Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes
November 17, 2001
A Naval Waterloo
The IrishEyes.Com NewsService
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (IE) If this was Bob Davies last home game as Notre Dames head football coach it will truly catch him by surprise.
Davies not posturing when he says he feels the Notre Dame administration made a long-term commitment to him with a five-year contract extension last December. Today, following the 34-16 victory over Navy, Davie made it very clear he expects to be back on the Notre Dame Stadium sidelines next September.
Im not happy about the situation we are in, said Davie, referring to his teams 4-5 record, but everybody knew what the situation was going to be this year, the schedule we had and the places where we were going to play.
When I was approached about the contract extension I asked one question, Are you sure you want me here the next five years? I was told Yes.
When asked by NBCs Jim Gray if he expects to return for the 2002 season Davie didnt hesitate. Without any question.
Of course, Davie has done little this year to reinforce that Dr. Kevin White made the right decision. This Navy game was another example. The Irish were simply awful the first 30 minutes before taking control with a little help from the opposition in the second-half.
The most important thing today was that the seniors get to hold up those gold helmets in front of the student body one more time, Davie said. They get to sing that Victory March one more time in the locker-room. They get to see their parents, who dont care if they are 3-5 or 8-0. Thats whats important today.
Notre Dames winning streak over Navy is now an NCAA-record 38 years. There were many wags that said the streak would end during the Davie-era. That bullet may have been dodged, if Davie is dismissed.
You cant exactly say you were surprised that this game was close. Starting with the shocking 20-17 overtime loss to Air Force on Oct. 19, 1996 the game that mentally drove Lou Holtz out of South Bend the Irish have been horrendous (and lucky) at home versus the service academies. Under Davie, the Irish beat Navy by four in 1997, thanks only to a game-saving tackle by Allen Rossum. In 1998 a three-point victory over Army was achieved because of a last-ditch, 47-yard field goal by the embattled Jim Sanson. A Jarious Jackson touchdown pass with 36 seconds left beat Navy, 24-20, in 1999. And, of course, last year Glenn Earl blocked a field goal in the final seconds against Air Force last season, creating an overtime situation where Notre Dame prevailed, 34-31.
Give credit to Navy, said Davie. I think their quarterback (Brian Madden) is one heck of a football player. They are a much improved football team since the start of the year. I do not think there is another team out there that has improved as much as Navy has since the beginning of the season.
But this Navy team, statistically, is among the worst in Division 1-A this season. For goodness gracious, the Midshipmen allowed 533 total yards versus Rutgers. They entered 102nd (out of 115 teams) in scoring defense, 108th in total defense, 112th in rushing.
And the boo birds were out full-force in the third quarter when the Irish were stuffed in their first two possessions, leading by a meager 17-13. But then something delightful happened: The Irish actually received production from their fullbacks and tight-ends.
Senior Tom Lopienski had the longest run of his career, 33 yards, to set up a Terrance Howard eight-yard touchdown that made it 24-13 Irish in the third. After Navy closed to 24-16, tight-end Gary Godsey gathered in his first reception of the season, a 26-yard catch and run. That loosened up the Navy defense, and Julius Jones scooted 44-yards for a game-clinching score on the next play.
It was nice to see Julius Jones break out with that touchdown run, said Davie. Jones finished with 117 yards in 24 carries, hardly a sensational effort but solid considering his checkered season.
And Notre Dame Nation thirsty for Davie to be gone yesterday gnashed its collective teeth.
Its been a rocky season, said Howard, who had 54 yards on 12 carries. The highs have been as high as they can be and the lows as low as they can be.
Carlyle Holiday may develop into a great Notre Dame signal caller, but he still has a ways to go. He threw a terrible first-half interception and carried the football on the option like a lunch pail. He finished with 94 yards passing and 46 yards rushing against a horrible defense.
Rick Lanza Navys interim head coach served two years on Gerry Fausts staff. He may have been had a feeling of déjà vu looking across the gridiron and watching Notre Dame underachieve in the first-half.
At intermission, Notre Dames offense had contributed just 10 points and 163 total yards against a defense that surrendered 42 points last week to Tulane. The Irish led, 17-13, only because the Middies turned the ball over three times. One of the freebies was turned into seven points on a Gerome Sapp fumble recovery and 39-yard return.
It was a huge play that I basically fell into, said Sapp, a Houston junior. Our coaches tell us to always read our keys and that is exactly what I did. I read it was a fumble and just scooped it and scored.
Of course, the momentum of the game turned on a questionable Davie decision. Thanks to Sapps touchdown, the Irish were up 10-0 midway through the first quarter. Notre Dame then had a fourth-and-one foot from its 28. Despite a 40-pound-per-man weight advantage in the interior line, Davie chose to punt, bringing down boos.
Naturally, Navy scored off the ensuing punt, ripping off a 77-yard drive in just three plays, signal-caller Madden covering the last 38. When Jones fumbled on the next Irish possession, the Middies converted it into a field goal and suddenly it was tied 10-10.
The Irish saved some face early in the second quarter, driving 58 yards in nine plays to take a 17-10 lead. Carlos Campbell had a 32-yard third-down reception, setting up a Howard three-yard touchdown run.
But the half ended in a rather pathetic fashion. On fourth-and-one from the Navy five, Howard was stuffed for no gain by the undersized Midshipmen interior line. Then the visitors drove nearly 90 yards to set up a David Hills field goal with two seconds remaining.
I think we came out pretty lethargic, but in the second half we looked a lot better, said offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers. I dont think our quarterback played particularly well today, but a win is a win. Thank God we got one.
If we hadnt won today, it would have been a big disappointment for us because we had two weeks to prepare for this game, said Jones. We really needed this win.
THE NOTEBOOK: Who is the Notre Dame MVP? IrishEyes has thought it was a lock for Anthony Weaver but how about Shane Walton? Hes been the smartest Notre Dame defensive player all year, beginning in Lincoln when on his own call he blocked a Nebraska punt, setting up the Irishs only touchdown. The San Diego senior was outstanding versus Navy. He defended the option perfectly, blew up another play by reading a screen pass, and he intercepted one pass and recovered a fumble. Shane Walton is a football player, pure and simple, said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. Mattison was not struck by the irony of his comment. Walton was recruited by Notre Dame to play soccer ..Automatic Nick Setta booted two more field goals and now has at least one three-pointer in 11 straight games, tying John Carneys school Notre Dame turned the ball over twice in the first quarter and now has 20 giveaways this year, 12 more than last year with two games still to play .Mike McNair exists. In his final game of a star-crossed career, he carried five times in Garbage Time. His carries actually drew a response from the Student Section, who were preoccupied most of the time by their Marshmallow Wars where they hurl frozen (for extra speed) marshmallows at each others ..Tyreo Harrison and Anthony Weaver, two standouts in an otherwise forgettable year, once again led the team in tackles with nine and seven respectively The Irish finish with two on the road, at Stanford next Saturday and then in West Lafayette versus Purdue on Dec. 1. If Notre Dame can win both and they will be underdogs in each they may find themselves in the Insight.com Bowl at The BOB in Phoenix. That is a Big East Conference Bowl with an ND option. Virginia Tech is a lock for the Gator Bowl (versus Florida State) and it would come down to Syracuse/Boston College/ND for the Insight.com. Most likely, Syracuse would go to Nashville for the Music City Bowl, Boston College to San Francisco for the new Jeep San Francisco (formerly Aloha) Bowl. The question is, Does Notre Dame deserve to be playing anywhere in late December?........Congratulations to Urban Meyer. His Bowling Green team is now 7-3 after upsetting Northwestern today in Evanston. Be honest. If he were still on the Notre Dame sidelines, would you be satisfied with Meyer as a potential replacement for Davie. Let me know your thoughts on this. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes)
(Matt Tognarelli contributed to this report in South Bend)