It's All Relative

The 9th-ranked team in our Top 15 countdown – the 1995 Fighting Irish.

From 1980 through 2009, Notre Dame completed 30 football seasons. Each week this summer, IrishEyes will profile and rank the top 15 teams of that span, counting down to our No. 1 overall Irish squad to be highlighted during the final week of August training camp.

Today, IrishEyes continues the countdown with our No. 9 ranked squad – the 1995 Fighting Irish (9-3).

1995 – By the Numbers

Offense: The Irish offense improved greatly in 1995 after averaging a Holtz-era low 28.9 points per game in '94. As expected, the rushing attack led the way, grinding out over 233 yards per game (6th in the nation) en route to 33.3 points per contest (13th nationally).

The '95 Irish scored more than 30 points on six occasions, and following a shocking 17-15 loss to Northwestern in the season-opener, scored at least 26 points in 10 of its next 11 contests.

Defense: Second-year defensive coordinator Bob Davie's unit finished 78th nationally vs. the run, yielding the second-highest per game average of the Lou Holtz era (190.7). The pass defense was middle-of-the-road, finishing No. 57 overall with just over 170 yards per contest. Ultimately, Davie's defense did its job, keeping teams out of the end zone by allowing 19.6 points per contest (33rd nationally).

The Irish allowed two or fewer touchdowns in six matchups including the program's first shut-out in 20 contests.

Notables: statistical and otherwise

  • The team's Most Valuable Player was wide receiver Derrick Mayes. The record-setting senior led the Irish with 881 receiving yards on 48 receptions and scored six touchdowns. Mayes graduated as the program-record holder in touchdown receptions (22) and receiving yards (2,512) while finishing fourth in total catches (129). He added 96 yards on six receptions, two of which ended in spectacular touchdowns in the team's Orange Bowl loss to No. 4 Florida State.
  • The punishing rushing attack featured a three-head monster: Randy Kinder, Marc Edwards, and freshman Autry Denson. Kinder led the squad with 809 yards on 143 carries while Edwards added 717 yards on 140 rushes. Denson emerged near mid-season to finish with 137 carries for 695 yards. The trio scored 26 of the team's 29 rushing touchdowns (Kinder and Edwards 9; Denson 8) while the former pair added five scores on pass receptions. Kinder produced his best collegiate game at No. 7 Ohio State, finishing with 143 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
  • Junior quarterback Ron Powlus fired 14 touchdown passes vs. 8 interceptions, averaging just over 185 passing yards per game to augment the team's bruising running game. Powlus started 10 games, missing the season-finale vs. Air Force and Orange Bowl due to a broken arm suffered vs. Navy in the home finale.
  • Inside linebacker Lyron Cobbins was the team's big playmaker defensively. The junior from Kansas City tied a program positional record, picking off five passes at linebacker while leading the team with 105 tackles (3 for lost yardage). Cobbins added 4 pass breakups, 3 fumble recoveries, a sack and a forced fumble. Cobbins excelled during a three-game October stretch, piling up 41 total tackles including 27 in back-to-back road contests at No. 7 Ohio State and No. 15 Washington.
  • Aiding Cobbins defensively was fellow inside linebacker Kinnon Tatum (82 tackles) and nose tackle Paul Grasmanis (69 tackles including a team-high 7 for lost yardage and 4.5 sacks). Defensive end Renaldo Wynn (6.5 sacks) and freshman outside linebacker Kory Minor (6 sacks) keyed the team's pass rush.
  • Sophomore cornerback Allen Rossum picked off three passes, two of which he returned for touchdowns including a game-sealing 76-yard score in a win at No. 15 Washington and another 29-yard burst for six points vs. No. 13 Texas. Rossum further displayed his speed vs. the Longhorns on a blocked conversion attempt, returning the offering 98 yards to stake the Irish to a 19-13 lead in the 55-27 victory in South Bend.
  • 5th-year senior cornerback Shawn Wooden finished with 66 tackles and intercepted three passes while leading the team with six pass breakups. OLB Bert Berry was oddly miscast as a drop linebacker as a junior in '95. He rebounded to produce an excellent senior season for the '96 Irish.

1995 – Personnel Highlights

Derrick Mayes was the headliner, but the '95 roster was replete with talent in the offensive backfield (three eventual NFL Draft picks and a fourth that played two seasons in the league) as well as a cohesive, six-man offensive line led by guards Ryan Leahy and Dusty Ziegler.

Coaching Staff of Note: Bob Davie (defensive coordinator/inside linebackers); Bob Chmiel (Recruiting Coordinator/Tight Ends); Charlie Strong (defensive line); Urban Meyer (wide receivers); Kirk Doll (defensive ends/special teams); Dave Roberts (offensive coordinator); Joe Moore (offensive line).

  • Team Captains: Nose tackle Paul Grasmanis, offensive guard Ryan Leahy, wide receiver Derrick Mayes, cornerback Shawn Wooden, offensive guard Dusty Ziegler. (The Irish voted for team captains prior to the season's final home game.)
  • Unsung Heroes: Edwards was the squad's glue, scoring a team-best 12 total touchdowns and finishing second in both rushing yards and attempts, receptions (25), receiving yards (361), and receiving touchdowns (3).

  • Junior cornerback Ivory Covington helped stave off two upsets, first combining with Cobbins for a game-ending tackle on Purdue tailback Edwin Watson at the Irish 5-yard line to end the contest; later, recording "The Hit" to stop Army tight end Ron Leshinski just short of the goal as the Cadets attempted a game-winning two-point conversion vs. the heavily favored Irish in the Meadowlands.

    Despite momentum on the catch, Leshinski, who outweighed Covington by 80 pounds, lost the battle of will – and fundamentals – with the 163-pound cornerback, who drilled the tight end to the ground at the one-foot line.

    Covington on the stop that saved the '95 Irish from service academy infamy: "I was thinking about staying low. We're always taught ‘low man wins.'"

  • The Irish coverage units were led by former walk-on Mark Monahan (15 tackles). Monahan also emerged as a backup safety to record six tackles in an October upset of No. 5 USC and a secure a key late interception in the team's 35-28 win at Purdue in Week Two.

  • Top position group: The offensive line deserves kudos (14 sacks allowed; 4.6-yard team rushing average) but the running back group excelled, totaling 33 of the team's 43 offensive touchdowns while accounting for more than 3,100 yards from scrimmage.

  • Seniors drafted following the season: Wide Receiver Derrick Mayes (2nd Round); nose tackle Paul Grasmanis (4th): cornerback Shawn Wooden (6th); offensive guard Dusty Ziegler (6th).

    The senior class (recruiting class of 1992) finished with a 36-10-2 record, including a 2-2 mark in four New Year's Day (now the equivalent of BCS) bowls. No recruiting class has surpassed the '92 recruiting haul's winning percentage since (with the '93 recruiting class finishing second-best at 34-12-1).

  • Award Winners/All-America Selections: WR Derrick Mayes (consensus 2nd Team All-America); ILB Lyron Cobbins (consensus 3rd Team All-America/Butkus Award Nominee); OG Ryan Leahy (A.P. 3rd Team All-America); OG Dusty Ziegler (UPI 2nd Team All-America); FB Marc Edwards (consensus honorable mention All-America/Doak Walker nominee); TB Randy Kinder (Doak Walker nominee); NT Paul Grasmanis (honorable mention All-America)

Waiting in the Wings: The following future stars played subordinate roles for the 1995 squad.

  • Junior tailback Robert Farmer (43 carries, 4.5-yard average, 1 TD)
  • Junior tight end Pete Chryplewicz (17 receptions, 1 TD)
  • Sophomore linebacker Bobbie Howard (16 tackles)
  • Freshman offensive tackle Mike Rosenthal (10 games played/3 starts)
  • Freshman fullback Jamie Spencer (9 carries)

On-Field Results/Irish in the Polls

The 1994 Irish finished 6-5-1 (pre-season No. 3) and out of the final polls. In '95, Notre Dame began the season ranked 9th, but a stunning home loss to then-unranked Northwestern (the Wildcats finished No. 8 in the final AP Poll) caused a free-fall to the tail end of the A.P. poll at No. 25. Wins over Purdue, Vanderbilt and No. 13 Texas moved the Irish back up to No. 15 before a 45-26 loss at No. 7 Ohio State dropped the crew from South Bend back to No. 23.

The Irish rebounded with a win at No. 15 Washington and after wins over Army and No. 5 USC, Notre Dame was back in national good graces at No. 12. They closed out the season with wins over Boston College, Navy, and at Air Force to enter the Orange Bowl ranked No. 6.

  • Bowl Result: The 6th-ranked Irish lost to No. 8 Florida State, 31-26. Notre Dame was without suspended starting tailback Randy Kinder and injured starting quarterback Ron Powlus for the contest, but led with less than 12 minutes remaining in 4th period, 26-14. Backup QB Tom Krug hit senior wide receiver Derrick Mayes for two acrobatic touchdowns but Mayes' efforts were answered by Seminoles athlete Andre Cooper, who simply out-jumped solid, but smaller Irish corners Allen Rossum and Ivory Covington for three contested touchdown receptions including the eventual game-winner.

    Under pressure the entire evening, Krug performed admirably in his second career start (and first start vs. a team of the Seminole's caliber) finishing 14 of 24 with three touchdown passes vs. one interception. Krug, however, was called for intentional grounding in the end zone to end Notre Dame's final threat with less than five minutes remaining. With the loss, Notre Dame dropped to No. 11 in the A.P. Poll with the Seminoles finishing at No. 4.

  • Record vs. Top 25 Teams: 3-2 (including both pre-season and post-season polls). The Irish defeated No. 13 Texas, No. 15 Washington, and No. 5 USC and lost to No. 7 Ohio State and No. 8 Florida State (rankings at the time of the contest).
  • Record vs. teams that finished with a losing record: 4-0
  • Home W/L: 5-1 Road W/L: 3-1 (1-1 neutral)
  • Best Win(s): No. 17 Notre Dame 38 No. 5 USC 10. Four-point home underdogs to the seemingly powerful Trojans, the proud Irish responded with 216 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns, and, of course: The HIT (click link).

    September 23: Notre Dame 55 No. 13 Texas 27: A shocking season-opening loss to (then unranked) Northwestern; an unimpressive win at unranked Purdue; a home shut-out of hapless Vanderbilt…Irish fans entered the contest vs. Texas skeptical. They exited marveling at the team's dominance over the ‘Horns. The Irish struck early with an Emmett Mosley punt return touchdown before trading scores with the visitors, leading 19-13 at the half thanks to a strong effort from wide receiver Derrick Mayes and a 98-yard two-point conversion return by Allen Rossum.

    The teams again traded scores in the 3rd Quarter but the final period was all Irish, keyed by three Marc Edwards touchdowns (2 rushing) including a back-breaking 27-yard burst to put the game out of reach, 48-27 with 1:50 remaining. Rossum capped the festivities with a 29-yard interception return for a score.

    One week after a disheartening loss in the Horseshoe (detailed below), the Irish responded with a 29-21 comeback win at No. 15 Washington. Autry Denson scored from 7 yards out with 1:24 remaining to cut the Huskies lead to 21-20. Ron Powlus then hit a completely uncovered Derrick Mayes for the go-ahead two-point conversion and a 22-21 advantage. Washington drove to the Irish 33-yard line, but with 0:28 remaining, cornerback Allen Rossum struck again, this time returning an interception 76 yards for the score and a 29-21 final margin.

  • Toughest Loss: Likely the short-handed Orange Bowl defeat to powerful Florida State (described above).

  • Worst Loss: September 30 at Ohio State. The 45-26 defeat included a fumbled punt that led to a score; a lost snap that did the same; an ill-advised interception and next-play-missed tackle that resulted in an 82-yard Terry Glenn sprint: myriad big plays allowed (four in excess of 50 yards); and 261 rushing yards (207 by eventual Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George) to the suddenly powerful Buckeyes (a squad that was solid but unspectacular in '94).

    Ohio State was the better, more talented team, but Notre Dame's lack of focus made sure no upset was possible.

  • Head-shaking Loss: Ranked No. 9 and favored by 27 points over previously moribund Northwestern, the Irish were outplayed, outhit, and outcoached in the season opener in South Bend.

    Two key fumbles by junior tailbacks Randy Kinder and Robert Farmer; a trip to the turf by Ron Powlus on the potential game-tying two-point conversion, and a game-ending 4th and 2 mauling of Kinder by the Wildcats defense with four minutes remaining sealed the Irish fate.

    Holtz on the final offensive play: "Hindsight is 20/20…maybe we should have punted. Northwestern finished the regular season as Big 10 co-champs and No. 98 in the final A.P. Poll after a Rose Bowl loss to USC.

1995 – Final Analysis

Why the 1995 Irish could rank higher/are appropriately ranked: The '95 Irish faced the nation's No. 1 ranked schedule, facing teams that finished 4th, 6th, 8th, 12th, and 13th in the final A.P. Poll. Their opponents compiled a .637 winning percentage and included four "BCS" bowl participants (Texas, Northwestern, USC, and Florida State) as well as a fifth – No. 6 and 11-2 Ohio State – that would have been BCS-bound under the current system.

Technically the team's "worst loss" was to the Big-10 co-champion and Rose Bowl representative. The Irish defeated the Rose Bowl champion (USC); lost to the Rose Bowl runner-up (NW); lost to the Orange Bowl champion (FSU); defeated the Sugar Bowl runner-up (Texas); lost at No. 6 Ohio State and won at No. 15 Washington. That level of competition far exceeds any schedule the program has experienced since.

Why the 1995 Irish could rank lower: A near-defeat vs. a middling Army team; a close call at still sub-par Purdue; an 18-point loss in which everything that could have gone wrong, did, at Ohio State; the less-than-inspired season-opener vs. Northwestern. These are not the signs of a great team.

Regardless, I don't believe the '95 Irish should rank below the No. 10 team on our countdown (the up-and-coming '87 Irish) and certainly not below No. 11 or No. 12 (Holtz's final team in '96 or the '02 Willingham-squad).

The main question to be answered by readers next week: Is our No. 8-ranked team – Charlie Weis' first squad – worthy of next week's slotting ahead of the '95 squad on our list.

The Eye Test/Atmosphere Surrounding the 1995 Squad: Though the program took a hit in 1994 with a 6-5-1 season, Irish fans remained a spoiled lot entering the 1995 campaign. The unforeseen opening loss to Northwestern, coupled with the national spotlight blowout loss at Ohio State soured the season for most, at least until the late-October upset of No. 5 USC.

Even the Orange Bowl berth was greeted with less than usual fervor; the loss providing further ammo that the program, while still near the Top 10, was no longer Top Tier.

Next Week: Our No. 8-ranked Irish team of the last 30 seasons.

Honorable Mention the 1986 Irish

No. 15 the 2000 Irish

No. 14 the 1998 Irish

No. 13 the 2006 Irish

No. 12 the 2002 Irish

No. 11 the 1996 Irish

No. 10 the 1987 Irish


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