LOU - SEC, Rivals, and Big Bowls

Part II of our tribute to Hall of Famer Lou Holtz remembers eight more of his 20 greatest Irish victories.

Below is Part 2 (of 3) of Irish Eye's tribute to Lou Holtz and the countdown of his 20 greatest victories at Notre Dame.

Click here for Part I.

No. 13 (1990): Notre Dame 34 Tennessee 29 – After a shocking Week Four home defeat to then 1-3 Stanford, the Irish had regained their No. 1 ranking with four consecutive wins including a home victory over No. 2 Miami. A trip to Knoxville vs. the No. 9 Volunteers featured a 174-yard, two-touchdown rushing performance by senior tailback Ricky Watters; a game-sealing end zone interception by junior cornerback Rod Smith; and a display of speed not yet scene in the SEC…courtesy of a kid from Pennsylvania playing football for a team in South Bend.

No. 12 (1989): Notre Dame 28 USC 24 – The Irish entered No. 1 in the midst of an 18-game winning streak. Win No. 19 against freshman quarterback Todd Marinovich and the No. 9 Trojans would not come easily. The emotional contest featured a pre-game tunnel fight (and not your garden variety shoving match) and 60 minutes of a brutal, physical, personal battle between two old rivals, with six lead changes/ties, and the emotion of the Irish seniors evident as Notre Dame began the 2nd half trailing 17-7…the first time the Irish trailed at halftime since the Cotton Bowl in 1987.

The Trojans took a late lead, 24-21 on Marinovich's 3rd TD pass of the game, but the freshman's bush-league celebration and taunting of Irish outside linebacker Scott Kowalkowski after the play would come back to haunt him in the game's waning moments. The Irish marched 80 yards, culminating in a 15-yard touchdown run by Tony Rice to take a 28-24 lead. Holtz then unleashed Kowalkowski as a pass-rusher in the game's final series, as shown in the video below.

Holtz Quote: "I've never seen the ball on the ground that much, even in a soccer game." (The Irish turned the ball over five times in the four-point victory).

Kowlakowski's Revenge

No. 11 (1988): Notre Dame 19 Michigan 17 – The first of three big-game, pre-game tussles of the Holtz era occurred when a small group of Michigan players ran through the north end zone where the Irish were lined up for the final Special Teams drill. Senior co-captain LB Ned Bolcar (among others) took exception, decking a stray Wolverine with a body shot on the way through the Irish line of players. The game wasn't bad either:

  • Sophomore Ricky Watters, who converted from tailback to flanker for the 1988 season in part to replace departed Heisman Trophy Winner Tim Brown, returned the season's first punt 81 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Irish lead.
  • The Irish Offensive Line featured converted TE Andy Heck in his first start at LT; sophomore Winston Sandri in his first start at LG, sophomore C Mike Heldt in his first start; junior Tim Grunhard (making his 6th start at RG); and junior Dean Brown, making his first start at LT. The Irish outgained Michigan on the ground 226 yards to 139
  • From the files of "You Won't See This Today," the Notre Dame Stadium crowd received an Unsportsmanlike Conduct Penalty (charged timeout) for excessive crowd noise.
  • Junior ILB Michael Stonebreaker finished with a game-high 18 tackles.
  • Senior walk-on K Reggie Ho was the game's MVP, hitting all four of his FG attempts (the first of his career) including the 26-yard game-winner. The potential game-winner from 48 yards by Wolverines kicker Mike Gillette fell short as time expired.

Watters Takes a Bow

No. 10 (1993 Cotton Bowl): Notre Dame 28 Texas A&M 3 – No. 5 Notre Dame bludgeoned No. 3 and undefeated SWC champion A&M behind three touchdowns from Jerome Bettis (playing his final college game) and an Irish front seven that held the Aggies to 165 total yards and 3.2 yards per play. A&M managed just 78 yards rushing on 33 carries while the Irish piled up 290 on the ground and held a whopping time of possession advantage, 38:01 to 21:59. Irish senior defensive end Devon McDonald won the game's MVP award, finishing with 10 tackles, four for lost yardage, a pass break-up and a sack.

No. 9 (1992 Sugar Bowl): Notre Dame 39 Florida 28 – The No. 18 Irish buried heavily favored and No. 3 ranked Florida Gators, 39-28 with a dominant effort from the Irish offensive line and sophomore fullback Jerome Bettis. Trailing 16-7 at the half, Notre Dame opened with a 12-play, 64-yard drive that culminated in a field goal and followed with a 14-play, 80-yard march and a Rick Mirer to Irv Smith touchdown to take the lead late in the third quarter. Bettis salted the game away with a three-touchdown fourth quarter and team-best 150 rushing yards (tailbacks Rodney Culver and Tony Brooks combined for another 164 on 26 carries). DB Rod Smith (playing both CB and dime safety in what was generally a six and/or seven defensive back alignment) led the Irish with a career-best 18 tackles while the Irish defense broke up 15 passes on the evening.

No. 8 (1994 Cotton Bowl): Notre Dame 24 Texas A&M 21 – The game didn't feature the vitality or highlight reel moments associated with the previous season's Cotton Bowl win (#10 above), but it was decidedly more important at kickoff as the No. 4 Irish still had a chance at the National Title, assuming #2 Florida State would barely beat undefeated #1 Nebraska in a sloppy, unappealing game later that night in the Orange Bowl.

Unlike the previous season's matchup, No. 4 A&M came to play, and the final numbers reflect an evenly matched contest:

  • 1st Downs: A&M 20 Notre Dame 19; Total plays: A&M 68 Notre Dame 66; Total yards: A&M 341 Notre Dame 311; Turnovers: A&M 3 (all in the 4th Quarter) Notre Dame 0
  • The game's MVP was Irish junior RB Lee Becton, with 26 carries for 138 yards – the seventh consecutive game in which Becton topped the century mark (a school record).
  • The Irish scored three rushing touchdowns, the first gave ND a 7-0 lead on a 19-yard option keeper over right tackle by QB Kevin McDougal (he was visibly shaken up at the end of the run, and never quite the same the rest of the day); and two short-yardage plunges out of the T-formation by fullbacks Ray Zellars and Marc Edwards.
  • Senior K Kevin Pendergast drilled the game-winning FG from 31 yards out with 2:22 remaining. The kick was set up by a 38-yard punt return by WR Mike Miller.

Incidentally, Florida State defeated Nebraska 18-16 in a game that set championship football back to the stone ages…but one that somehow did not set the Seminoles back in the final national polls as the one-loss Irish finished No. 2 despite a 31-24 Week Ten victory over the one-loss national champions.

No. 7 (1990): Notre Dame 29 Miami 20 – The No. 2-ranked Hurricanes and the (previously No. 1 but then) No. 6 Irish knocked heads for the final time in this heated rivalry. Rocket Ismail finished with 268 yards in total offense; junior K Craig Hentrich drilled five field goals and sophomore QB Rick Mirer found his fullback, junior Rodney Culver on 3rd and 4 for the game's decisive touchdown with just over six minutes remaining. The play, reportedly drawn up by Holtz that morning over breakfast, was known simply as 300 Fullback Dump – designed to catch the ‘Canes in a blitz.

Miami committed several mistakes and suffered four turnovers, including a fourth quarter interception inside the Notre Dame 10-yard line by All America Todd Lyght and a fumble recovery at the Irish 2-yard line by senior All American Michael Stonebreaker with under five minutes remaining.

They also made a mistake kicking it to this guy…

Rocket vs. the Canes

No. 6 (1989): Notre Dame 24 Michigan 19 – Consecutive win No. 14 pitted the No. 1 Irish vs. the No. 2 Wolverines on a rain-soaked carpet at The Big House. The Irish prevailed behind a conservative inside rushing attack (QB Tony Rice didn't keep the ball on a wide option run until the 2nd Quarter) and behind two Rocket Ismail kick return touchdowns. Rice threw a touchdown to fullback Anthony Johnson…his only completed pass (in two attempts) on the afternoon and Johnson put the contest on ice with a 4th and 1 plunge at the 1:58 mark, allowing the Irish to run out the clock.

Click here for the top five victories for Lou Holtzat Notre Dame.

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