Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com®
November 3, 2001
Freshman Grant, Senior Givens In Spotlight; Latest on Gruden
By Matt Tognarelli
For The IrishEyes.Com NewsService
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (IE) – Freshman Ryan Grant has caught the coaches' eyes for some time now.
Back in August when Bob Davie was asked which freshmen had a chance to contribute in their rookie season, Grant, the New Jersey state player of the year according to USA Today, was among the first names mentioned. Davie said he's big, strong and fast—just what you'd like in a running back.
Grant got on the field a couple of games ago, but had only one carry coming into Saturday's game against Tennessee. Then, he got his chance.
Midway in the second quarter with Notre Dame dominating Tennessee on both offense, defense and in time of possession, Grant started an Irish series instead of Julius Jones or Tony Fisher.
On his first carry, he went nine yards to the Tennessee 35. He picked up another yard on a second straight carry; then rushed for six and nine more yards after a Carlyle Holiday incompletion.
Four carries for 25 yards, and the kid looked good doing it, too. He showed some strength, vision and cutback ability; but then disaster struck. On first and 10 on the Tennessee 12, Grant got a handoff, headed left and was hit and stripped by Julian Battle.
The ball took a huge bounce upfield, was scooped up by Julian Battle who went untouched 81 yards for a 7-0 Tennessee lead. Grant grabbed his helmet in disbelief, and paused on the field. Before he made his way off it, Jones ran towards him to console him. On the sideline, one of the first to meet him was tackle Kurt Vollers to offer encouragement. Running backs coach Desmond Robinson gave him a consoling tap on the hip.
"Things happen for a reason," Grant said as he gathered himself for reporters after the game. "I was to run as hard as possible and I fumbled. It's over with, but you still dwell on it. I just have to stay focused and work as hard as possible."
It was a true momentum buster for the Irish, who had squandered two earlier opportunities in the red zone with an Arnaz Battle fumble at the Tennessee one, and recovered fumble by Holiday and a sack pushing the Irish back out of field goal range.
In answer to a question from an aggressive reporter, offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers defended using Grant in an important series; and Rogers referred again to the injuries and what-not which have affected Fisher and Jones since training camp.
"The kid deserves a chance to play," Rogers told reporters. "We have guys that have not practiced essentially since last spring. His red-shirt year has been used and he's going to play.
"We told him he was going to play. If you look at it before the fumble, the kid was running the ball pretty damn good."
Grant never got another chance after the fumble, and Davie kind of dodged a question as to why. He described the fumble occurring as "a young freshman tailback [was] fighting for extra yards."
"He'll get his opportunities," Davie said. "I think it's exciting when you look at Carlyle Holiday and also look at Ryan Grant. I think we've got some guys that can be special."
Davie's right. The cupboard won't be bare for his succesor.
GIVENS A WARRIOR: David Givens had a career day Saturday, and you have to wonder what could have been. NBC TV color analyst Pat Haden opined on the air whether Givens and his family may think he has been under-utilized in his career.
This year, he's a mainstay on special teams, is a key back out of the wishbone and, on Saturday, was Holiday's favorite receiver, catching nine passes for 99 yards—several of them in critical, third-down situations.
Yet, on Thursday, Givens was in the infirmary with a bout of stomach flu. Rogers called him a "real warrior."
The offensive coordinator used a bit different formation to get him in the flow on pass patterns. It looked like a triple I formation with Givens going into motion either left or right. The Irish ran the option off it, or hit Givens slanting over the middle.
"I played my heart out and I played as hard as I could out there today," Givens said. " That was the mentality everyone had coming into today's game."
NFL scouts were in attendance. Their read on Givens: a good receiver with strong hands but worried a bit about his top-end speed. Nevertheless, we think Givens will be a player on Sundays, either at flanker and he can probably play at safety.
Given's previous highs were 86 yards against Purdue in 2000 and seven receptions against Nebraska in this year's opener. His 99 yards were the most by an Irish receiver since Joey Getherall had 116 on four receptions against Air Force in 2000. His nine receptions were the most by an Irish receiver since Bobby Brown had 12 against Pittsburgh in 1999.
POOCH PUNTS: All-America lineman Aaron Taylor stopped by the IrishEyes seats on press row during the game, to say hi to Tom Beck, who coached him with the Irish, and Joe Tybor, who covered him for the Chicago Tribune. He looked fantastic. His career is over, sadly, due to a knee injury. Taylor is living in California, but currently is in Green Bay, working out with the Packers and former teammate Jim Flanigan and doing some hunting. He doesn't know his career plans, yet; but said he would like to teach youngsters. He'd be great!!!!
The buzz about Jon Gruden on Chet Coppock's SportingNews Radio show aired in Chicago. NFL color analyst Randy Cross told Coppock Gruden will be the next coach at Notre Dame, assuming Al Davis of the Raiders lets him go by either not offering him big bucks, or just giving him his release. Coppock, who sometimes knows these things, said Davie doesn't have a five-year contract. Rather, it's a series of five, one-year contracts. That puts an interesting light to it, if true…
Linebacker Courtney Watson's interception return for a touchdown is the first defensive touchdown for the Irish this season, and the first since Shane Walton returned one 60 yards against Purdue last year. It was Watson's first career interception and his first career touchdown; but he didn't want to talk about, apparently leaving the locker room through the rear entrance.