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25 Notre Dame On the field and off, this once proud program continues its struggle to live up to the standards of the past

Aug. 31, 1998
Aug. 31, 1998

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Aug. 31, 1998

College Football Preview 1998

25 Notre Dame On the field and off, this once proud program continues its struggle to live up to the standards of the past

Three on the bumper!" barks Notre Dame strength coach Mickey
Marotti. It is an oppressively hot July day, and Marotti, who
would have been a hit at a Spanish auto-da-fe, has commenced a
creative conditioning exercise. Using a Ford Club Wagon as a
blocking sled, Marotti makes the Irish players push the car up
and down a practice field in increments of 25 yards per trio.
This, it should be noted, is a "voluntary" workout.

This is an article from the Aug. 31, 1998 issue

Meanwhile, some 100 miles to the southwest, in Lafayette, Ind.,
lawyers representing Notre Dame in an age-discrimination suit
are attempting to convince a jury that Irish coach Bob Davie
fired then 64-year-old offensive line coach Joe Moore in
December 1996 not because Moore was old but because he was
abusive. The line between inspiration and abuse is fine indeed.

Many Notre Dame players will attest that a few more martinets
are just what their foundering program needs. "You gotta have
pain," says outside linebacker Kory Minor. "That's what it takes
to win."

Minor understands pain. In his three years in South Bend the
senior tri-captain has endured three-, three- and six-loss
seasons, in that order. He has lost one coach (Lou Holtz, who
resigned after the 1996 season) and watched a second (Davie)
lose a lot of face in the wake of Moore's age-discrimination
trial. (The Infighting Irish would lose that contest too, as the
jury ultimately awarded Moore $86,000 in back pay and damages.)

If only the Irish put up as much fight on the field last year as
they did in court this summer. The defense reeked, er, ranked
83rd in the nation against the run, and after the linebacking
unit of Minor, fellow seniors Jimmy Friday (a team-leading 109
tackles in '97) and Bobbie Howard, and sophomore
star-in-the-making Grant Irons, the talent level of the D falls
off sharply, especially in the secondary. Sophomore Tony Driver,
who ran for 125 yards last year as understudy to tailback Autry
Denson, will start at free safety, which underscores two facts:
(1) Driver is too good an athlete to be wasted on the bench, and
(2) right now ND stands for "no depth."

The offense too has holes, particularly at wideout, but it does
possess more proven talent and should put up big numbers now
that Davie has opted to return to the option-oriented attack
that served the Irish so well during the Holtz years. Denson,
who needs 989 yards to break the school career rushing record of
4,131 yards held by Allen Pinkett, will run behind a typical
Club Wagon-sized Notre Dame line, which averages just under 300
pounds per player. Though senior quarterback Jarious Jackson is
an average passer and has yet to start a college game, his
superior running skills make him an excellent fit for the new
offense. Those worried about Jackson's lack of experience might
recall the last time the Irish installed a senior as a
first-time starter at quarterback: In 1993, option quarterback
Kevin McDougal led Notre Dame to an 11-1 record and a No. 2
final ranking.

Not that anyone is predicting the same outcome for this Notre
Dame team. The Irish open at home on Sept. 5 against national
champion Michigan, then face Michigan State, Purdue and
Stanford, all of which defeated Notre Dame in '97. An Oct. 10
duel at Arizona State also looms ominously. Yes, the Irish
remain a formidable opponent capable of beating a quality team
(see their 24-6 win at LSU last November). But given the recent
tumult, the golden days in South Bend seem further away than
ever. --J.W.

COLOR PHOTO: JONATHAN DANIEL/ALLSPORT SIZE MATTERS Tackle Mike Rosenthal anchors a typically massive Irish O-line.

Fact Sheet

1997 record: 7-6
(Independent)
Final ranking: unranked

1997 Averages OFFENSE DEFENSE

Scoring 22.8 19.8
Rushing Yards 174.9 184.8
Passing Yards 185.3 180.3
Total Yards 360.3 365.1

Pivotal Players

At 6'7" and 300 pounds, senior left tackle Mike Rosenthal is
more than just a big load; line coach Dave Borbely calls the
three-year starter a "great technician."... No freshman defender
saw more playing time in '97 than 6'5", 256-pound Grant Irons.
The younger brother of former Michigan All-America Jarrett
Irons, he could lead the team in sacks from his rush linebacker
spot.

Key Games

Schedule strength: 27th of 112

Sept. 5 vs. Michigan Senior quarterback Jarious Jackson's first
start comes against the nation's top defense in '97.

Oct. 10 at Arizona State The first-ever meeting between Domers
and Devils will be the toughest test of the year for the Irish D.

The Bottom Line

Bob Davie's return to the option plays to Notre Dame's strengths,
but shortcomings on defense spell another up-and-down year.