Our sports culture is fond of dropping surnames for its superstars. Yogi, Reggie, Manny, Franco, Peyton, Wilt, Oscar, Magic, Larry, Michael, Shaq, Kobe, LeBron …the list goes on (especially in the NBA). But the lexicon of college football contains just three if you're an Irish fan: Ara, Rocket, and of course, LOU.In honor of former Irish head coach Lou Holtz's enshrinement into the College Football Hall of Fame, and in tandem with our ongoing summer feature "The Best of the Best" Series, Irish Eyes presents the Top 20 Wins of the Lou Holtz Era at Notre Dame.
- 1987: #7 Notre Dame 37 #10 Alabama 6 – Revenge for the only blowout loss of the '86 season.
- 1987: #16 Notre Dame 26 #9 Michigan 7 – Notre Dame's largest margin of victory in the series' last 25 meetings
- 1987: #9 Notre Dame 31 #17 Michigan State 8 – The Tim Brown Game
- 1989: #1 Notre Dame 45 #7 Pittsburgh 7 – Champs vs. Pretenders
- 1990: #1 Notre Dame 20 #24 Michigan State 19 – The Immaculate Deflection – Adrian Jarrell, Rick Mirer and Divine Intervention converge for a miracle deflected reception to set up the game-winning touchdown.
- 1992: #8 Notre Dame 54 #9 Boston College 7 – Two similarly ranked teams playing at a completely different level of football.
- 1995: #21 Notre Dame 55 #13 Texas 27 – The nation tuned in to see an offense and the wrong one showed up…
- 1995: #23 Notre Dame 29 #15 Washington 21 – The Irish finish 2-1 in a three-game stretch vs. Top 15 opponents.
- 1996: #11 Notre Dame 54 #16 Washington 20 – 650 yards of total offense will win a lot of football games.
- 1995: #17 Notre Dame 20 Unranked Army 17 – Not losing to the eventual 10-2 Cadets saved face for Holtz and the Irish. This unexpectedly close matchup vs. a solid Army team occurred prior to the tail end of matchups vs. #13 Texas, #7 OSU, #15 Washington, and (the following week) #5 USC.
The 20 Biggest Wins of the Holtz Era:
Bonus – "A" for Effort (1986): Michigan 24 Notre Dame 23 – Not technically a win, but it marked the first and last moral victory of the next 11 seasons. The unranked Irish took #3 Michigan to the wire, never punted, and were in position to win at the final gun, but a field goal by John Carney sailed wide left. Despite the loss, Notre Dame moved into the nation's top 20 the following week, the first such occurrence in the history of the Associated Press poll. The Irish would lose six games in Holtz's first season, five of them by a total of 14 points. And (pardon the harshness of the following sentence), Holtz's dedicated 5-6 squad of 1986 would have shredded more than half of the program's last 15 teams to take the field, including one of his own (1994).No. 20 (1995): Notre Dame 38 USC 10 The Trojans entered the game ranked No. 5 while the Irish had fought their way back to No. 17 after an opening-game loss to Northwestern and a Week Five loss at Ohio State. The game marked the 13 consecutive season in which USC failed to beat ND (the Irish were 12-0-1 vs. the Trojans from 1983-1995. The tailback/fullback duo of Autry Denson and Marc Edwards combined for 44 carries for 177 yards and three touchdowns, but there's no question what Irish fans in attendance and watching on NBC nationwide remember from this Irish upset victory:
THE HIT – Kinnon Tatum
No. 19 (1996): Notre Dame 27 Texas 24 – The No. 9 ranked Irish traveled to Austin to take on the No. 6 Texas Longhorns. The Irish backfield, led by Autry Denson, Marc Edwards, Robert Farmer, and Randy Kinder (who took one of the biggest hits by an Irish player in recent memory), outgained the Longhorn's backfield 292 yards to 135, despite the presence of future Heisman Trophy Winner Ricky Williams and future NFL Offensive Player of the Year Priest Holmes. The Irish prevailed at the end thanks to a late-game interception by middle linebacker Lyron Cobbins and ensuing 39-yard field goal by freshman place-kicker Jim Sanson as time expired.No. 18 (1986): Notre Dame 38 USC 37 – Trailing the No. 17 Trojans 30-12 in the third quarter and 37-20 midway through the final period, the unranked Irish stormed back with two Steve Beuerlein touchdown passes to fullback Braxton Banks and another, on a spectacular 43-yard leaping grab, to wide receiver Milt Jackson. After a two-point conversion by tight end (and future first-team All America Left Tackle Andy Heck), the Irish defense held the Trojans on third-and-short just short of midfield, setting up a 56-yard punt return by Tim Brown (his second career punt return) to the Trojans 16-yard line. The Irish won the contest (while ABC television was still at commercial) on a John Carney field goal as time expired. Carney, earned his second career Pro Bowl nod last season (22 years after this contest) while kicking for the New York Giants.
Milt Jackson's Forgotten Gem
No. 17 (1989): Notre Dame 34 Penn State 23 – The No. 1 ranked Irish visited No. 17 Penn State with a 22-game winning streak on the line. 425 rushing yards later (Penn State boasted the Nation's No. 1 Ranked Defense entering the contest), the team's school-record winning streak reached 23 – where it ended one week later and still stands today and for the foreseeable future. QB Tony Rice ran for a career-best 143 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Irish. Below is my (nine-minute) edited game recap (first published by BGI last summer).
No. 16 (1990): Notre Dame 28 Michigan 24 – The most recent night game kick-off at Notre Dame Stadium (the deal with NBC began in 1991) featured the No. 1 ranked Irish, winners of 24 of their last 25 vs. the No. 4 ranked Wolverines, losers in just two of their previous 22 contests. The Wolverines, behind unsung tailback Jon Vaughn, ran for 201 yards vs. the vaunted Irish front seven, but sophomore quarterback Rick Mirer led the Irish 76 yards in nine plays, hitting wide receiver Adrian Jarrell for and 18-yard touchdown and the game's winning score with just 1:40 remaining. Then-cornerback (and, two years later, the greatest single-season running back in Notre Dame history) Reggie Brooks intercepted an Elvis Grbac pass to seal the victory.No. 15 (1992): Notre Dame 17 Penn State 16 – The Snow Bowl. The eighth-ranked Irish had won their last four contests by an aggregate total of 186 to 51, including a 54-7 drubbing of No. 9 Boston College. But the No. 22 Nittany Lions defense gave the Irish and their powerful running game all it could handle, limiting the duo of Jerome Bettis and Reggie Brooks to 146 yards on 27 carries and the potent Irish offense without a touchdown until the game's final seconds (as shown below).
No. 14 (1993): Notre Dame 27 Michigan 23 – The Irish had dropped (after an opening week victory) to #11 and traveled to Ann Arbor as 9-point underdogs to face the #3 Wolverines. Michigan entered the game with legitimate national title aspirations. The Irish left Ann Arbor with a convincing victory, a seven-spot jump in the national polls, and the discovery of a one-year quarterback/leader named Kevin McDougal. The Irish took a commanding 27-10 lead midway through the third quarter on the strength of six tackles for lost yardage (by four future NFL veterans Bobby Taylor, Bryant Young, Jim Flanigan, and Renaldo Wynn) and three interceptions, one by Taylor and two from future first-round selection Jeff Burris.