Monday, September 23, 2002

College Football Review: Luck of the Irish is holding

        ×by By Mike Lopresti
       Gannett News Service

        Here's trouble for the rest of college football: Notre Dame, back to being blessed.

        Consider the pluck and luck of the Irish.

        They have thrown only two touchdown passes this season and average but 3.2 yards a run. They have outgained their four opponents by only 89 total yards and have been outscored 40-36 in the second half.

        Stop me when this starts sounding like a team with a 4-0 record.

        After starting quarterback Carlyle Holiday was hurt at Michigan State - he was only 5-for-17 passing at the time - in came a former walk-on with no college pass attempts to his name.

        But then Pat Dillingham threw a short slant that turned into a 60-yard winning touchdown when two defenders ran into one another.

        And now the Irish have won three straight games by a touchdown or less, something they haven't done since 1941.

        “If we win every game like this, it's going to cause a lot of heartbreak,” said coach Tyrone Willingham, the new master of the mystique. “But the fact of the matter is, I'll take 13 like this.”

        Added receiver Arnaz Battle, who caught the winning touchdown: “We used to lose games like this. Now we find a way to win games like this.”

        Yep, Bob Davie might have a thought or two on that.

        Notre Dame's defense has been the anchor. The Irish still haven't allowed a first-half offensive touchdown this season.

        Ahead is an open week and home games with Stanford and Pittsburgh. The next true danger would seem to be in October, with trips to Air Force and Florida State.

        The Irish shouldn't expect to stay perfect if the offense doesn't get better.

        But then, Michigan State never expected to lose to a backup walk-on quarterback.

        Coming attractions

        Nebraska at Iowa State. This is usually bad news for Iowa State, which has lost 80 of 96 meetings with the Cornhuskers, including 23 of the last 24. But these are high times in Ames, where the 4-1 Cyclones are ranked for the first time in 21 years and quarterback Seneca Wallace may soon deserve his own Heisman advertising mailing. Nebraska, meanwhile, has much to answer for after the Penn State debacle.


        “I apologize to the fans and to the people who follow Tennessee football.” - Volunteers coach Phillip Fulmer, in a postgame confessional after his team fumbled eight times in the rain in a 30-13 loss to Florida.

        Stat of the week

        Remember Michigan kicker Philip Brabbs, the hero with his late field goal to beat Washington? He is now 3-for-9 in field goal attempts for the season, and Michigan's kickers overall are 3-for-11. “I don't know what else to do,” said a frustrated coach Lloyd Carr.

        Thumbs of the week

Up to Ron Zook. Beleaguered new Florida coach humbles Tennessee in Knoxville. You can stay.

        Up to Virginia Tech. Hokies already have the heads of three ranked opponents and become first nonconference team to win at Texas A&M since 1988. Only 68 shopping days to the Miami game.

        Up to Kansas State. May be time to decorate Wildcats for courage. Kansas State beats USC, its first ranked nonconference opponent on the schedule since 1991. The USC game came after - heh, heh, this is more like it - Western Kentucky, Louisiana-Monroe and Eastern Illinois.

        Up to Bowling Green. Twenty-two Falcons get stuck on hotel elevator - something about the linemen topping the 3,500-pound weight limit - but escape in time to beat Kansas.

        Down to Navy. How do you gain 678 yards and still lose? To Northwestern?


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