THE BEAT GOES ON
Life has been rocky at the top this season, but Notre Dame seems to have discovered how to cope. Before facing No. 9 Tennessee in Knoxville, Irish coach Lou Holtz prepped his team for the ravings of Volunteer fanatics at Neyland Stadium—the official attendance was 97,123, second-largest in Tennessee's 100-year football history—by conducting practices with the Tennessee fight song, Rocky Top, blaring from loudspeakers. The tactic almost drove his players crazy—"I was hearing it in my sleep," said cornerback Todd Lyght—but it got them into the right frame of mind to handle everything Tennessee threw at them, including a school-record 60 passes by quarterback Andy Kelly. The result was a 34-29 win that enabled the Irish to hang on to that slippery No. 1 ranking.
Tennessee led four times—3-0, 13-10, 20-17 and 23-20—but each time Notre Dame fought back to tie or regain the lead. The Vols took what was to be their final lead on Greg Burke's 45-yard field goal with 9:57 remaining. But shortly thereafter, Raghib (the Rocket) Ismail made his ever-dangerous presence felt without so much as touching the ball. Trying to keep the ball away from Ismail, freshman punter Joey Chapman shanked a 20-yarder out of bounds, setting up the Irish on their own 43-yard line. Four plays later, Ricky Watters, who rushed for 174 yards, bolted over from the 10 to put the Irish ahead 27-23 with 5:30 to play.
A couple of minutes later, Ismail took a pitchout and exploded for a 44-yard TD run around right end that gave the Irish a 34-23 lead with 3:33 left. "You can't keep him under control the whole game," said Notre Dame quarterback Rick Mirer. "Sooner or later, he's going to do something to help you."
November 19, 1990
Ismail had his own way of coping with the electrified atmosphere in Knoxville. While awaiting kickoffs, he did some dance steps to an imaginary beat. Asked about that, the Rocket smiled and said, "That was the 'house' dance."
And what, pray tell, is the house dance? "I think it comes from, you know, house parties," said Watters afterward. "He's an awesome dancer, one of the best on the team."
This party, however, wasn't over after Ismail's TD. With 1:44 remaining, the Vols cut the lead to 34-29 on a 23-yard pass from Kelly to Alvin Harper. Then, after regaining possession on an onside kick, Tennessee drove to the Notre Dame 20 with just under a minute to play. The Vols tried the same Kelly-to-Harper pattern, but this time cornerback Rod Smith made a game-saving interception. Mirer killed the clock by taking the last two snaps and kneeling. "In the huddle," said Mirer, "we called that last play Rocky Top because we were so sick of hearing it."
A WITHERED ROSE
Once again the Rose Bowl will be the Doze Bowl, at least as far as the national championship is concerned. For that, the folks in Pasadena can thank Pac-10 champion Washington, which lost 25-22 to UCLA in Seattle. The Huskies had moved up to No. 2 in the polls last week and were harboring national championship hopes. The Washington athletic department arranged for 30,000 roses to be handed out to fans as they arrived at Husky Stadium. But coach Don James must take some of the blame for the overconfidence that was epidemic in the area before the UCLA game. On Friday, the university newspaper published a letter from James urging students not to tear down the goalposts after the game, as they had after last season's final home victory. Apparently it never occurred to James that his team might not emerge victorious over a 4-5 Bruin team that was a three-touchdown underdog.
The Bruins, though, came up with their best effort in two seasons on a windy day that made passing and kicking tricky propositions, at best. On offense, UCLA's Brian Brown raced 88 yards untouched for a touchdown, the longest scoring run ever against Washington, and quarterback Tommy Maddox, throwing out of the shotgun, had a fine game, completing 23 of 41 passes for 239 yards. On defense, the Bruins shut down tailback Greg Lewis, who failed to gain at least 100 yards for the first time this season. Lewis had 50 yards on 12 carries when he left the game with a hyperextended knee early in the third quarter.
Further wilting the Rose Bowl's bloom was Iowa's 27-26 loss to Ohio State on a last-second, three-yard TD pass from Buckeye quarterback Greg Frey to flanker Bobby Olive. The Hawkeyes can still make the trip to Pasadena by beating Purdue and Minnesota, but James easily could have been speaking for Iowa coach Hayden Fry when he said, "I feel sorry for the Rose Bowl committee members. I really wanted to give them a highly ranked bowl game."
THE BEST TEAM WON
A classic of sorts was played in Cheyney, Pa., and if you don't believe us, you can ask any of the 897 brave souls who sat through the game—or whatever you want to call it—between Morgan State, 0-10 and wearing the muddy uniforms, and Cheyney, 0-10 and wearing the other muddy uniforms. The playing conditions were perfect for these teams, which is to say miserable. It rained the whole game, turning the field into gook and the game into a sort of Mud-Wrestle-O-Rama. And this wasn't just your ordinary mud, either. "That mud up there in Pennsylvania," said Morgan State coach Ed Wyche, "is a special greasy mud."
There were no highlights, unless you count the punt that Morgan State defensive end James Dozier blocked in the fourth quarter. The ball ricocheted out of the end zone, giving Morgan State a 2-0 lead. That held up as the final score. There were 20 fumbles, 16 by Cheyney. Between them, the teams completed one pass in 17 attempts, a 21-yarder from Cheyney's Andre Baylor to Melvin Tate. Both teams had more penalty yards (80 for Morgan State, 50 for Cheyney) than total yards (58 for Morgan State, 45 for Cheyney). We are not making this up.
The visitors celebrated their victory by running into the end zone and wallowing in the mud. Mercifully, because the game was the last of the season for both teams, the equipment managers will have until next spring to get the uniforms clean. Speaking of the future, coach Wyche—in all seriousness, bless his heart—had this to say when asked what the victory meant to his team: "It will give our players a lot of confidence and pride heading into the off-season workouts."
A Pitt-iful crowd of 16,375 witnessed Temple's 28-18 upset of the Panthers at Pitt Stadium, and only 11,860 fans saw Rutgers lose 28-3 to West Virginia at Giants Stadium. Throw in Syracuse's 26-24 loss to Tulane at home before a crowd of 48,848, and you have to wonder about the future of eastern football, don't you?
...One more question: Wonder how long it's going to take one of the traditional powers to snap up Curley Hallman, the fine young coach whose Southern Miss team completed an 8-3 season with a 13-12 victory over Auburn?
...After a 40-28 loss to Texas Tech, TCU is 1-18 in November games since 1985....
A 46-18 win over Amherst enabled Division III Williams to finish 8-0 and stretch its string of consecutive victories to 21.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Arizona State senior quarterback Paul Justin completed 19 of 25 passes for 379 yards and four touchdowns and ran for two other TDs in leading the Sun Devils to a 51-26 win over Washington State.
Sophomore Jeff Robinson, a defensive end for Idaho, intercepted two passes, lateraling one of them to a teammate for a TD, and had four sacks for -31 yards as the Vandals defeated Montana 35-14.
Despite sitting out nearly the entire second half, Jeff Wittman, a sophomore fullback for Division III Ithaca, carried 25 times for a school-record 270 yards and four TDs in the Bombers' 38-9 rout of C.W. Post.