmistakable that Holiday was Saturday's hero and has become ND's offensive engine.
He threw only 12 times but completed nine of them, including three third and long plays that led to a score or kept drives alive. And even though the Irish squandered the opportunity with foolish penalties, he hit Javin Hunter on Holiday's longest pass completion of his young career, 42 yards in perfect stride down to the USC 1.
Holiday just missed becoming the first Notre Dame quarterback to rush for 100 yards in three straight games, and his 98 net yards included a 43-yard quarterback draw that set up Nicholas Setta's 38 yard field goal and a 3-0 lead, and a 35-yard option run that sliced through would be tacklers and gave the Irish a 17-16 lead in the second half.
Davie said Holiday's miscues "almost put a dagger in us," but there is no question that Holiday is the quarterback of the here and now and the future.
"You can see he can throw the ball and he's definitely a weapon running the ball," said Davie. "He's really a dynamic guy," said offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers. "I hope he continues to build his confidence and understand how good he can be."
As exciting as Holiday is when he's good, the Irish and Davie almost blew this one to a USC team that is 2-5 and playing without its world class speedster Sultan McCullough at tailback and instead used a backup fullback named Sunny Byrd who braced the Irish defense for 48 yards in the first half.
The Trojans took a 7-3 lead when onetime Irish recruit Carson Palmer escaped what looked like a sure sack and lofted what looked like a sure interception but instead was caught by Chad Pierson, another fullback, who lumbered into the end zone for a 54-yard touchdown completion.
Victimized on the play was Vontez Duff, who mis-timed his leap and missed the INT.
USC made it 13-3 after recovering Holiday's first fumble at the Notre Dame 20. On the possession change, USC lined up without a huddle and Palmer hit Keary Colbert in the end zone while the Irish defense was still watching Davie signal in a play from the sidelines. Remarkably, the Irish had no established defense on the play, which was run while the defense was either still in or just emerging from its huddle.
As he has for other coaching miscues this season and past, Davie took the blame for this one, too.
"It was my fault," Davie said in his post-game news conference. "They (USC) actually had a different personnel grouping in there and I tried to make the perfect call, instead of just making a call and the kids got hung up in there.
"It's embarrassing. It shouldn't have happened."
USC missed the extra point, which proved crucial after the Irish went ahead 20-16 with 2:43 left on Setta's 29 –yard field because it meant that the Trojans needed to march the field for a TD in the final 2:43 which led to desperate play and a Duff interception of Palmer that led to the final Irish score and 27-16 margin.
Actually, the Trojans had the best of the Irish most of the first half, and appeared to be coasting until they self-destructed on a poor choice by their punter, Mike MacGillivray. On fourth down and four yards to go on the USC 28, MacGillivray thought he saw a hole in the Irish punt coverage and decided to fake the punt and run.
Fortunately, for the Irish Shane Walton sniffed it out, came across from the far side into the backfield and dumped MacGillivray for no gain.
"I thought I could get the first down so I went for it," said MacGillivray. "It's a decision to make at that moment, so I decided to go with it. It looked wide open but the corner came up and made a play, and it didn't work out."
For the Trojans, that is.
The Irish moved the 28 yards, despite a fumble by David Givens which he recovered at the USC four. Terrance Howard rushed it in from there to help the Irish close the gap to 13-10 before halftime.
It was one of two signature plays by Walton.
After Holiday's second fumble, USC used the notorious slant-pass-against-the-Davie-blitz play (made so by Michigan State and other copycat opponents) for 29 yards down to the Irish one.
A stout goal-line stand was aided by Walton who on third down, knifed through the line, got an arm around the running back Byrd, who was then tackled by Tyreo Harrison and Duff for no gain. USC had to settle for a field goal and a 16-10 lead.
Holiday then led the 71-yard Irish drive with the two big, third-down completions and the 35-yard TD run that gave the Irish the lead for good near the end of the third quarter.
Even though the Irish then drove 66 yards, Holiday's fumble at the USC 2 ended that threat without any points.
On the following USC series, Abram Elam intercepted Palmer and a USC personal foul had the Irish starting at the USC 19. The Irish moved backwards. Three plays l