Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™
November 3, 2001
When Will ND Rejoice?
By Alan Tieuli
ForThe IrishEyes NewsService
NOTRE DAME, IN (IE) – While writing this, we peeked at the television in the Notre Dame Stadium press box. Michigan State fans were hurtling over the barriers at Spartan Stadium to celebrate a last-play victory over Michigan. It was bedlam, college football at its passionate best.
We couldn't help but think ‘When was the last time we saw that in South Bend? And when will we again?'
There was the opportunity for a Notre Dame moment today against Tennessee, but it didn't happen. Again. But you can't blame Bob Davie for this one.
Notre Dame put forth one of its best efforts of this star-crossed 2001 football season, but came up short versus seventh-ranked Tennessee because its skill players simply couldn't hold onto the ball.
If a game ever defined the limitations of coaching, it was this one. Davie and his staff had an outstanding offensive game plan, the Irish executed it well, but still lost, 28-18, to 6-1 Tennessee.
It should have been different.
The 3-5 Irish – one more loss from Bowl elimination – held a 198-101 yardage and 19:55-10:05 time of possession edge in the first-half, but trailed. Quarterback Carlyle Holiday botched a pitch and then took a sack, eliminating the chance for a field goal from automatic Nick Setta. Then Arnaz Battle, at the end of a well-executed flanker reverse, fumbled at the Tennessee-one. On the very next possession, true freshman Ryan Grant was stripped by Volunteer Julian Battle who athletically kept his feet, secured the bouncing ball, and raced 81 yards for a touchdown.
Instead of 17-0 or more, it was 7-0 Tennessee. The Irish cut it to 7-3 by the half and even took a 10-7 lead in the third quarter on an touchdown interception return by the outstanding Courtney Watson, but the damage was done.
Notre Dame had Tennessee on the ropes early, had a chance to get a skeptical sell-out crowd behind it, but couldn't. And when the Volunteers got going in the second-half offensively, the Irish looked slow and predictable.
Tennessee – legitimately a national championship contender with athletes outside and concrete blocks between the tackles – took the lead for good with a 12-play, 80-yard third quarter drive that culminated with a three-yard Travis Stephens touchdown run.
A 17-yard touchdown pass from Volunteer QB Casey Clausen (a recruit who got away) to Donté Stallworth increased the margin to 21-10 before the quarter ended and it looked like a rout might be on.
But Davie and Kevin Rogers did have enough polish in their plans to keep Tennessee back-pedaling on defense. With David Givens (nine catches, 99 yards) making key catches and Tony Fisher (11 carries, 40 yards) running hard, the Irish crawled to within 21-16 with 8:04 left on a one-yard Fisher TD run. The gap was closed to three when Holiday hit a two-point conversion shovel pass to Fisher.
Davie even won over a good portion of the Stadium with a gutsy fourth-and-three call on the drive. Well within field goal range, Davie instead chose to go for the first and was rewarded when Holiday hit Givens with a sharp first-down pass.
Notre Dame legitimately had a shot to win when it held Tennessee on downs and got the ball back on its own 25 with 3:20 to play. But the dreams were shot within two plays. Holiday – who has a great future but is not the favorite of Irish fans with high blood pressure – took a sack on first down and then threw a deflected interception on second down.
It was over two minutes later when Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer pulled his own fourth-down magic. Rather than kick a field goal on fourth and goal from the two, with 35 seconds left, Fulmer went for the kill. He was rewarded when Clausen bootlegged around right-end for a two-yard touchdown run.
The scream you heard when Clausen crossed the goal-line was one of delight from the sports books in Las Vegas. Tennessee was an eight and one-half point favorite, the line moving up all week after opening at seven.
Tennessee is now 61-3 in November dating back to the mid-1980's. Fulmer is an incredible 90-19 as a head coach.
Davie, 33-24 in his beleaguered tenure, almost certainly has just one home game left in his Notre Dame tenure – two weeks from today versus Navy. There has been no public support for Davie within the administration, and IrishEyes has noted a strong sense of resignation from the head coach ever since the Texas A&M loss. (This has been well-chronicled in IrishEyes, from Davie's "There is nothing I can say to win you over" comment at the Pittsburgh Pep Rally, to his "Well, at least we can be spoilers" comment this week.)
But, at least on this day, it was not Davie's fault. He deserved better. His skill players let him down.
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