Today, IrishEyes begins the official countdown with our No. 15 ranked squad – the 2000 Fighting Irish (9-3).
Click here for our Honorable Mention selection last week.
2000 – By the NumbersThe Irish entered Year 4 of the Bob Davie era with a new starting quarterback, though one with a skill set similar to that of his predecessor at the position, two-way threat Jarious Jackson. Junior Arnaz Battle's time under center lasted a memorable two games before the talented athlete was sidelined for the season due to a broken wrist suffered early in the Week Two contest vs. No. 1 Nebraska. The Irish would debut three quarterbacks in '00 – each won his first start – en route to a 9-2 regular season finish.
Offense: Featuring a power rushing game with three tailbacks and a conservative passing game, the 2000 squad won despite ranking just 76th overall in total offense. The ground game, however, was a reliable weapon, producing the nation's 14th-best rushing attack at 213.5 yards-per-game. The key to the offense's consistent play was the continuity of the men up front, as each of the team's five starting offensive lineman held down his spot for the duration of the season. 9>
The group helped churn out a 4.4-yard-per-rush average which remains the highest team total of the decade to date. The '00 offense scored 31.3 points-per-game to rank 29th overall in the nation, and still ranks as the 2nd highest scoring offense of the decade at the school (behind only Charlie Weis' first group that lit up the scoreboard at 36.7 per contest).
The Irish were outgained by 89 yards over the course of the season though they scored 11 more touchdowns than did their opponents. Key Fact: Notre Dame converted 28 of its 35 trips inside the red zone into touchdowns and produced either a TD or FG on 33 of 35 forays inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
Defense: The base 4-3 defense finished at a surprisingly low 51st nationally in yards allowed, but earned its keep limiting opponents' scoring, allowing 20.5 points-per-game, good for 34th in the nation.
Solid but unspectacular, the defense allowed the following touchdown totals over the 11-game regular season: 1, 3 (including overtime), 2, 3, 2, 2, 4 (blowout win at West Virginia), 3 (OT win), 2, 2, 3 (blowout win at USC).
Special Teams: No Notre Dame squad of the past 15 seasons dominated the game's third phase as did the 2000 Irish.
Punter Joey Hilbold and the team's coverage unit allowed an incredible 4.7 yards per punt return by its opponents. Hilbold dropped 22 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line (vs. two touchbacks) and the coverage units
Joey Getherall recorded the program's fourth-highest total of the last 50 seasons with a 16.3 yard-average per punt return (24 opportunities), returning two for scores. Aiding the ST effort was Julius Jones; whose 28.5-yard average per kick return tied him for the school's fifth-highest total over a 40-season span. In turn, the team's kick coverage unit limited opponents to just 19.6 yards per kick-off return.
Finally, the 2000 Irish blocked six kicks over the 11-game regular season, three courtesy of future two-time Super Bowl Champion David Givens.
Notables: Statistical and otherwise:
- With the Irish 2-2 entering Week Five, Davie and offensive coordinator Kevin Rodgers handed the reigns to freshman quarterback Matt Lovecchio. The Irish won their next seven contests to finish 9-2 and qualify for a BCS berth. Lovecchio completed 58 percent of his passes for 980 yards with 11 touchdowns and just one interception (his one pick in 125 passes stands as an Irish record for lowest INT ratio at .0080). The 18-year-old signal-caller from Franklin Lakes, N.J., finished fourth on the squad in rushing yards (413), attempts (72), and touchdowns (2) for a focused, highly-conservative offense
- The ground game was paced by the three-headed monster of Julius Jones (657 yards, 7 TD, 4.1 per carry, 1 KR TD), Tony Fisher (607 yards, 6 TD, 4.6 per carry), and Terrance Howard (424 yards, 4 TD, 5.7 per carry). Fisher added three touchdown receptions on just 12 catches.
- Junior David Givens led the team with a mere 25 receptions (2 TD, 310 yards) but it was diminutive senior Joey Getherall that led the team in big plays, finishing with 17 receptions for 323 yards (19.0 per catch) and four touchdowns. Getherall added a game-winning end-around touchdown in OT to beat Air Force and two punt return touchdowns over the course of the season.
- Unsung ILB Anthony Denman led the squad with 84 tackles, a staggering 1/6 of which occurred behind the line of scrimmage, five of which were QB sacks, which tied Denman for the 2nd highest number of sacks by an inside linebacker over the past decade (Brandon Hoyte had six for the '05 Irish). OLB Rocky Boiman augmented Denman's effort with 58 stops (8 for loss and 3.5 sacks) while FS Tony Driver was inarguably the secondary's star performer, finishing with 65 tackles, 2 INT, 2 FR (both resulted in touchdowns), 1 sack and 7 pass break-ups.
- Junior DE Anthony Weaver, already a two-year starter, became an All American performer in '00, finishing with 13 tackles-for-loss and 8 sacks in his 49 total tackles. Weaver also broke up five passes at the line of scrimmage including a potential game-winner (the Irish lost on the next drive) with an interception near the goal line at Michigan State in Game Three.
The future first-round pick picked off two passes, recovered a fumble, and forced three as a true junior. Weaver's was the best individual effort along the defensive line since DT Bryant Young dominated the line of scrimmage in the 1993 season.
- Future Irish tight end Gary Godsey won his first start at quarterback, a 23-21 decision over future Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees and the Purdue Boilermakers.
2000 – Personnel HighlightsThe 2000 Irish roster earns the moniker of "nondescript" when compared to those forthcoming in our Top 15 countdown. Nonetheless, it featured several future program stars, NFL veterans, Super Bowl Champions...and a college football coaching legend.
On-Field Results/Irish in the PollsThe Irish finished a disappointing 5-7 in 1999 and began the 2000 season unranked.
A season-opening win over No. 23 Texas A&M at Notre Dame Stadium nudged the Irish to No. 23 in the next poll and the ensuing battle (OT defeat) with No. 1 Nebraska helped the Irish remain ranked for the duration of the season, reaching as high as No. 11 for the bulk of November.
- Bowl Result: Destroyed in the Fiesta Bowl, 41-9. The loss took the shine off a surprising 9-2 regular season.
- Record vs. Top 25 Teams: 2-3
- Record vs. teams that finished with a losing record: 4-0
- Home W/L: 5-1 Road W/L: 4-1 (including neutral vs. Navy)
- Best Win(s): At home vs. No. 13 Purdue on September 16. The Irish were 6.5-point underdogs at home due to the loss of starting quarterback Arnaz Battle (broken wrist) one week prior. Making his debut under center was 6'7" 235-pound sophomore Gary Godsey. Operating under a limited game plan, the future starting Irish tight end completed 14 of 25 passes for 158 yards with one interception and a 9-yard rushing touchdown. More important, Godsey delivered two crucial completions, one on 3rd and 10 to Javin Hunter during the game-winning 12-play, 62-yard drive, to pull off the 23-21 upset victory.
Nick Setta kicked the game-winning 38-yard field goal and Godsey completed one more pass than did Boilermakers QB Drew Brees in the contest.
The Irish also won at 5-6 USC, 38-21, to secure a Fiesta Bowl berth on the season's final Saturday.
- Toughest Loss: 27-24 in overtime to Eric Crouch, about 40,000 Nebraska faithful, and the No. 1 ranked Cornhuskers in Week Two at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish received an outstanding effort from an overmatched front seven and two special teams scores: the first, a thrilling 100-yard burst down the Notre Dame sidelines by Julius Jones to bring the Irish within 7 at 21-14; the second, an 83-yard dart by Joey Getherall to tie the score at 21 early in the 4th period.
The team's traded punts for the duration of regulation before Irish head coach Bob Davie received well-deserved boos from the home crowd when he elected to play for overtime rather than attack the Huskers with the score tied from his own 30-yard line with 1:07 remaining in regulation.
The Irish opened the extra session with a field goal and, after converting a key 3rd and 9 with a pass to tight end Tracey Wistrom, Crouch burst over the left side for a 7-yard, game-ending score.
Notre Dame moved up two spots in the polls with the loss and the Huskers remained undefeated until a Week Eight loss to eventual national champion Oklahoma.
- Worst Loss: The Fiesta Bowl debacle at the hands (and feet) of Oregon State. At no point in program history has an Irish bowl team been so overmatched on the field of play as in this January 1 destruction at the hands of the lighting-quick, 5th-ranked Beavers. The Irish were out-gained 446-155 and were held to 17 yards rushing. Lovecchio was sacked six times in his first collegiate loss.
- Head-shaking Loss: At Michigan State. Leading 21-20 with 1:48 remaining, Spartans QB Jeff Smoker read an Irish blitz, ND safety Ron Israel slipped in coverage, and Smoker hit Spartans receiver Herb Haygood down the seam for a game-winning 68-yard touchdown. The 16th-ranked Irish had taken the lead on the previous series courtesy of an Anthony Weaver interception and subsequent 2-yard TD plunge by Julius Jones. The loss marked Notre Dame's seventh consecutive away from home dating back to November '98.
2000 – Final Analysis
Why the 2000 Irish should rank higher: They probably shouldn't. The next two teams in our countdown were imbalanced but were top notch on at least one side of scrimmage. The 2000 Irish were the least likely BCS qualifier in program history, and a full notch below the next three teams on our list.
Why the 2000 Irish should rank lower: There's a decent chance the '86 team (our featured honorable mention choice linked above); two from the Faust era, and a sampling of others, would have beaten this squad head-to-head by simply avoiding costly turnovers. Davie's '00 squad forced 22 turnovers and committed just 8 – tied for the lowest total in Division 1-A/FBS history.
Bereft of breathtaking playmakers (Julius Jones fought through injuries for most of the season) the '00 Irish should be commended for dominant special teams play and a disciplined effort protecting and valuing the football – both traditional signs of a well-coached team.
The Eye Test/Atmosphere Surrounding the 2000 Squad: Close but nowhere near worthy of a cigar. But Davie's '00 squad brought the fan base back from the brink (his '99 coaching effort was his worst in the 5-season stint) and many saw the Fiesta Bowl as an opportunity for Notre Dame to reclaim its spot among the nation's elite (the alumni lottery and base of hotels for the bowl game sold out in less than a day-and-a-half).
But there were warning signs many fans ignored: needing OT to beat Air Force as 13-point home favorite; a six-point home win vs. sub-.500 Stanford; producing 89 fewer yards than did their collective opponents.
In the end, the 2000 Irish were a team to admire if you're a fan of the program: Nowhere near the level of program legends' past, but a group that scratched its way through key injuries and to an unlikely seven consecutive wins and a two-loss season before running into a buzz saw vs. a different level bowl opponent.
Note: Davie, who was a finalist for national coach of the year honors in 2000 (won by Oklahoma's Bob Stoops), signed five-year contract extension in December. He was fired following the 2001 season.
Next Sunday: Our No. 14-ranked Irish team of the last 30 seasons.