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More To Saturday Than Just A Holiday
By F. Richard Ciccone
For The IrishEyes.Com NewsService
Maybe Carlyle Holiday is the future.
There were too many other fascinating things happening on the postcard autumn football Saturday to dwell on that.
Joe Paterno finally caught up to Bear Bryant and his 323rd victory was as exciting as Penn State football gets. In Paterno's half century of coaching, excitement has never been part of the plan. Penn State has won all those games with plays that "Joe Pa" scribbled back when Americans fretted over Vietnam not Afghanistan.
But Saturday was different.
Winless in four games against a Northwestern team that was favored to win the Big Ten, the battered Nittany Lions found a couple of kid quarterbacks to silence the critics of the coach who more than any other sideline wizard of the last half century has been what college football is supposed to be.
Penn State, like Notre Dame and Southern Cal and Alabama, has finally been toppled from the elite by the sheer competition of schools that once didn't figure.
Some say the rise of Virginia Tech as a football power has plucked some of the prize New Jersey recruits Paterno used to get with a nod. Others say that running the ball between the tackles is passé and it is when the tackles can't consistently pancake linebackers.But being old isn't necessarily the same as being bad.
There were other senior moments Saturday.
Bobby Bowden, who is going to zip by both Paterno and Bryant, regained his winning ways although the ACC that Florida State has ruthlessly dominated for more than a decade is about to get even. Besides rival Florida, Bowden still has Maryland and Georgia Tech waiting and the Seminoles could be out of the top 25 by season's end.
It was nice to see North Carolina whack Clemson where one of the Bowden kids is hoping to build a dynasty. It's a good Saturday when some of the Bowdens lose.
Lou Holtz, another of those guys who started doing his thing when another Texan, Lyndon Johnson was in the White House, won again en route to another quality bowl invitation.
Perhaps the most satisfying game of the weekend was not on Saturday.
Boise State stopped the unlikely BCS charge of Fresno State in a Friday night game. Fresno State became everyone's Cinderella with surprise wins over Colorado, Oregon State and Wisconsin. On further review, Fresno State may be running a farm team for the Oakland Raiders rather than a college program and it's comforting to know that whatever bowl the Bulldogs wind up in it won't be on New Year's Day.
And Notre Dame beat Southern Cal, which will call the dogs off Bob Davie for a week.
There is an unwritten rule than when the Irish beat the Trojans no one can say anything bad about the coach. Of course, Gerry Faust beat them five times and the Trojans who made life so miserable for the Irish in the Sixties and Seventies have been patsies ever since.
But no matter, anytime Notre Dame wins against Southern Cal it's a good week.
It's not worth wondering whether Notre Dame was good or for the third week in a row the opponent was bad. Why be picky and wonder if Notre Dame would have come alive without another stupid decision by an opponent, a punter deciding to run inside his 30-yard line.
As big, tough and fast as Holiday is, why be concerned that his biggest runs look like broken plays? The most impressive thing about Holiday Saturday was his passing. He showed he can drop back, set up and fire strikes. He did it on three crucial third down situations. Only a cynic would ask why Davie puts a kid in a situation where he has to make a perfect pass on third down.
Since Southern Cal had played opponents such as Oregon, Stanford, Kansas State and Washington so tough, it was assumed the Trojans were probably better than the Irish. But in college football, one has to wonder how tough those opponents were.
Texas A&M and Michigan State looked tough against Notre Dame but have quickly proved to be mediocre. Kansas State is not the powerhouse it has been in recent years.
As was the case last year, there is a suspicion that all the hoopla over the Pac 10's Washingtons and Oregons may be because no one sees them play that razzle dazzle late on Saturday. The Pac 10 was vindicated last year when Oregon State shredded Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl but everyone now knows that didn't mean much.
If Holiday, with all his promise, is the future, it will be exciting and scary. All those impromptu runs are not the same as giving the ball to the tailback 20 times.
Holiday is always moving in different directions and is vulnerable to big hits either pitching or passing. He will be more susceptible to injuries and fumbles.
If Carlyle Holiday is the future, will Bob Davie be part of it?
With away games at Boston College—which throttled Pitt—at Stanford—whose passing game is far more effective than anything Notre Dame has seen—at Purdue—always tough for the Irish—that idle talk about winning out seems to be a fantasy.
The Irish could easily lose three or four of the last five and that would force Kevin White to do something other than say more novenas.
But such a glorious Saturday deserves a bit more cheer. What if Abram Elam is one of those rare fellows, an Irish defensive back who keeps producing turnovers? What if the Irish defensive front has finally learned what fun it is to knock down the quarterback? What if Carlyle Holiday keeps running and stops fumbling. What if he throws the ball more on first down?
It could be the worst of all worlds because a strong Irish finish will mean a mediocre but promising season. For the last five years that promise seems to disappear every September.
(F. Richard Ciccone, Notre Dame '61, is an author and former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, whose most recent book is "Royko: A Life In Print." He is a contributor to IrishEyes).