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Davie, Goblins Haunt Irish
By F. Richard Ciccone
For The IrishEyes.Com NewsService
Bob Davie should forbid any of his football players from trick-or-treating on Halloween. The other kids would probably steal their bags.
The Irish don't play well at night, although it could be argued they don't do well in the sunshine either.
This was the third night venue of 2001 beginning with the disaster in the Fiesta Bowl and the embarrassment at Lincoln. Their last nocturnal success was in Hawaii back in 1997, and that was hardly an awe-inspiring win against one of the worst Division 1 college teams ever assembled....short of the 2001 Navy squad.
Speaking of Navy, the Middies gave Toledo a real battle so Davie may have as much trouble getting his fourth win this year as Joe Paterno did getting his 324th. There isn't much doubt that Tennessee next week and Stanford and Purdue on the road are not likely successes for this band of goblins.
No one can say Notre Dame didn't play to form on Saturday night.
They went in four-point underdogs and came out four-point losers. And they played just the way they have played for the Davie tenure, the victims of mistakes, leaky pass coverage and an offensive attack that depends on the performance of one player.
Carlyle Holiday is a gifted athlete. And he is going to be at Notre Dame three more years which may not be the case for Davie. But Holiday isn't likely to bring a national title or even lofty rankings to Notre Dame as long as he plays in the same offensive scheme created for Jarious Jackson and Matt LoVecchio.
The offense is totally dependent on Holiday running what everyone calls an option but is really Holiday dancing down the line deciding whether to run over or around someone.
It works pretty well. What works much better is when Holiday drops back to pass and then finds an open running lane. That is the scheme that Randy Walker employs at Northwestern to let Zak Kustok, who should be starting at Notre Dame, run for critical yards without risking an injury or having to occasionally make an awkward pitch to a running back who is likely to drop the ball as Julius Jones seems to do.
Jones is another of Davie's enigmas. The Irish insist on sending Jones into the middle where once or twice a season he breaks a big play. But Jones, who is quick enough on the outside, always seems to be a step slow getting to the hole and doesn't really have the kind of force that Tony Fisher does and certainly is not in the same class as Boston College's William Green.
It would be to simple to just let Jones take a short toss and run a sweep. Davie and Kevin Rogers like to keep it complicated. Since the trailer on what Notre Dame calls the option rarely gets a toss, it's no wonder they fumble out of surprise when the ball floats toward them.
Notre Dame could have had two touchdowns on two different surprise plays that were perfectly plotted. Is it Davie's fault that his flankers and running backs don't throw any better than his quarterbacks? Probably not, but Davie and Rogers have to answer for the inexplicable play calling that bogged down the Notre Dame offense on four different drives near the Boston College 20-yard line.
After Holiday put up two scores with scrambling pass plays, Notre Dame reverted to that inside game that doesn't work against the nine-man fronts that are ready for it. It is as though Davie thinks whatever Holiday wants to do between the 20's is just fine but he can't be trusted in the red zone.
None of it matters. Holiday can be exciting and he might put points on the board but no team can win consistently with a game plan that depends on a quarterback running for 150 yards on broken plays.
And the final minutes of the BC game pointed to a huge weakness in that scheme.What happens to the game plan when Holiday is injured, as he surely will be running the ball 20-25 times a game?
It was evident. Neither LoVecchio nor the team had a clue as to what they were doing on the last-gasp Irish drive.
As the fifth year of the Davie era grinds to another disappointment, it is worth pondering whether Davie has an offensive philosophy.
One of the first things he did upon grabbing the Notre Dame job was to convince the hapless Ron Powlus to return for another year. Surely that did not indicate Davie wanted his brand of option game with the quarterback carrying the ball half the time.
Davie may have thought he could just copy the Lou Holtz strategy which worked brilliantly until Holtz ran out of talent. Holtz only threw the ball a dozen or so times a game, a prospect Davie seems to welcome, but he did not ask his quarterbacks to run every down.
Holtz not only had better offensive lines and running backs than Davie has employed, he also used something called the fullback to keep opponents guessing. There were Anthony Johnson and Rodney Culver and Jerome Bettis and Ray Zellars and Marc Edwards, all who played on Sunday.
Holtz sent a half dozen tight ends to the NFL primarily because they all caught a few passes in the end zone at Notre Dame. Davie doesn't let fullbacks run or tight ends catch.
Davie doesn't whine much about the talent gap at Notre Dame as he did in his first two years when he was stuck with Holtz leftovers. These are all his recruits and maybe, privately, he thinks he is overmatched when he has to face Nebraska and Tennessee where the talent pool is deep and unrestricted by academic standards.
But the squad Boston College put on the field Saturday is not more talented than Notre Dame. And the mid-season play of Michigan State and Texas A&M indicates they are not in the same league with the Floridas. And even the seemingly good teams aren't that good.
Certainly a few great players at the skill positions can make the difference between a 10-1 team and an 8-3 team. But how do you explain 4-7?
On a day when Paul "Bear" Bryant's record for the most wins was finally passed by Paterno, it is worth remembering what one coaching rival said about Bryant that is probably the highest compliment any coach could receive: "He can take his'n and beat your'n. Then he can take your'n and beat his'n."
All the Irish really want is for Bob Davie to beat somebody with his'n.
(F. Richard Ciccone, Notre Dame '61, is former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune and a noted author whose most recent work is "Royko: A Life In Print." He is a regular contributor to IrishEyes.)