Sunday, September 28, 1997
Notre Dame puts
winning on hold

The Cincinnati Enquirer

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - You can't say Notre Dame is losing its grip.

Its poise, yes. Its minds, maybe. Its games, assuredly.

Notre Dame coach Bob Davie yells at linebacker Bill Mitoulas.
(AP photo)
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But the Fighting Irish grip like Crazy Glue. They hang on for dear life. This is not to their credit, necessarily, for the hands-on approach is generally frowned on in college football. It can lead to costly penalties and assorted anguish.

It led the Irish to a 21-14 defeat against Michigan Saturday. One month into the Bob Davie Era, Notre Dame is at one win and, err, holding.

''I've never been in a game in my career that had that many holding penalties,'' Davie said. ''I think we had seven.''

Let the record show there were only six. Notre Dame was penalized four times for holding, had one holding call declined, and another served to nullify what would have been a lengthy pass interference penalty against the Wolverines.

Davie's losing streak has now reached three in a row, Notre Dame's longest regular season slump since the final days of Gerry Faust.

''It's not a lack of talent or a lot of heart,'' said Irish tailback Tony Driver. '' ... It's consistency. Just a sense of urgency. It's knowing, when you get three turnovers, that you have to take advantage.''

Sixth-ranked Michigan made a mighty effort to lay this game in Notre Dame's lap, but the Irish were either too proud or too clueless to accept charity. The Wolverines lost fumbles on three straight possessions in the fourth quarter - each one in their own half of the field - and Notre Dame failed to pick up so much of a field goal.

The Irish had finished the first half with a flourish, marching 98 yards in 11 plays for a go-ahead touchdown. Davie went to the dressing room thinking the drive might ''springboard this football team.''

If it was a springboard, someone must have drained the pool during halftime.

Michigan tied the score on its second play from scrimmage, a 41-yard pass play from Brian Griese to Tai Streets. Notre Dame responded by being penalized three times in the space of four plays on its next possession.

Altogether, the Irish lost 92 yards on 10 penalties.

Not counting errors in judgment.

Twice following Michigan's fourth quarter fumbles, the Irish advanced to field goal range and found only futility. A lot of it their own fault.

On their deepest penetration of the second half - 4 yards from the Michigan goal - the Irish were charged with an incredibly dumb delay of game penalty. Then, on third down from the 9-yard line, quarterback Ron Powlus rolled out in search of tight end Jaberi Holloway, sighted him with a step on the Michigan secondary, only to be intercepted by safety Tommy Hendricks.

This mistake might not have mattered had the Irish executed a little more crisply on their final offensive play. Faced with a fourth and 2 at the Michigan 20-yard line, offensive coordinator Jim Colletto ordered a handoff to Autry Denson, but left its direction to be determined.

Amid the kind of crowd noise only 106,508 people can generate, the Irish audible was probably ill-advised. The offensive line did not seem to get off the ball cohesively, and Denson, rather than going right or left, went nowhere.

''We called two plays,'' Colletto said. ''The same play to either side. We shouldn't have done that. That's my fault.''

Bob Davie has been in charge of the Fighting Irish for four games, and he has won once. He is advised not to pick up his messages Monday.

''It's amazing how much advice you get,'' he said last week. ''I've even noticed that the Frank Leahy statue across from my office seems like it's beginning to creep in a little bit closer.''

The job of the Notre Dame football coach is to ''Wake up the echoes.'' Bob Davie may be in danger of waking the dead.