Best of the Best: The 1991-1996 O-Line

The Best of the Best series looks back at the dominance of the offensive line in the second half of the Lou Holtz/Joe Moore era.

In late May and throughout June, Irish Eyes featured a series focusing on the best single-season Irish football players spanning the last five eras (The Weis Era, The Willingham Era, The Davie Era, Lou Holtz 1991-1996, and – still to come – Lou Holtz 1986-1990).

We continue that look back today with an examination of one of the most reliable units in team history: … Lou Holtz (and Joe Moore's) Best Offensive Linemen, 1991-1996.

Click here for recaps of the All Holtz Backfield ('91-'96), and the wide receiver/tight end (which unintentionally became an Ode to Derrick Mayes).

Tackle Aaron Taylor (1993)

Taylor served as a team captain with center Tim Ruddy, defensive tackle Bryant Young, and safety Jeff Burris for the surprising 11-1 Irish, arguably the second-best team of the last 30-plus years at the University. The '93 squad incurred heavy losses over the previous two NFL Drafts, losing a combined 17 players including five first round picks and an additional eight players selected in the Draft's first four rounds. Taylor, a consensus All America selection in 1992 at left guard, moved to left tackle for his senior season to protect an Irish backfield that had lost its three-year starting quarterback (Rick Mirer); one of the most dominant single-season running backs in program history (Reggie Brooks) and future NFL Hall of Famer, fullback Jerome Bettis.

Taylor shined in his new role, garnering consensus first-team All America honors and capturing the coveted Lombardi Award as the nation's outstanding lineman (Taylor is one of four winners in school history along with DE Walt Patulski, DE Ross Browner, and DT Chris Zorich). In his 12-game stint at left tackle, Taylor paved the way for a school-record seven consecutive 100-plus yard rushing performances by junior tailback Lee Becton, a back who entered the season with just a single career start and no single-game rushing performance totaling more than 65 yards.

Taylor was selected by the Green Bay Packers with the 16th pick in the 1993 NFL Draft and started at guard for the Packers Super Bowl Championship team in 1996.

Taylor at his best in ‘93: See video clip below.

Tackle Lindsay Knapp (1992)

A two-year starter at left tackle ('91 and '92), Knapp received first-team All America honors as a senior from College and Pro Football Newsweekly and was named the team's Lineman of the Year for the 10-1-1 Irish and an offense that finished 3rd in the nation in rushing and total offense.

Knapp started 26 career games (the Irish finished 21-4-1 in those contests) and cleared a path for one of the greatest rushing tandems in school history: Reggie Brooks and Jerome Bettis. The duo finished with 2,168 yards and 23 rushing touchdowns in Knapp's senior season of '92, a year in which the Irish rushed for more than 150 yards as a team in each of its 12 contests; topped the 200-yard mark in nine of those games; the 300-yard plateau in five; and posted an insane 458 yards rushing and seven touchdowns vs. Purdue in early September. The Irish offense ran for multiple scores in 11 of 12 contests (Penn State held the Irish to just a passing touchdown – the game-tying score – on Senior Day).

Knapp helped the 1992 Irish offense score 52 total touchdowns and achieve a No. 4 final ranking. The Irish were arguably the nation's best team at season's end (a Sugar Bowl bout with National Champion and defensive juggernaut Alabama would have been an all-time classic) as the Irish offense scored 255 points in the team's final seven contests (holding opponents to 93 in that span). But a home-opener tie (17-17) vs. Michigan and home loss to Bill Walsh's #18 Stanford team (33-16) sealed the fate of one of the four best Irish teams of the last 30 years.

Knapp was drafted in the fifth-round by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1992 NFL Draft. He joined Aaron Taylor (above) on the 1996 Green Bay Packers Super Bowl Championship team.

Honorable Mention Tackles: Knapp (1991); Right Tackle Justin Hall (1992); Right Tackle Todd Norman (1993)

Guard Aaron Taylor (1992)

Taylor starred at (left) guard during his junior season, finishing with first-team All America recognition from the Associated Press, Walter Camp Foundation, The Sporting News, Football News, and United Press International, and as a semi-finalist for the Lombardi Award. In '92 the Irish offense ranked third in the nation in both rushing (280.9 yards per game) and total offense (470.4).

Taylor is widely recognized as the bes (and most decorated) offensive lineman of the Holtz era as a three-year starter for teams that finished with national rushing rankings of #6 (1991); #3 (1992); and #6 (1993). Taylor started 35 games in his Irish career, 23 of them at guard for teams that finished 31-5-1 over his three years as a starter.

Guard Mirko Jurkovic (1991)

Jurkovic, a two-year starter at guard (1990-91), was named the Notre Dame Lineman of the Year as a senior, starring for an offense that scored a (still) team-record 55 offensive touchdowns (37 rushing/18 passing). Over a 13-game span the Irish rushing offense, largely behind the interior power of Jurkovic, sophomore G Aaron Taylor, and senior C Gene McGuire, pounded 10 of its opponents for more than 200 rushing yards. In seven of those games the Irish topped the 300-yard rushing mark with one contest, an early season demolition of Michigan State, featuring 448 yards rushing…along with three passing touchdowns. Jurkovic and Taylor were named the game's Co-MVP for a mid-October 42-7 destruction of No. 12 Pittsburgh.

The Irish finished 10-3 in 1991, a disappointing final mark for a team with national championship expectations, but a season with a silver lining: the 39-28 Sugar Bowl gouging of #3 Florida and head coach Steve Spurrier's vaunted "Fun N Gun" offense. The Irish ran for 324 yards and three fourth-quarter touchdowns (all by FB Jerome Bettis) and Jurkovic and his interior line mates crushed the Gators middle defense, clearing a path for each of Bettis' touchdown runs (4 yards, 49 yards, and 39 yards) to put the game on ice.

Jurkovic finished his Irish career as a consensus All-America pick in '91 and with a monogram as a defensive tackle on the 1988 national championship team. He was the top reserve offensive lineman as a sophomore in '89 and eventually a two-year starter at guard, finishing his Irish career with 43 wins, 7 losses, and a National Championship ring.

Honorable Mention Guards: Todd Norman (1992); Dusty Ziegler (1995); Ryan Leahy (1995).

Center Tim Ruddy (1993)

A 12-game starter as a junior for the explosive offense of 1992, Ruddy nonetheless is honored here for his contributions to the less talented but ultimately more successful '93 squad. Ruddy, who topped out with a bench press in excess of 500 pounds (and a GPA of 3.86) was named second-team All America by the Associated Press as a senior for the 11-1, No. 2 ranked Irish.

The Irish offense ran for at least three touchdowns in each of the team's final six games with the offense piling up 315 points in that span. Ruddy was a team captain in 1993 along with Lombardi Award winning guard Aaron Taylor, future NFL All Pro defensive tackle Bryant Young, and All America safety (and Team MVP) Jeff Burris.

Honorable Mention Centers: Ruddy (1992); Gene McGuire (1991).

Aaron Taylor and Tim Ruddy (as well as Honorable Mention Right Tackle Todd Norman) at their collective best in 1993. Pay special attention to Lou Holt'z halftime remarks (4:00 mark) and Taylor's vicious comeback block at the 4:30 mark.


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