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November 25, 2001
Woody Wouldn't Believe It
By F. Richard Ciccone
For The IrishEyes.Com NewsService.
Not even Woody Hayes would have believed it.
Since no one has mentioned what kind of a record it is, one must assume they haven't found anything like it in modern football history.
In the post World War II years, the southern powerhouses coached by Bobby Dodd and Bob Neyland so hated the forward pass that they often punted on third down rather than throw the ball. But nowhere in the annals of modern Notre Dame football has anyone found a game where the Irish managed to complete only two passes.
Probably no team in modern history has been limited to a single completion in 60 minutes but if there is such a record you can bet whoever holds it had a better percentage than completing 2 of 20.
Back when the football was round and the Notre Dame legend began, Knute Rockne caught more touchdown passes against Army than Notre Dame had completions Saturday night.
It would be nice to think that Carlyle Holiday will never have a worse day, but that could be wishful thinking. After all, he did complete one.
It was Hayes, the grumpy Ohio State coach, who issued the famous axiom that three things can happen when you pass and two of them are bad. But Woody never dreamed that bad things would happen 18 out of 20 times.
With all that, the most remarkable aspect of the Irish passing game in Saturday's loss to Stanford was that Holiday's one completion resulted in the longest touchdown pass of his career and the first of young Omar Jenkins' career. If Jenkins had dropped that ball, it would have been perfect futility-- a rare circumstance in any endeavor but one that Bob Davie's Irish threaten with regularity.
This is the same Omar Jenkins who had a strong debut against Michigan State and hasn't been heard of since. But neither has the passing game, and it may never be heard from again.
There is no reason to chastise young Holiday. He has been called the most exciting athlete Notre Dame has had in years. He was among the most highly recruited kids in his class and he has been compared to Michael Vick. He is reputed to be a nice young man and he is a big young man and he runs the ball well and he could be at Notre Dame for three more seasons.
No one has said he is a quarterback. That may not be the worst thing in Holiday's life. Almost 50 years ago a blond kid named Paul Hornung won a Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame playing quarterback and then went to play professional football where a coach more grumpy than Woody Hayes scowled, "You're no quarterback."
Hornung became one of the most versatile and highest scoring players in NFL history and Vince Lombardi became a legend. Right now, Holiday does not have Vince Lombardi. He has only Bob Davie who says Carlyle is a quarterback and also insists that the often maligned Clifford Jefferson is a corner back.
Jefferson, too, is a nice young man but Davie and Co. have always believed that this undersized defensive back is capable of stopping the opponent's biggest receiver. Jefferson gets interference calls because the officials assume if his man didn't catch the ball he must have been held or pushed or bitten.
The NCAA probably has one official assigned to throw a flag when Jefferson gets up in the morning.
Davie insists on so many things and one of them is that he has a good team. On a night when the Irish misfired on 18 of 20 tosses, it might be difficult to suggest the game plan was once again awry. But it is fair to ask what Davie and Kevin Rogers were thinking when they had a chance to score after a hobbling Julius Jones gallantly ran 59 yards to the 7.
The Irish ran three dreary plays and settled for a field goal as though they were the Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers, who usually win with 10 or 13 points.
Just because the Irish defense was playing so well, did Davie and Co. think they were going to shut out a team averaging 39 points a game? And those three dreary plays were called at a time when Holiday was not yet 1 for 16. He was a rather respectable one for seven.
If not a pass, call one of those fluky reverses, or a David Givens pass, or the Arnaz Battle-to-Holiday pass that got the Irish their glorious second completion of the night.
Davie always thinks his team is capable of ramming the ball down the other's guy throat as though they were Miami or Nebraska. Doesn't he read his own statistics?
Inside the red zone, the Irish score a touchdown less than once in three tries.
The emergence of Nicholas Setta as one of the most dependable kickers in the country probably has been a bad thing for Davie. It makes him think than he can always settle for a field goal, which in previous years was not part of the Irish arsenal.
The Chicago Tribune noted Sunday morning in a burst of clairvoyance, "This was a game the Irish could have won."
That is the most painful thing about the 2001 season because the Tribune or someone else has written or uttered that same sentence about every single Irish loss save the opening night disaster at Nebraska.
The Irish could have won against Michigan State, at Texas A&M, at Boston College, against Tennessee, at Stanford. Unhappily, they could have lost against Pitt, West Virginia, Southern Cal and Navy.
Every victory was a struggle, every defeat a near victory.
It's like having the second best hand in a poker game that goes on for four months.
(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 contributor to IrishEyes.)