PLUMBING THE IRISH
Here is what's new at Notre Dame: 21,150 additional seats that
increase stadium capacity to 80,225, expanded locker rooms ("If
you're trying to put on your socks, you're not going to elbow
someone in the face anymore," Irish defensive end Melvin Dansby
says), Friday-night pep talks by former players and, of course,
the coach, Bob Davie.
Based on last Saturday's season opener against Georgia Tech,
here's what needs to be fixed at Notre Dame: One of the
stadium's main water valves, which locked up and flooded the
concourse level; the goal line offense, which stalled twice; and
any perception that the Irish are ready to contend for a
Notre Dame showed grit in dominating the fourth quarter to turn
back the Yellow Jackets 17-13. That the Irish struggled against
a mediocre Atlantic Coast Conference team didn't escape Davie's
notice. "We have a long way to go," he said, "but I do think we
have a good foundation."
That in itself is an improvement. Three years ago, after his
first spring as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Davie
expressed astonishment at the Irish's lack of talent. He looked
at the roster and named just 27 players he thought could have
played for the Texas A&M team he had left. Davie sensed the
6-5-1 record to come the following fall.
After practice last Thursday night Davie pondered what was then
and what is now. "We're still a recruiting class or two away
from being where we need to be," he said. "We'll play five true
freshmen on Saturday, and that's with a pretty good veteran team."
Senior quarterback Ron Powlus started strongly, completing 16 of
23 passes over the first three quarters, but threw interceptions
on consecutive passes in his own territory in the fourth
quarter. He then drove Notre Dame 70 yards in 11 plays for the
winning touchdown. He finished with 18 completions in 29
attempts for 217 yards and no touchdowns. Dansby, a senior who
has roomed with an ice pack most of his career, led the defense
with 12 tackles. He sealed the victory by sacking quarterback
Joe Hamilton at the Georgia Tech seven on the Yellow Jackets'
But two Irish freshmen also played vital roles. Wide receiver
Joey Getherall, only 5'9" and 165 pounds, became the first true
freshman to start a Notre Dame opener in 14 years and made five
catches for 47 yards in the first half before spraining his left
knee. (He'll be out two to three weeks.) After junior Bobbie
Howard tore a ligament in his left knee, 6'5", 224-pound
linebacker Grant Irons acquitted himself well during crunch time
late in the game, even though he still has a foal's gawkiness.
"Unbelievable," Irons kept saying after the game. "I wasn't used
to that many people [in the stands]." Then he unlocked his bike,
which was propped against a wall outside the locker room, and
No freshmen needed to apply on the offensive line, where three
fifth-year seniors started. While junior tailback Autry Denson
rushed for only 71 yards on 24 carries, to the line's credit he
gained 33 yards on the final drive. Nowhere were the offensive
line's shortcomings as evident as when Notre Dame was inside the
Georgia Tech 10. In the second quarter, a first-and-goal at the
Yellow Jackets' six yielded minus-two yards and a missed 25-yard
field goal attempt. In the third quarter, with first-and-goal at
the Georgia Tech four, the Irish ran not four but, thanks to a
Yellow Jackets penalty, five plays and gained only three yards
before turning the ball over on downs.
A lack of preparation was the primary reason for the impotent
attack. With a banged-up defensive line, Davie chose to run just
four full-contact, goal line plays against the starting defense
during Notre Dame's 29 preseason practices, lest he bring
further injury to his defensive front. "When you're blocking
bags and scout-team guys, it ain't quite the same," offensive
coordinator Jim Colletto said. "We're not very good inside the
10 right now."
Last Friday night former Notre Dame All-America defensive back
Dave Duerson, who played 11 seasons in the NFL with the Arizona
Cardinals, Chicago Bears and New York Giants, spoke to a roomful
of enthralled players. "I would give up both of my Super Bowl
rings, as God is my witness, to win a college national
championship,'' said Duerson, who will be followed by such alums
as Joe Theismann (Sept. 20) and possibly Joe Montana. "You bleed
together, you live together, you die together for one purpose.''
The Irish understood Duerson's yearning, but perhaps not as well
as they will if they don't play better in their next
game--Saturday, at Purdue.
BIG MAC ATTACK
New Purdue coach Joe Tiller didn't like the idea that the
Boilermakers had to open the season at Toledo, a Mid-American
Conference school, but the game had been arranged long before
his arrival. "God forbid if you lose," Tiller said before the
game. "If you do, you're down at the bottom of the ocean."
Well, if Purdue, a 36-22 loser, is now a shipwreck, what does
that make Maryland? The Terrapins fell 21-14 to Ohio, another
MAC team. Add new MAC member Marshall's 35-25 victory at Army,
and the league more than made up for Central Michigan's 82-6
loss at Florida. By the way, if anyone should be embarrassed
about that game--and someone should, Steve Spurrier--it
shouldn't be the Chippewas.
THE STREAK IS DEAD
When Division III Oberlin changed the design of its uniforms
before last season in an effort to reverse the mojo of a team in
the midst of a 30-game losing streak (SI, Aug. 26, 1996), coach
Pete Peterson decided the old jerseys needed a proper burial. So
one day between practices he gathered his players, tossed a
jersey into a hole that had been dug into the north end zone at
Dill Field and had each player throw a handful of dirt on it.
"We were hoping to signal a fresh start," Peterson says.
It was a slow process, but one year later Peterson's ritual
appears to have paid off. Oberlin broke a 40-game losing streak
when it edged Thiel College 18-17 in its season opener last
Saturday. The Yeomen's come-from-behind triumph ended the
longest losing streak in Division III since Macalester (Minn.)
dropped a record 50 straight from October 1974 through November
'79, and caused many of the roughly 1,000 fans in attendance to
pour onto Dill Field for a postgame celebration. "I saw kids
with their faces painted, running around and hollering,"
Peterson says. "You'd have thought it was a Big Ten game."
NO HUSTLING THE HUSKIES
When loquacious Washington coach Jim Lambright talked last
Friday about encountering "the perfect setup" in Saturday's
season opener against 19th-ranked Brigham Young, he was speaking
warily about the Cougars and not in praise of his own
fourth-ranked team. Last season the Huskies handed BYU its only
loss, a 29-17 setback in Seattle that probably cost the Cougars,
who finished 14-1, an alliance bowl berth and a shot at the
national championship. Now Washington had to play the rematch in
Provo, Utah--in the 83[degree] desert heat, at 4,560 feet above
sea level and with 65,000 Cougars fans howling for their
respect-starved team. At least Lambright wasn't buying into
cagey BYU coach LaVell Edwards's flattery. "He was complimenting
us all week in that nice grandfatherly way of his," Lambright
said jokingly. "Kind of like the way Bear Bryant talked to you
just before your execution.''
No matter. It was Washington that turned out to be perfectly set
up--not to mention exquisitely balanced--to win. The Huskies
romped 42-20 past BYU, which fielded new starters at two wideout
spots, both corners and at quarterback. As a result Washington's
Sept. 20 showdown against Nebraska took on even more luster and
national title ramifications. The Huskies were that fearsome on
both sides of the ball.
On defense Washington limited Brigham Young to two yards rushing
on 25 attempts. On offense Huskies sophomore quarterback Brock
Huard completed 18 of 23 passes for 285 yards and three
touchdowns. His featured receiver, speed-burner Jerome Pathon,
made seven catches for 163 yards. It seems like overkill to
mention that senior tailback Rashaan Shehee shredded BYU for 171
yards on 12 carries. Or Shehee's spectacular runs of 65 and 75
yards. Or his wide-open 23-yard touchdown reception in the third
Mercifully Shehee, who prepped for the game by getting backup
center Petro Kesi to shave the word roses (as in Rose Bowl) into
his hair, took a seat on the bench after his scoring catch.
Huard soon followed. After the game, when Edwards was asked to
assess the Huskies, he said, "I'll probably rank them where I
voted them last week--at Number 1." Edwards wasn't sandbagging
anyone now, just stating a fact. "They looked pretty good to
me." --JOHNETTE HOWARD
North Carolina State coach Mike O'Cain warned the Wolfpack last
week not to revel in its Aug. 30 overtime victory against
Syracuse. During one practice a plane flew over towing a message
that read FLUSH IT. FOCUS. BEAT DUKE. North Carolina State
heeded those words, winning 45-14 and starting out 2-0 on the
road for the first time since 1968.... Before fumbling on its
fourth play from scrimmage in a 28-21 win over Miami (Ohio),
Bowling Green had run 809 offensive plays and returned 53 kicks
without losing a fumble in a streak spanning 13 games.... The
eight African-American coaches in Division I-A went 5-3, with
Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Temple and Wake Forest each
winning.... Oregon State's switch from a wishbone to new coach
Mike Riley's balanced attack kicked in well. For the first time
since the start of the 1990 season the Beavers gained more yards
passing (273) than they did rushing (198). Oregon State scored
27 points (including one TD pass) in the fourth quarter to
defeat North Texas 33-7.
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WINNERS & LOSERS
1. VIRGINIA Was Ronald Curry the nation's most-sought-after high
school quarterback? Or the most coveted point guard? After the
6'3", 195-pound Hampton, Va., standout verbally committed to
the Cavaliers last Thursday, with the intention of playing both
sports, Hampton High Crabbers coach Mike Smith called Curry "the
biggest thing to happen to Virginia since Thomas Jefferson."
2. MIKE MCQUEARY In his first start, the Penn State fifth-year
senior quarterback set Nittany Lions records for passing yards
(366 yards) and total offense (370 yards) in a 34-17 defeat of
Pittsburgh. McQueary completed 21 of 36 passes, two of them for
touchdowns. Eight of his completions covered 20 yards or more.
Next up, Temple.
3. NORTHERN ILLINOIS The Huskies turned down an offer of
$300,000 from No. 21 Kansas State to move the game between the
two teams to the Wildcats' home field. Instead, a crowd of
26,873--the third largest in Huskie Stadium history and 4,127
below capacity--watched its team lose 47-7. As a result,
Northern Illinois netted $100,000.
1. THE WAC After a tumultuous off-season during which it
demanded--fairly successfully--that the biggest I-A conferences
treat it as an equal, the league had a grand opportunity to
prove itself. But BYU got run over by Washington, 42-20, and
Colorado State lost to Colorado, 31-21. The alliance bowls may
be WAC-free again this year.
2. TEXAS CAMPUS POLICE On Sept. 1 an officer stopped Texas
running back Ricky Williams going through a stop sign. Williams,
who didn't have his license with him, said he was Ricky Lynne
Williams. The officer, seeing that the car was registered to
Errick Lynne Williams, cuffed him and took him to jail. The
campus police chief subsequently apologized to Williams and
suspended the officer. Williams had to run stadium stairs for
missing curfew. Then he ran for 155 yards and three touchdowns
in the Longhorns' 48-14 defeat of Rutgers.
3. SYRACUSE In 13 days the Orangemen went from the surprise team
of the early season to...the surprise team of the early season.
After shutting out Wisconsin on Aug. 24, Syracuse has given up
68 points and allowed 21 of 34 third-down conversions in losses
to N.C. State and Oklahoma. --I.M.
COLORADO (1-0) AT MICHIGAN (0-0)
The 14th-ranked Wolverines are the last Division I-A team to
begin play this season, and the eighth-ranked Buffaloes are
probably one of the last teams they would want to meet in that
situation. The matchup of Colorado wideout Phil Savoy and
Michigan corner Charles Woodson is intriguing, but the Buffaloes
have two other talented receivers (Darrin Chiaverini and Chris
Anderson) and a solid quarterback in John Hessler. That figures
to be too much for the Wolverines to overcome.
STANFORD (1-0) AT NORTH CAROLINA (1-0)
The Tar Heels are unaccustomed to high expectations and didn't
handle them well in defeating Indiana 23-6. Chris Keldorf, who
is normally cool in the pocket, was intercepted three times by
the Hoosiers. However, superior talent should carry North
Carolina past Stanford, whose six-game win streak is tied with
Penn State's as the longest in Division I-A.
ARIZONA STATE (1-0) AT MIAMI (1-0)
To weather the anticipated 90% humidity at the Orange Bowl, the
Sun Devils started taking in additional fluids, mostly in the
form of water and sports drinks, on Tuesday and Wednesday.
(Seniors get the seats nearest the lavatories on the charter.)
The more pressing issue is whether Arizona State's inexperienced
defensive line can stop Hurricanes tailback Edgerrin James (120
yards, three touchdowns in a season-opening win over Baylor).
Perhaps the Sun Devils could if the game were played later in
the season, but not now.
LANGSTON (0-0) AT PRAIRIE VIEW A&M (0-1)
The Lions of the NAIA offer the best opportunity this season for
the NCAA Division I-AA Panthers to stop their NCAA-record
69-game losing streak. In its first game under new coach Greg
Johnson, on Aug. 30, Prairie View played respectably in a 32-16
loss to Texas Southern. Johnson ought to know Langston's
weaknesses because he was the coach there for the last six
years. The Panthers used to be an object of ridicule; now
they're the object of sympathy. What else is there to feel? Just
win, baby. --I.M.