Nov. 3, 2003
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2-6)
vs. Navy Midshipmen (6-3)
The Date and Time: Saturday, Nov. 8, 2003 at 2:30 p.m. EST.
The Site: Notre Dame Stadium (80,795/Natural Grass) in Notre Dame, Ind.
The Tickets: They’re all sold — with this being the 172nd consecutive sellout at Notre Dame Stadium (the first 130 coming at the old 59,075 capacity). The Navy game marks the 220th home sellout in the last 221 games (dating back to 1964), with this being the 159th sellout in the last 182 Irish games and the 23rd consecutive sellout involving Notre Dame, including the first 10 games of 1998, the first 11 in ’99, the first five in ’00, the first nine in ’01, all 13 in ’02 and the first nine in ’03.
The TV Plans: NBC Sports national telecast with Tom Hammond (play-by-play), Pat Haden (analysis), Lewis Johnson (sideline), Jim Bell (producer) and John Gonzalez (director).
The Radio Plans: For the 36th consecutive season, all Notre Dame football games are broadcast on more than 200 stations in all 50 states by Westwood One with Tony Roberts (play by play), former Irish running back Allen Pinkett (analysis), former Irish quarterback and 1956 Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung (pregame/halftime analysis) and Al Smith (producer). A live broadcast from the Notre Dame student station, WVFI, also is available via the Notre Dame athletics web site at www.und.com. All Notre Dame football games are heard on WDND-AM (1620) and WNDV-FM (92.9) in South Bend with pre- and post-game analysis featuring Sean Stires, Andy Budzinski, Shawn Lewallen, Jack Nolan and Larry Williams. All Irish games also are carried live in the Chicago market on ESPN Radio 1000.
Real-Time Stats: Live in-game statistics are available for the Navy game, via the Notre Dame (www.und.com) athletics web site.
Web Sites: Notre Dame (www.und.com), Navy (www.navysports.com).
The nation’s longest continuous intersectional rivalry will be renewed on Saturday when Notre Dame and Navy meet for the 77th year in a row at 2:30 p.m. (EST) at Notre Dame Stadium. The matchup will be broadcast nationally by NBC and will feature the Irish looking to extend their NCAA-record winning streak against the Midshipmen to 40 consecutive games. The last time Navy defeated Notre Dame was back in 1963, when Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach guided the Midshipmen to a 35-14 win at Notre Dame Stadium.
The Irish (2-6) will be seeking to revitalize their season, which has been rough to this point thanks to a schedule that has been rated the toughest in the nation by the NCAA and the Sagarin/USA Today rankings. In its first eight games this season, Notre Dame has faced seven teams that currently are ranked in both major national polls, including second-ranked USC, third-ranked Florida State and eighth-ranked Michigan. In addition, every opponent the Irish have faced to date has a winning record, a trend that continues this weekend with Navy coming to town.
Notre Dame was shut out by Florida State in its last contest, 37-0 last weekend at Notre Dame Stadium. It was the first home shutout of the Irish since 1978, although the Irish did have several chances to score in the game, including four drives inside the FSU 15-yard line. Senior linebacker Courtney Watson did enhance his Butkus Award chances with a game-high 11 tackles and a season-best three tackles for loss.
Navy (6-3) comes into this weekend’s matchup on the heels of a 35-17 win over Tulane last Saturday in Annapolis, Md. Quarterback Craig Candeto expertly led the high-powered option offense of the Midshipmen, rushing 18 times for a game-high 140 yards and three touchdowns. Fullback Kyle Eckel added 102 yards on 26 carries, helping Navy maintain the nation’s top rushing attack, which now is averaging better than 309 yards per game on the ground. Eckel is 36th in the country in rushing at 89.56 yards per game, while Candeto is 41st nationally at 85.22 yards per game.
Notre Dame leads the all-time series with Navy, 66-9-1, including a 24-3 mark at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish also have won 30 of their last 31 games against service academies, dating back to 1986.
NOTRE DAME-NAVY SERIES NOTES
- Notre Dame and Navy will play one another for the 77th consecutive year on Saturday, making it the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in the country. The Irish hold a 66-9-1 (.875) edge in the series with the Midshipmen, including a current 39-game winning streak that is the longest against one opponent in NCAA history.
- The Irish and Midshipmen will be playing at Notre Dame Stadium for the 28th time in the series with Notre Dame owning a 24-3 (.889) advantage over Navy, including an active 19-game winning streak at home.
- Notre Dame has had tremendous success against the U.S. service academies over the years, posting a 123-22-5 (.837) combined record against Army, Navy and Air Force, including a 41-7 (.854) record at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish also are 30-1 (.968) against the service academies since 1986, with the only loss being a 20-17 overtime setback against Air Force in 1996 at Notre Dame Stadium.
- This year’s game will mark the first time since 1997 that Navy has come into the matchup with a better record than Notre Dame. That year, the Midshipmen were 3-3 and the Irish were 3-5 at game time, but Notre Dame prevailed by a 21-17 count.
- Notre Dame and Navy are two of only four independents playing Division I-A football this season. The others are Connecticut and Troy State.
IF NOTRE DAME WINS …
- Notre Dame will extend its NCAA-record winning streak over Navy to 40 consecutive games, dating back to the 1963 season.
- The Irish will improve to 67-9-1(.877) all-time against the Midshipmen, including a 25-3 (.893) series record at Notre Dame Stadium.
- Notre Dame will move its career record against the service academies to 124-22-5 (.838), including a 42-7 (.857) record at home and a 31-1 (.969) mark since 1986. It also will be the 10th consecutive win for the Irish over a service academy, dating back to a 20-17 overtime loss to Air Force in 1996.
IF NAVY WINS …
- The Midshipmen will end Notre Dame’s 39-game series winning streak, ending an NCAA record for the most consecutive victories against one opponent in college football history. They also will break a 19-game losing streak at Notre Dame Stadium.
- Navy will pick up its first victory over the Irish since 1963, when Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach led the Midshipmen to a 35-14 win at Notre Dame Stadium.
- Navy would be the first service academy to defeat Notre Dame since Air Force claimed a 20-17 overtime victory in 1996, snapping a nine-game Irish winning streak against the academies.
NOTRE DAME-NAVY SERIES HISTORY
- Navy and Notre Dame are meeting for the 77th time this season, the longest series in Notre Dame football history. This year’s Notre Dame-Purdue and Notre Dame-USC games were the 75th in those series (tied for second-longest in school history).
- Notre Dame leads the Navy series, 66-9-1 (.875), in the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in the country. The Irish and Midshipmen have met every year since 1927, playing 49 times at neutral sites and 27 times at Notre Dame Stadium.
- Notre Dame has won 39 consecutive games in the series. Navy’s last win came in ’63, when Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach helped Navy claim a 35-14 victory at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame’s 39 straight wins rank as the longest winning streak by one team over another in NCAA history (note: Nebraska’s current streak of 34 wins in a row over Kansas which began in 1969 is second on this list, with the Huskers and Jayhawks set to meet Saturday in Lawrence, Kan.).
- Notre Dame has a 24-3 (.889) record all-time against Navy at Notre Dame Stadium, with all three wins by the Midshipmen coming in a six-year stretch (1957, 1961, 1963). The Irish currently own a 19-game home winning streak against Navy.
- The Irish have scored 30 or more points in 15 of the last 18 meetings with Navy. Dating back to the 1985 contest, Notre Dame has averaged 39.7 points per game in the series, including five 50-point eruptions and back-to-back 58-point outbursts in 1993 and ’94. And, the Irish have scored more points against the Midshipmen (2,044) than any of the other 134 opponents in school history. Notre Dame topped the 2,000-point mark against Navy in 2001 on an eight-yard touchdown run by Terrance Howard in the third quarter of a 34-16 Irish victory.
- In addition to the 27 series games at Notre Dame, the schools have met in seven other American cities (Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, East Rutherford (N.J.), Orlando, Philadelphia and Raljon, Md.), as well as Dublin, Ireland. Notre Dame is 42-6-1 (.867) against Navy at neutral sites, including an active 21-game winning streak that dates back to a 20-12 Irish win at Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium in 1962.
- The Irish and Midshipmen will play next season at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
- Notre Dame defensive line coach Greg Mattison spent two seasons (1987-88) as the defensive line coach at the Naval Academy.
- Irish running backs coach Buzz Preston worked with three Navy coaches during his tenure at Hawaii — head coach Paul Johnson, slotbacks coach Jeff Monken and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Ken Niumatalolo. Preston was the wide receivers/defensive backs/special teams coach at UH from 1987-93, while Johnson was the Hawaii offensive coordinator from 1987-94. Monken was a graduate assistant coach for the Rainbow Warriors from 1989-90, and Niumatalolo was a three-year letterwinner as a quarterback for Hawaii from 1987-89, moving on to assume a graduate assistant post from 1990-92, and later an assistant coaching position from 1992-94. In addition, Navy quarterbacks/fullbacks coach Ivin Jasper was a three-year letterwinner at quarterback and slotback for the Rainbow Warriors from 1991-93.
- Sixth-year Navy director of strength and conditioning and operations Kirk Woolfolk was Notre Dame’s strength and conditioning coordinator for three years (1995-98).
- Two current Notre Dame Olympic sports head coaches have past experience as head coaches at Navy. Irish men’s tennis head coach Bob Bayliss — now in his 17th year at Notre Dame — spent the first 15 years of his head coaching career at Navy (1970-84). Sixth-year Notre Dame women’s rowing coach Martin Stone held the same position at Navy for six years prior to joining the Irish staff in October 1997.
- Irish senior associate athletics director Missy Conboy’s husband, Bill Mountford, played for Bayliss at Navy.
- Notre Dame assistant director of club sports Dave Brown was a professor, head squash coach and assistant tennis coach at the Naval Academy from 1978-98.
- Irish associate director of ticketing Maja Hansen spent five years (1998-2003) as assistant director of ticket operations at Navy.
FRIEND OR FOE?
- Irish junior OL Casey Dunn (Gulliver Prep), Navy junior LB Lane Jackson (Columbus HS) and Navy junior SB Eric Roberts (Hollywood Christian HS) all are residents of Miami, Fla.
- Notre Dame senior OT Jim Molinaro (Bethlehem Catholic HS) and Navy junior LB Bobby McClarin (Liberty HS) are natives of Bethlehem, Pa.
- Notre Dame sophomore DE Travis Leitko (The Woodlands HS), along with Navy junior OT Casey Hughes (Cy-Fair HS), junior DE Matt McLaughlin (Cy-Fair HS), senior OT Steve Mercer (Cypress Falls HS) and junior C August Roitsch (Memorial HS) all come from the Houston area.
- Notre Dame senior QB Carlyle Holiday (Roosevelt HS) and Navy junior DB Ryan McCabe (Churchill HS) are natives of San Antonio.
- Irish freshman DE Victor Abiamiri and freshman WR Ambrose Wooden both graduated last year from The Gilman School in Baltimore. As seniors in 2002, the pair were instrumental in guiding the Greyhounds to a 10-0 record, a No. 15 national ranking and the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title. Navy senior CB Sina Ekundayo also attended The Gilman School, graduating in 2000.
THE LAST TIME NOTRE DAME AND NAVY MET
During the American Revolution, Paul Revere alerted the colonists to the impending British invasion by hanging lamps in the Old North Church, and telling them “one if by land, two if by sea.”
Following ninth-ranked Notre Dame’s 30-23 win over Navy on Nov. 9, 2002 at Baltimore’s Ravens Stadium, the Midshipmen could likely add to that story — “three if by air.” In fact, Irish quarterback Carlyle Holiday passed for a career-high 272 yards and guided his team to 15 fourth-quarter points, as Notre Dame turned back a “naval invasion.”
Wide receiver Omar Jenkins was the beneficiary of much of Holiday’s success against Navy. The junior from Dallas hauled in four passes for a career-high 166 yards, including the game-winning 67-yard touchdown with 2:06 remaining. Jenkins’ 166-yard outing was the best by an Irish receiver since Raghib Ismail tallied 173 yards in a 1990 win over Navy at Giants Stadium.
Jenkins’ late-game heroics were the perfect antidote for an early miscue. On Notre Dame’s first play from scrimmage, Holiday lofted a 62-yard strike to Jenkins, but the Irish wideout fumbled and Navy’s Vaughn Kelley recovered at his own 27-yard line.
The Notre Dame special teams units played a critical role in the victory, beginning on Navy’s second possession. After a high snap sailed over the head of Midshipmen punter John Skaggs, Irish wide receiver Carlos Campbell tackled the kicker in his own end zone for a safety, putting Notre Dame on the board first.
The teams traded touchdowns later in the first half, as Navy backup quarterback Aaron Polanco scored from 12 yards out late in the first quarter. Irish fullback Tom Lopienski countered with a one-yard dive in the second period, giving Notre Dame a 9-7 lead at the half. The Midshipmen remained sturdy in the third quarter, thanks to a 45-yard punt return by Aaron Weedo which gave the hosts a short field to work with. Polanco capped a six-play drive with a one-yard run to put Navy ahead.
The lead didn’t last long, as on the following kickoff, Vontez Duff drifted back to his own eight-yard line, started up the middle and knifed through the left side of the Navy coverage team. From there, he went virtually untouched to the end zone, putting the Irish back on top, despite a missed two-point try.
Navy rebounded with an 80-yard scoring drive on its next possession, ending with a 10-yard touchdown run by Eric Roberts. Irish tailback Ryan Grant then fumbled on his team’s next play, and the Mids turned that takeaway into a field goal and a 23-15 lead.
The margin remained the same when Notre Dame took over with 7:27 to play at the Navy 48-yard line. Holiday calmly steered the Irish offense downfield, connecting with Jenkins on a 29-yard pass to the two-yard line. Running back Rashon Powers-Neal bucked over from the one and Holiday added a two-point pass to Arnaz Battle, tying the score and setting the stage for Jenkins’ redemption.
Still, after taking the lead, Notre Dame needed some late-game assistance from its defense. Free safety Glenn Earl and linebacker Courtney Watson came up with timely interceptions to stop a pair of last-minute drives by Navy and give the Irish their NCAA-record 39th consecutive win over the Midshipmen.
THE LAST TIME NOTRE DAME AND NAVY MET AT NOTRE DAME STADIUM
Junior tailback Julius Jones rushed 24 times for a game-high 117 yards and one touchdown, and senior tailback Terrance Howard had a pair of short scoring runs to help Notre Dame pick up its 38th consecutive win over Navy, 34-16, on Nov. 17, 2001 before a capacity crowd of 80,795 at Notre Dame Stadium. Brian Madden passed for 105 yards and added 70 yards rushing and a touchdown for the Midshipmen, who struggled to find the end zone against the Irish, watching three drives stall out inside the Notre Dame 10-yard line.
The Irish wasted little time in moving in front, as Nicholas Setta kicked a 41-yard field goal on his team’s first possession. Then, just five plays later, Gerome Sapp scooped up a Navy fumble and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead at the 9:03 mark of the first quarter.
The Midshipmen responded and tied the game late in the opening period, as Madden scored on a 38-yard run and David Hills kicked a 24-yard field goal. The Irish then regained the lead in the second quarter on a four-yard run by Howard before Hills booted a 22-yard field goal to move Navy within 17-13 at halftime.
Howard posted the only score of the third quarter, going over from eight yards out. Hills followed with his third field goal of the day from 20 yards with 13:11 left in the game to pull the Midshipmen within one possession at 24-16. However, Jones dashed Navy’s hopes 61 seconds later with a 44-yard touchdown run and Setta iced the win with a 32-yard field goal at the five-minute mark.
NOTRE DAME VS. THE SERVICE ACADEMIES
- Notre Dame has won more than 83 percent of its games (123-22-5) vs. teams from the three service academies (Army, Navy and Air Force).
- The Irish have won nine consecutive games against the service academies, and they are 30-1 (.968) against these schools since 1986 (including a 16-1 mark at home). The only defeat in that time was a 20-17 overtime loss to Air Force in 1996 at Notre Dame Stadium.
- More than half (76) of Notre Dame’s 150 games against service academies, and more than half of its victories (66) have come against Navy, part of the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in the country. The Irish and Midshipmen will battle for the 77th consecutive year on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish have won 39 consecutive games against Navy, extending their NCAA record for the longest winning streak against one opponent in college football history (note: Nebraska is second on that list with an active 34-game winning streak against Kansas that dates back to 1969. The Huskers and Jayhawks also are slated to meet Saturday in Lawrence, Kan.). The Irish have a 66-9-1 (.875) series record against the Midshipmen.
- Notre Dame and Army met every season from 1913-47, with the exception of 1918. During an 11-season span from 1937-47, one or both teams were ranked, including six meetings when either side was first or second in the nation, and back-to-back “No. 1 vs. No. 2” matchups in 1945 and 1946. However, the Irish and Cadets have played just 14 times since 1947, with Notre Dame winning 13 of those encounters. Their last meeting came in 1998, with the Irish pulling out a 20-17 win at home. Notre Dame leads the all-time series with Army, 36-8-4 (.792).
JONES HAPPY TO FACE NAVY
Perhaps there’s no player on the Irish roster more excited to play Navy than senior running back Julius Jones. In three career games against the Midshipmen, Jones has rushed 61 times for 368 yards with two touchdowns, averaging 122.7 yards per contest. He also is averaging more than six yards per carry and has topped the 100-yard mark on the ground all three times, logging 146 yards on 19 carries in 1999, carding 105 yards on 18 rushes with a touchdown in 2000, and adding 117 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown in 2001.
KEEP AN EYE ON THE UNUSUAL AGAINST NAVY
If history is any indication, expect the unexpected when Notre Dame takes on Navy this weekend. In five of the last seven meetings between the Irish and Midshipmen, one of the two teams has scored at least one touchdown on defense or special teams. This recent trend began with the 1996 game in Dublin, Ireland, when Notre Dame defensive end Renaldo Wynn scored on a 24-yard fumble return. In 1999, Navy scored twice in an unorthodox manner, as Chris Oliver recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for a TD and David Alexander scored on a 20-yard interception return. In 2000, Irish free safety Tony Driver tied an NCAA record with two fumble returns for touchdowns, both coming less than seven minutes apart in the first quarter. In 2001, Notre Dame strong safety Gerome Sapp got his team going with a 39-yard fumble return for a touchdown early in the first quarter. Then, last season, Irish cornerback/return specialist Vontez Duff ran back a third-quarter kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown to help the Irish earn their 39th consecutive win over the Midshipmen.
- Navy stands as the most common opponent in Notre Dame football history. The Irish and Midshipmen are playing for the 77th time this season, having met continuously since 1927.
- Notre Dame plays six of its nine most common opponents this season (Navy, Purdue, USC, Michigan State, Pittsburgh and Michigan).
- The Irish have played 134 different teams in 115 seasons of varsity football.
RANK AND FILE
Notre Dame’s penchant for playing the best teams in the country is well known. In fact, over the last 17 seasons (1987-2003), the Irish have played 82 games against ranked opponents, an average of nearly five games per season. Notre Dame has posted a record of 43-37-2 (.537) in these games, including a 22-12-1 (.643) mark against ranked teams at home.
THE MIGHTY QUINN
Freshman quarterback Brady Quinn has opened some eyes with his poise and confidence under center this season. The Dublin, Ohio, native is one of only six true freshmen in the nation to start a game at quarterback this season, having completed 102 of 228 passes for 1,162 yards and five touchdowns with 11 interceptions. His 102 completions, 228 attempts and 1,162 yards passing all are the most by an Irish quarterback in his freshman season since 1951, topping the previous marks held by Steve Beuerlein in 1983 (75 of 145 for 1,061 yards). Quinn’s five passing TDs also are second only to Matt LoVecchio’s 11 scoring tosses in 2000.
Quinn’s strongest performance to date came at Boston College on Oct. 25. The Irish rookie completed 59 percent of his passes (23 of 39) for a career-best 350 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. His 350 yards through the air were the most by a Notre Dame quarterback since Nov. 25, 1978, when Joe Montana threw for 358 yards in a loss at USC.
Quinn made his first career start at Purdue on Sept. 27, completing 29 of 59 passes for 297 yards and one touchdown with four interceptions. His 29 completions were the most by an Irish quarterback since Ron Powlus connected 31 times at Purdue in 1997 and the 59 attempts were the second-most in school history behind Terry Hanratty’s 63 passes at Purdue in 1967. In addition, Quinn’s passing yardage total was the best by a Notre Dame quarterback in his first start since Hanratty threw for 304 yards in that game at Purdue in 1967. Quinn’s yardage total also was the best by an Irish first-time freshman starting QB in the last 53 seasons.
In its Oct. 25 loss at Boston College, Notre Dame displayed a diversified passing attack that rolled up 350 yards and yielded a pair of touchdowns. It was the most passing yardage piled up by an Irish offense since Oct. 27, 1979, when Dan Devine’s charges threw for 383 yards in a last-minute 18-17 win over South Carolina at Notre Dame Stadium. Rusty Lisch led the Notre Dame offense on that day, completing 24 of 43 passes for 336 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
SPREADING THE WEALTH
Notre Dame had a season-high 10 different players catch passes in its loss at Boston College on Oct. 25, led by sophomore wide receiver Rhema McKnight and sophomore tight end Anthony Fasano, who caught four passes apiece. It was the highest number of pass-catchers the Irish have had in a single game since Oct. 16, 1999, when 10 Notre Dame players had a reception in a 25-24 come-from-behind win over USC at Notre Dame Stadium.
The Irish had eight different players with a reception on Nov. 1 vs. Florida State, marking the fifth time in eight contests this season that the Irish have had at least eight players catch a pass. All told, 16 different players have at least one reception this season, including senior quarterback Carlyle Holiday (1-10), who recently has been spending some time at wide receiver, and junior right guard Dan Stevenson, who caught a deflected pass for a one-yard gain vs. Michigan State. This is the second consecutive season in which Notre Dame has had 16 players with a reception. The last time the Irish had more than 16 pass-catchers in a season was 1986, when 17 different players caught a pass during Lou Holtz’s first campaign at Notre Dame.
KEEPING UP WITH JONES
Senior running back Julius Jones turned in the finest single-game rushing performance in school history Oct. 11 at Pittsburgh, piling up a school-record 262 yards on 24 carries with two TDs. Jones broke the nearly 25-year-old Notre Dame record of 255 yards by Vagas Ferguson at Georgia Tech on Nov. 18, 1978. Jones’ total also is the third-highest single-game rushing output in the nation this season.
Jones’ performance in the Pittsburgh game was good enough for the Big Stone Gap, Va., native to be named the national Player of the Week by three media outlets. The Sporting News, USAToday.com and CollegeSportsNews.com all tabbed him to receive the honor for the week of Oct. 12.
Jones became the first Irish back to break the 200-yard mark on the ground since Reggie Brooks ran for 227 yards at USC on Nov. 28, 1992. The Pittsburgh game also marked the seventh 100-yard rushing game of Jones’ career and his first since a 106-yard effort at Stanford on Nov. 24, 2001.
For the season, Jones leads Notre Dame with 118 carries for 614 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and four TDs. He added 76 yards on 18 rushes against Florida State, giving him 2,364 career rushing yards and moving him into sixth place on Notre Dame’s all-time rushing list, ahead of Randy Kinder (2,295 from 1993-96) and George Gipp (2,341 from 1917-20). Jones needs 45 yards to catch Phil Carter (2,409 from 1979-82) and jump into the top five on the Irish career rushing list (see chart on page 13 of notes).
Notre Dame rushed for a season-high 352 yards on 56 carries on Oct. 11 at Pittsburgh, averaging better than 6.2 yards per carry. It was the highest rushing total for the Irish since Aug. 28, 1999, when they amassed 363 yards in a 48-13 win over Kansas at Notre Dame Stadium. Senior running back Julius Jones led the way against Pittsburgh with a school-record 262 yards on 24 carries.
TUCK-ING THEM IN
Junior defensive end Justin Tuck has been a menace for opposing quarterbacks this season. The Kellyton, Ala., product ranks among the national leaders with 0.88 sacks per game, with six of his seven sacks coming in the last five games. His best performance to date came on Oct. 11 at No. 15 Pittsburgh, when he wound up with a career-high 10 tackles, a career-best 3.5 sacks (part of an eight-sack night by the Irish) and a forced fumble in Notre Dame’s 20-14 win over the Panthers.
For the season, Tuck leads the Irish in sacks (seven), tackles for loss (11) and forced fumbles (two), and he is fourth on the team with 43 tackles.
Notre Dame’s 27-25 loss at Boston College on Oct. 25 bucked a trend of remarkable Irish victories that began last season. The Irish now are 8-3 (.727) in games decided by eight points or less since Tyrone Willingham took over as the Notre Dame head coach prior to last season. Besides this year’s BC game, the only other times the Irish have not won a close ball game under Willingham’s guidance were against Boston College in 2002 (14-7) and earlier this season vs. Michigan State (22-16).
Fourth-quarter comebacks also aren’t anything new to Notre Dame in the Willingham era. The Irish have won five times during the past two seasons when they were tied or trailing in the fourth quarter, including a 29-26 overtime win over Washington State in the season opener back on Sept. 6. Notre Dame nearly added to that total against Boston College, rallying from a 24-12 fourth-quarter deficit to take a 25-24 lead before the Eagles kicked the game-winning field goal with 38 seconds remaining.
SETTA NEARING SCHOOL RECORD FOR CONSECUTIVE FIELD GOALS
Senior kicker Nicholas Setta has been successful on his last nine field goal attempts after a low snap caused him to come up short on his first try of the year (a 47-yarder vs. Washington State). Setta’s current streak is the second-longest of his career, topped only by a run of 10 straight treys spanning the 2000 and 2001 seasons. Mike Johnston holds the record with 13 consecutive field goals made from Sept. 18-Oct. 23, 1982, hitting on his first 13 attempts of the year, including a game-tying kick at Oregon. Johnston saw his streak come to an end the following week on Oct. 30, 1982, when Navy blocked his 34-yard attempt in the first quarter.
WATSON ONE OF 11 PLAYERS NAMED BUTKUS AWARD SEMIFINALISTS
Senior inside linebacker Courtney Watson has been chosen as one of 11 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, which is presented each year to the nation’s top linebacker by the Downtown Athletic Club of Orlando. Watson, who was a Butkus Award finalist in 2002, leads Notre Dame with 80 tackles (11.4 per game) and 49 solo stops in seven games this year (he did not play against Washington State). Joining Watson on this year’s list of Butkus Award semifinalists are: Michael Boulware (Florida State), Josh Buhl (Kansas State), Karlos Dansby (Auburn), Rod Davis (Southern Mississippi), Matt Grootegoed (USC), Derrick Johnson (Texas), Teddy Lehman (Oklahoma), Jonathan Vilma (Miami), Demorrio Williams (Nebraska) and D.J. Williams (Miami).
The three Butkus Award finalists will be chosen on Nov. 13, with the winner to be unveiled Dec. 12 in a banquet at the Renaissance Orlando Resort at Sea World.
Sophomore wide receiver Maurice Stovall turned in the best performance of his young Notre Dame career on Sept. 27 at Purdue, catching nine passes for 171 yards and one touchdown. It was the highest single-game yardage total by an Irish wideout since Bobby Brown caught 12 balls for 208 yards at Pittsburgh in 1999. In addition, Stovall’s 85-yard touchdown catch from Brady Quinn at Purdue was the third-longest connection in school history and the longest since Nov. 7, 1981, when Blair Kiel hit Joe Howard with a school-record 96-yard scoring strike.
Stovall is second on the Irish with 316 receiving yards this season and third with 19 receptions. He also leads the team with 16.6 yards per catch and is tied for top honors with two receiving TD.
BACK FROM THE BRINK
Notre Dame erased a 19-0 second-quarter deficit in its win over Washington State, representing the largest comeback for the Irish since Oct. 16, 1999 against another Pac-10 team, USC. In that game, Notre Dame trailed 24-3 early in the third quarter, but reeled off 22 unanswered points, including 15 in the fourth quarter, to snatch the victory away from the stunned Trojans.
The Irish nearly pulled off a similar comeback on Oct. 25 at Boston College, erasing an 18-point third-quarter deficit (24-6) and taking a 25-24 lead with under four minutes to play. However, the Eagles put together a rally of their own and drove down to kick the game-winning field goal with 38 seconds to play.
FIVE O’CLOCK LIGHTNING
The 20 points scored by Notre Dame in the fourth quarter against Washington State were the most the Irish have tallied in the final period since Oct. 25, 1997, when they erupted for 21 fourth-quarter points in a 52-20 blowout of Boston College.
The Washington State game was the fifth overtime contest in Notre Dame history and the first since a 34-31 win over Air Force on Oct. 28, 2000. The Irish are 2-3 when they are pushed to an extra session (2-2 at home), and have won both games in which they won the overtime coin toss.
One other OT tidbit: senior safety Glenn Earl has played a key role in each of the last two overtime wins for the Irish. Against Air Force in 2000, Earl blocked a potential game-winning field goal attempt at the end of regulation, allowing Notre Dame to go on and win on Joey Getherall’s nine-yard TD run in the extra period. Earlier this season against Washington State, Earl broke up a third-down pass intended for WSU’s Scott Lunde, forcing the Cougars to try a 34-yard field goal that missed, opening the door for the Irish to win on Nicholas Setta’s 40-yard field goal.
THE FIVE-FINGER DISCOUNT
Notre Dame has recorded 16 takeaways (10 FUM, 6 INT) through eight games this season, coming up with three turnovers in four outings (Washington State, Michigan, Michigan State, Florida State) and averaging two takeaways per game. However, that shouldn’t come as any surprise to recent followers of Irish football. Over the past three seasons (2001-03), Notre Dame has forced two or more turnovers in 23 of its last 32 games, including 18 contests where they came up with at least three takeaways.
Six true freshmen have played for Notre Dame this season. Defensive end Victor Abiamiri, offensive tackle Ryan Harris, wide receiver Chinedum Ndukwe, defensive back Freddie Parish IV, quarterback Brady Quinn and wide receiver Jeff Samardzija all have made significant contributions in 2003. Abiamiri has made 12 tackles, including a career-high seven in his first start vs. Michigan State. He also picked up the first sack of his career at Pittsburgh and started for the second time this season vs. Florida State. Meanwhile, Parish has three tackles and Samardzija has caught seven passes for 53 yards, including a career-high four receptions at Purdue (the same game that saw Ndukwe catch his first career pass).
Perhaps the most high-profile rookie starter for the Irish has been Quinn, who cracked the lineup for the first time at Purdue, becoming only the seventh freshman starting QB for Notre Dame in the last 53 seasons. Quinn was 29 of 59 for 297 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions against the Boilermakers, posting the most passing yards by any rookie signal-caller since 1951. He then threw for 350 yards and had his first two-TD game on Oct. 25 at Boston College, piling up the most passing yardage by an Irish quarterback in 25 years. For the season, Quinn is 102 of 228 for 1,162 yards with five touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Harris was the latest Irish freshman to make his debut, coming on the scene at No. 15 Pittsburgh. After not appearing in Notre Dame’s first four games, the St. Paul, Minn., native not only saw action against the Panthers, but started at right tackle and was part of the Irish offensive line that helped roll up a season-high 352 yards rushing, the most by Notre Dame in four years. Counting the Pittsburgh game, he has started the last four games for the Irish. Harris joined an elite club against Pittsburgh, becoming just the third Irish freshman to start on the offensive line in the last 30 years — Mike Rosenthal started against Ohio State, USC and Air Force in 1995, while Brad Williams made starts against Navy and Boston College in 1996.
One other freshman note: five of the aforementioned rookies (all but Harris) played against Washington State, marking the first time five freshmen have played for the Irish in a season opener since Aug. 28, 1999. On that afternoon, Jason Beckstrom, Joey Hildbold, Julius Jones, Gerome Sapp and Chris Yura all participated in a 48-13 Irish rout of Kansas in the State of Indiana Eddie Robinson Classic. Beckstrom and Jones now are seniors on the 2003 Irish roster.
RETURN TO SENDER
The return game has been a source of strength for Notre Dame over the past five seasons. The Irish have logged 24 returns (punts, kickoffs, fumbles, interceptions) for touchdowns in that time, a figure that ranks ninth in the country.
THEY SHALL RETURN
- During the past 17-plus seasons (’86-’03), Notre Dame has produced 78 TDs via kickoff, punt, interception and fumble returns ?- including Carlos Campbell’s 25-yard blocked punt return earlier this season at Boston College and the following returns from 2002: Vontez Duff’s 76-yard punt return vs. Maryland, Duff’s 33-yard interception return, Gerome Sapp’s 54-yard fumble return and Lionel Bolen’s four-yard fumble return vs. Purdue, Shane Walton’s 18-yard interception return and Courtney Watson’s 34-yard interception return against Stanford, Duff’s 92-yard kickoff return vs. Navy, Walton’s 45-yard interception return against Rutgers and Carlos Pierre-Antoine’s 27-yard blocked punt return at USC.
- Irish opponents in the past 17-plus seasons have combined for just 22 total returns for touchdowns.
- The ’02 Irish joined the ’93 and ’00 teams as the only squads to return at least one punt, kickoff, interception and fumble for TDs.
- Among current Notre Dame players, senior cornerback Vontez Duff has four touchdown returns (2 KR, 1 PR, 1 INT), senior running back Julius Jones has two TD returns (1 KR, 1 PR) and senior inside linebacker Courtney Watson also has two touchdown runbacks (2 INT). Allen Rossum holds the school and NCAA record for most TDs on runbacks with nine (3 KR, 3 PR, 3 INT) from 1994-97.
ABIAMIRI MAKES RARE FRESHMAN DEFENSIVE LINE START
Victor Abiamiri’s starts vs. Michigan State and Florida State marked the first time a Notre Dame freshman started on the defensive line since Anthony Weaver got the call against Georgia Tech in the 1999 Gator Bowl. Abiamiri made the most of his first starting assignment, rolling up seven tackles, including six solo stops against MSU. Prior to Weaver’s start against Georgia Tech, the last Irish freshmen to start on the defensive line were Germaine Holden and John Taliaferro, who both were in the lineup against Tennessee on Nov. 9, 1991.
Weaver made 10 starts during his freshman season and went on to rank second on Notre Dame’s season and career tackles-for-loss charts behind two-time unanimous All-American and National Football Foundation Hall of Fame selection Ross Browner. Weaver now is in his second season as a defensive end for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.
SETTA PULLING DOUBLE DUTY
Before his current injury, senior Nicholas Setta was serving as the starting placekicker and punter for the Irish this season, marking the first time a Notre Dame player regularly filled both roles since Craig Hentrich turned the trick from 1989-92. Hentrich is now an all-pro punter with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, and even booted three field goals as the Titans’ emergency kicker in their season-opening win over Oakland on Sept. 7.
Setta is in his fourth year as the Irish placekicker, having twice been named to the Lou Groza Award Watch List. He also has been selected as a preseason honorable mention All-American by Street & Smith’s each of the last two seasons. This year, he is aiming to break several Notre Dame records, including career field goal attempts (Setta is second with 66, while John Carney holds the record of 69 from 1984-86), career field goal made (Setta is second with 46, while Carney is first with 51), and career points by kicking (Setta is third with 242, while Hentrich owns the top mark of 294). In addition, Setta has made 92 consecutive PAT kicks, the second-longest streak in school history behind Hentrich’s run of 136 straight PATs from 1989-92. Setta’s last missed PAT kick came on Oct. 7, 2000 vs. Stanford.
Setta was one of the primary sources of offense for Notre Dame through the first six games of the 2003 season. He connected on nine of 10 field-goal attempts (making his last nine in a row), including a perfect seven of seven on kicks inside of 40 yards, and leads the Irish with 32 points this season. His average of 1.5 field goals per game ranks 22nd in the nation.
Setta got his final season at Notre Dame off to a flying start against Washington State, matching his career high (and tying the school record) with five field goals in six attempts, including the game-winning 40-yard boot in overtime. He also set a new personal best with 17 points by kicking (five field goals, two PAT), one better than his previous high of 16, set in last year’s season opener vs. Maryland (five field goals, one PAT). Those 17 points vs. WSU helped push the Lockport, Ill., product into third place on the school’s career points-by-kicking list — he now has 242 points and is within sight of Dave Reeve, who is second all-time with 247 points from 1974-77. Setta added three more field goals on as many attempts against Michigan State, marking the fourth time in his career he has kicked three field goals in a single game.
While he has a wealth of experience as a placekicker, Setta comes into this season having only served as a backup punter behind two-time Ray Guy Award semifinalist Joey Hildbold. However, while filling in for the injured Hildbold against Boston College in 2000, Setta did punt four times for 160 yards (a 40-yard average), including a career-long 47-yard boot in a 28-16 Irish victory. Setta was one of 32 candidates named to the ’03 Ray Guy Award preseason watch list and has backed up that selection through the first six weeks of the season, averaging 40.9 yards on 26 punts with three kicks dropped inside the opponents’ 20-yard line and six kicks of 50+ yards. He also boomed a career-long 54-yard punt on his first try of the season vs. Washington State and carded a career-high nine punts at Michigan for a 43.9-yard average (including a 51-yard kick).
Courtney Watson NAMED TO AFCA GOOD WORKS TEAM
Senior All-America linebacker Courtney Watson was one of 11 people named Sept. 17 to the 2003 American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Good Works Football Team. The award recognizes players for their dedication and commitment to community service and all nominees must display sincere concern and reliability, while also having made a favorable impression on the organizations in which they were involved.
Watson, who joins former defensive end Grant Irons as the only Irish players to win the award, was recognized for his extensive work within the University and South Bend communities. A native of Sarasota, Fla., Watson was responsible for creating and developing the football team’s community service initiative entitled Tackle The Arts. The program, now in its second year, partners with the St. Joseph Country Public Library in South Bend, the Food Bank of Northern Indiana and the Notre Dame Marching Band in providing an interactive approach helping inspire children to explore different areas of the arts including reading, creative writing and poetry, drawing and music. In addition to providing scholastic support with area children, Watson also installed a food drive dimension to the event to benefit the Food Bank of Northern Indiana.
In conjunction with the 2003 Tackle the Arts event, Watson along with teammates Brandon Hoyte and Dan Stevenson, also played host to a picnic for at-risk children in the South Bend area. The children, who attended the picnic and later Tackle the Arts, were identified through the NCAA’s National Youth in Sports Program, the South Bend Housing Authority, the Robinson Community Learning Center and the Urban League of South Bend.
Additionally, Watson has made many surprise visits to the pediatric floor at Memorial Hospital in South Bend and has addressed the Jackson Middle School football team at its end of the year banquet. He has participated in the St. Joseph County City Bureau Youth Fest and made hospital visits while the Irish were in Jacksonville, Fla., playing in the 2003 Toyota Gator Bowl.
Watson has also been very active in the Notre Dame community as he was nominated and then elected a member of the Notre Dame Student Senate in 2002-03. Meeting every Wednesday night, Watson and his fellow senators would discuss issues pertinent to the University community. He also served as a member of the Residence Life and Academic Council committees.
Watson is also a four-year participant, and two-time champion, in Notre Dame’s student-run basketball tournament called Bookstore Basketball, which is the largest five-on-five outdoor basketball tournament in America.
SIX IRISH PLAYERS EARN PRESEASON ALL-AMERICA HONORS
Senior inside linebacker Courtney Watson was a preseason first-team All-America selection by Street & Smith’s and The Sporting News. Meanwhile, senior cornerback/kick returner Vontez Duff was a preseason first-team All-American according to Street & Smith’s and a second-team choice by Athlon. The latter publication also named senior nose guard Cedric Hilliard to its preseason All-America third team. Senior safety Glenn Earl, junior running back Ryan Grant and senior kicker/punter Nicholas Setta all were awarded preseason honorable mention All-America status by Street & Smith’s.
THREE NOTRE DAME POSITION UNITS LAUDED BY NATIONAL PUBLICATIONS
Athlon named the Irish linebacking corps the fourth-best unit in the country, while The Sporting News labelled them the ninth-best group in the land. In addition, Athlon selected the Notre Dame defensive line as the fifth-best unit in the nation.
WATSON NAMED TO WALTER CAMP PLAYER OF THE YEAR PRESEASON WATCH LIST
Senior inside linebacker Courtney Watson has been named to the preseason watch list for the Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year, the nation’s fourth-oldest individual accolade which is given annually by the Walter Camp Football Foundation. Through a vote of the 117 Division I-A head coach and sports information directors, the list will be cut to 10 semifinalists in early November, with the winner to be announced Dec. 11 at the ESPN/Home Depot College Football Awards Show. The official award presentation is slated for Feb. 14, 2004, at the Walter Camp Football Foundation national awards banquet, which will be held in New Haven, Conn., at the Yale University Commons.
DUFF, EARL PICKED FOR THORPE AWARD PRESEASON WATCH LIST
Senior cornerback Vontez Duff and senior safety Glenn Earl have been named to the preseason watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is awarded annually to the nation’s top defensive back by the Jim Thorpe Association, based in Oklahoma City. Ten semifinalists for the award will be announced Nov. 3, with the three finalists selected on Nov. 24. The winner will be announced Dec. 11 at the ESPN/Home Depot College Football Awards Show with the official award presentation slated for Feb. 9, 2004, in Oklahoma City.
HOLIDAY TAPPED FOR O’BRIEN AWARD PRESEASON WATCH LIST
Senior quarterback Carlyle Holiday has earned a spot on the preseason watch list for the Davey O’Brien Award, which is presented annually to the nation’s top quarterback by the Fort Worth Club in Fort Worth, Texas. In November, the semifinalists will be announced and the three finalists will be selected later in the month. The winner will be announced Dec. 11 at the ESPN/Home Depot College Football Awards Show with the official award presentation slated for February 2004 in Fort Worth.
TUCK EARNS PLACE ON HENDRICKS AWARD PRESEASON WATCH LIST
Junior defensive end Justin Tuck has been selected to the preseason watch list for the Ted Hendricks Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top defensive end by the Ted Hendricks Foundation in Chicago. In November, the semifinalists will be announced and the three finalists will be selected later in the month. The winner will be announced Dec. 11 at the ESPN/Home Depot College Football Awards Show with the official award presentation set for February 2004 in Chicago.
SETTA APPEARS ON RAY GUY AWARD PRESEASON WATCH LIST
Senior punter/placekicker Nicholas Setta has been named to the preseason watch list for the Ray Guy Award, which is presented each year to the nation’s top punter by the Greater Augusta (Ga.) Sports Council. Ten semifinalists will be announced in early November and the three finalists will be chosen later that month. The winner will be announced Dec. 11 at the ESPN/Home Depot College Football Awards Show and will receive his award live during the broadcast.
FOUR PLAYERS NAMED TO 2003 STREET & SMITH’S AWARD WATCH LISTS
Street & Smith’s tapped senior inside linebacker Courtney Watson for spots on its Butkus Award and Bednarik/Nagurski Award watch lists (as did Lindy’s). The former honor recognizes the country’s top linebacker, while the latter awards spotlight the nation’s best overall defensive player. In addition, Street & Smith’s placed senior cornerback Vontez Duff and senior safety Glenn Earl on its watch list for the Thorpe Award (which goes to the top defensive back in the country), and the publication named senior kicker Nicholas Setta to its watch list for the Lou Groza Award (presented to the nation’s top kicker).
IRISH PLAYERS RANK HIGH IN LINDY’S AND THE SPORTING NEWS IN 2003
Senior Courtney Watson was tabbed the fourth-best inside linebacker in the country by Lindy’s and The Sporting News, while senior Vontez Duff was rated the seventh-best cornerback and ninth-best all-purpose player by Lindy’s, and the nation’s 10th best as both a cornerback and kick returner by The Sporting News. Senior nose guard Cedric Hilliard was ranked the sixth-best defensive tackle in the nation by The Sporting News, while senior safety Glenn Earl placed 14th among free safeties by The Sporting News and 19th by Lindy’s. Senior Mike Goolsby was rated 12th among the nation’s inside linebackers by Lindy’s, while junior Ryan Grant was 18th among running backs and senior Darrell Campbell was charted 19th among defensive linemen by the same publication.
IRISH HEAD COACH Tyrone Willingham
A veteran with 26 seasons of coaching experience at the collegiate and professional levels, Tyrone Willingham is now in his second season as head football coach at the University of Notre Dame after previously serving as the leader at Stanford University. In eight years as a college head coach, Willingham has compiled a 56-45-1 (.554) overall record, including a 12-9 (.571) mark with the Irish, and has guided his charges to bowl games on five occasions. The Notre Dame mentor reached a personal milestone against USC, coaching the 100th game of his career.
Willingham used his years of service in the coaching business to reverse the tides of the Irish program in ’02, leading Notre Dame to a 10-2 regular-season record and a trip to the 2003 Toyota Gator Bowl. He became the first Irish head coach ever to win 10 games in his first season, and he was named the ESPN/Home Depot College Coach of the Year, the Scripps College Coach of the Year, the Black Coaches Association Male Coach of the Year and the George Munger Award College Coach of the Year by the Maxwell Football Club of Philadelphia. In addition, he made history in 2002 as the first college football coach ever to earn The Sporting News Sportsman of the Year award.
Willingham was introduced as the new Irish mentor on Jan. 1, 2002, following seven seasons as the head coach at Stanford. He compiled a 44-36-1 (.549) record during his tenure at Stanford, guiding the Cardinal to four bowl games, including the Rose Bowl following the 1999 season. Willingham was a two-time Pacific-10 Conference Coach of the Year (1995 and 1999), the only Stanford coach to earn that award more than once, and he was a finalist for national coach-of-the-year honors in ’95 and ’99. All told, Willingham spent 10 years at Stanford, initially serving as running backs coach from 1989-91.
Between his stints with the Cardinal, Willingham coached in the professional ranks for three seasons (1992-94) with the Minnesota Vikings, helping his team win a pair of NFC Central Division championships and reach the playoffs all three years. Willingham began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Michigan State, in 1977, before moving to Central Michigan as the defensive secondary coach for two years (1978-79). He returned to MSU from 1980-82, working with the secondary and special teams units, and also served on the coaching staffs at North Carolina State (1983-85) and Rice (1986-88).
SCOUTING THE IRISH OFFENSE
Line — The offensive line has been largely retooled for the Irish this season. Four of the five starters from last year were selected in the NFL Draft (and all four remain on active ’03 NFL rosters), taking with them more than 80 combined starts and nine combined seasons of starting experience. Senior right guard Sean Milligan (28:57 minutes played) is the lone holdover on the offensive line and he was expected to anchor the rebuilt 2003 crew. Milligan is a three-year monogram winner who played in all 13 games last season, playing a total of 266:27. He has made 19 career starts, including the first two games of 2003, but he has missed the last five contests with an injury.
Junior Mark LeVoir (203:57) has earned the starting nod at left guard in all eight games this year (the first starts of his career) after spending the past two campaigns as a backup at both tackle positions. One of the largest linemen on the Irish roster this year (6-7, 320), LeVoir played in four games last season for a total of 10:09. Juniors Jeff Thompson and Darin Mitchell (25:46), along with sophomore Jamie Ryan (55:14) all serve as the primary reserves at the guard spot for Notre Dame. Mitchell made his first career start vs. Michigan State and Ryan started at Purdue, replacing Milligan in the Irish lineup.
Besides Milligan, two other members of the Irish offensive line saw significant playing time last year. Senior tackle Jim Molinaro (201:39) has started the last 11 games for the Irish, including 10 on the left end. On the other side of the line, junior right guard Dan Stevenson (181:24) was thrust in the starting lineup at right tackle for last year’s Gator Bowl and played extremely well, cementing his presence on the line in 2003. Stevenson played a total of 82:23 in 11 games last season, seeing time as both a reserve guard and tackle. Stevenson started the first four games of this season at right tackle before shifting to his old postion of right guard in the last four contests, replacing Milligan. However, he suffered an injury vs. Florida State and his status is uncertain for the Navy game. Freshman Ryan Harris (107:32) has stepped in to fill Stevenson’s shoes at right tackle in the past four games and the new line setup paid off as the Irish rolled up their best rushing performance (352 yards) since 1999 against Pittsburgh and added their best passing total (350) in 24 years at Boston College. Harris also became only the third Notre Dame freshman to start on the offensive line in the last 30 years, joining Mike Rosenthal (1995) and Brad Williams (1996) in that elite group. Ryan and sophomore Brian Mattes (2:18) were penciled in to be the backup tackles this year.
The battle to replace All-America center Jeff Faine was a tight one throughout preseason camp, with sophomore Bob Morton (158:21) and junior Zachary Giles (54:37) both competing for the starting spot. Morton earned the starting job in three of the first four games of the season, although Giles saw plenty of action against Washington State. In fact, the two ended up playing alongside one another (Giles at center, Morton at right guard) late in the WSU contest as the Irish were mounting their comeback win over the Cougars. When Morton succumbed to an injury prior to the Michigan State game, Giles stepped in against the Spartans and made his first career start. Morton returned to the lineup in the last five games, anchoring the line that sprung Julius Jones for a school-record 262 yards rushing at Pittsburgh and provided protection for Brady Quinn to throw for 350 yards, the most by an Irish signal-caller since 1978. Morton was injured late in the Florida State game and his status for the Navy game has yet to be determined.
Backs — Freshman Brady Quinn (102-228-1162, 5 TD, 11 INT) has taken over as the starting quarterback for the Irish, becoming only the seventh true freshman to start at QB for Notre Dame in the last 53 seasons. Quinn made his college debut against Washington State, coming in midway through the fourth quarter when Holiday was shaken up and directing the Irish on a six-play, 80-yard scoring drive that put Notre Dame ahead for the first time. Quinn was three of 10 for 36 yards at Michigan before completing a season-best seven of 17 throws for 103 yards and his first career touchdown (a 29-yard pass to Rhema McKnight) vs. Michigan State. The Dublin, Ohio, native then made his first-ever start at Purdue, connecting on 29 of 59 passes for 297 yards with one TD and four interceptions. His 297 yards were the most by a Irish freshman QB in his debut since 1951 and his 85-yard second-quarter TD pass to Maurice Stovall was the third-longest strike in school history. In his most recent outing at Boston College, Quinn continued his evolution by completing 23 of 39 passes (a .590 completion percentage) for 350 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. It was the first two-TD game of his career and the 350-yard effort was the most by a Notre Dame quarterback in 25 years.
Senior Carlyle Holiday (36-73-303, 1 TD, 4 INT; 1 catch for 10 yards) now serves as Quinn’s understudy after having been the starting quarterback for Notre Dame since the third week of the 2001 season. Last year was Holiday’s first in the new West Coast offense employed by head coach Tyrone Willingham and offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick, and the veteran signal-caller thrived, setting a school record with 126 consecutive pass attempts without an interception. A 2003 Davey O’Brien Award candidate, Holiday has the fifth-lowest interception percentage in school history (.0338), having thrown just 16 picks in 474 career pass attempts. He opened this season by connecting on a career-high 21 of 34 passes for 149 yards with one TD and one interception in the win over Washington State. In the last three games, Holiday has seen some time at wide receiver, logging his first reception of the season (and second of his career) for 10 yards at Boston College.
Meanwhile, junior Pat Dillingham gives the Irish another experienced option at quarterback behind Quinn and Holiday. Dillingham appeared in seven games last season, completing 41 of 81 passes for 434 yards and one touchdown. He carved a place in Irish history last season at Michigan State, throwing the game-winning 60-yard TD pass to Arnaz Battle with 1:15 to play. Dillingham also made his first career start vs. Stanford, throwing for 129 yards in a 31-7 victory.
Senior Julius Jones (team-high 118 rushes, team-high 614 yards, 4 TD) leads a veteran group of Irish running backs who are the main beneficiaries of Notre Dame’s new offensive style. After sitting out last season, Jones made a triumphant return to the Irish lineup against Washington State, carrying 11 times for 72 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown run with 5:03 to play that put Notre Dame ahead for the first time. That was just an appetizer for the main course Jones served at Pittsburgh, rushing for a school-record 262 yards on 24 carries along with two touchdowns. For his efforts, the Big Stone Gap, Va., native was named the national Player of the Week by The Sporting News, USAToday.com and CollegeSportsNews.com. Jones also was rewarded with the starting nod against USC and wound up with 84 yards on 18 carries, including a 22-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He has started the past three games and chalked up 74 yards vs. Florida State to move into sixth place on the Irish career rushing list (2,364), passing Randy Kinder and George Gipp. Junior Ryan Grant (103 carries, 339 yards) and junior Marcus Wilson (6-11) also have seen plenty of action out of the backfield this season. Fresh off a 1,000-yard season in 2002, Grant has started five times this year, picking up right where he left off in ’02 with 17 rushes for 98 yards against Washington State and 27 carries for 84 yards at Pittsburgh. In his career, he now has posted four 100-yard games and four other 90-yard efforts.
Junior Rashon Powers-Neal (3-12) has stepped into the starting lineup at fullback after serving as Grant’s primary understudy at tailback last season. A bruising back who deftly complements the fluid styles of Grant, Jones and Wilson, Powers-Neal carried 77 times for 344 yards and two touchdowns last season. Junior walk-on Josh Schmidt (seven catches for 67 yards) was the surprise of this year’s preseason camp, working his way into a position for playing time, along with sophomore Nate Schiccatano who opened some eyes with 24 yards rushing and a touchdown in the ’03 Blue-Gold Game. Schmidt has proven to be a dependable receiver out of the backfield, catching seven passes for 67 yards this season. Meanwhile, Schiccatano has been a contributor on special teams, blocking a punt that resulted in the go-ahead touchdown at Boston College.
Receivers — Despite the loss of last year’s leading receiver Arnaz Battle, the Irish receiving corps is well stocked in 2003. Junior Omar Jenkins (27-262, 1 TD) takes over as the leader of the unit after pulling in 37 balls for 633 yards and three touchdowns last season. He wasted little time in showing the way for the Irish pass-catchers, tying his career high with five catches for 46 yards vs. WSU. He had five more receptions for 29 yards in the loss at Purdue and added a critical third-down reception late in the fourth quarter at Pittsburgh to seal that victory. He then caught four passes for 35 yards and his first TD of the season at Boston College. In his most recent outing vs. Florida State, Jenkins tied his career high with five receptions for 73 yards, including a season-long 42-yard grab. Sophomore Rhema McKnight (team-high 29-376, 2 TD) has started six games for the Irish at the other wideout position, scoring touchdowns vs. Michigan and Michigan State while logging a career-high eight catches and his first career 100-yard game (104) vs. MSU. He then chalked up four catches for a career-high 121 yards at Boston College. Rangy sophomore Maurice Stovall (19-316, 2 TD), senior Ronnie Rodamer and junior Matt Shelton (1-9) all can stretch defenses vertically and have seen significant time in Notre Dame’s balanced offensive scheme. Stovall, who has made two starts this season, erupted for a career-high nine catches and 171 yards, including an 85-yard touchdown at Purdue. It was the highest receiving yardage total by an Irish wideout since 1999. He also contributed three catches for 80 yards and a touchdown at Boston College. Freshman receivers Chinedum Ndukwe (1-(-1)) and Jeff Samardzija (7-53) also have been heard from this season, with the latter amassing a season-high four catches for 18 yards at Purdue.
Senior Billy Palmer (1-13) has been the starting tight end for the Irish in six games this season after appearing in all 13 games last year. He has started seven times in his career and caught the second pass of his career for 13 yards against Michigan State. Sophomore Anthony Fasano (15-148, 1 TD) has made exceptional strides in recent weeks and is the fourth-leading receiver on the team this year. Fasano registered his first career reception, a 19-yard grab, at Michigan, added a 15-yard reception against Michigan State, then made his first career start at Pittsburgh and collected two catches for 15 yards. He followed that up against USC with a career-best four receptions for 33 yards and his first career touchdown, a diving two-yard grab in the first quarter. He then returned to the lineup at Boston College as part of a two tight end formation and wound up with a game-high four catches for a career-best 48 yards, before collecting three catches for 18 yards vs. Florida State. Senior tight end Jared Clark (12-110), a converted quarterback, also has seen significant action this season, starting at Purdue and ranking fifth on the team in catches and yardage. He tied his personal best with four receptions for 28 yards against Washington State and also had a team-high 39 yards receiving on two catches at Michigan. Sophomore Marcus Freeman also is contending for playing time this season, although his primary action has come on special teams thus far.
SCOUTING THE IRISH DEFENSE
Line — One of the strengths of this year’s Irish squad will be its defensive line, where three starters are back in the fold. Senior defensive tackle Darrell Campbell (19 tackles, 4.5 TFL, two sacks, one PBU) and senior nose guard Cedric Hilliard (18 tackles, 0.5 for loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, one PBU) both provide a formidable obstacle for opponents in the middle of the line. Campbell had a solid game vs. Florida State, finishing with five tackles and a sack against the Seminoles. Meanwhile, Hilliard was a factor in the season opener vs. Washington State, finishing with four tackles and his first career fumble recovery despite not starting. He has been in the starting lineup for five games this season, carding a season-high five tackles vs. MSU. Sophomore Derek Landri (eight tackles, 1.5 TFL, one fumble recovery, one PBU) made his first career start vs. WSU in place of Hilliard and logged his first career tackle at Michigan before adding two tackles (0.5 for loss) at Purdue. He also recovered a fumble late in the first half at Pittsburgh, setting up the eventual game-winning field goal. Senior Greg Pauly (15 tackles, two TFL, 1.5 sacks) also has seen time in the middle of the defensive line, adding two tackles (0.5 TFL) in a reserve role against Washington State. With Hilliard hobbled by injuries vs. Pittsburgh and USC, Pauly started both times (the fourth and fifth starts of his career) and had three tackles at Pittsburgh. He then came off the bench at Boston College and logged a career-high four tackles and a sack. Junior Brian Beidatsch (two tackles, one fumble recovery) is the primary backup at the interior line spots and has seen limited action in five games this year, notching his first career fumble recovery at Michigan. Senior right end Kyle Budinscak (17 tackles, four TFL, three sacks, one fumble recovery), the other veteran returning on the Irish defensive line, is in his second season as a starter (22 career starts). A two-time Academic All-District selection, Budinscak is tied for second on the team in sacks, chalking up a career-high two sacks in the win over Washington State. He also added his first career fumble recovery against Michigan State, but was sidelined midway through the Florida State game with an injury. Junior end Justin Tuck (43 tackles, team-high 11 TFL, team-high seven sacks, two forced fumbles, two PBU), a pass-rushing specialist with exceptional quickness, had started just one game in his career prior to this season, but has cracked the lineup in six games this year, tallying four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble vs. Washington State, adding five tackles at Michigan and seven tackles and 1.5 sacks at Purdue. However, his best performance to date came at Pittsburgh, when he rolled up a career-high 10 tackles, including 3.5 sacks, and added a forced fumble in the win over the Panthers. Tuck then added eight tackles (two for loss) and a sack against USC. Tuck currently ranks among the national leaders with 1.38 tackles for loss per game. Highly-touted freshman Victor Abiamiri (12 tackles, two TFL, one sack) and sophomore Travis Leitko (one tackle) both serve as the top understudies at the defensive end positions. Abiamiri earned the starting nod against Michigan State and did not disappoint, registering seven tackles (six solo). He added his first career sack at Pittsburgh and got his second start against Florida State. Abiamiri is only the second freshman to start on the defensive line for Notre Dame since 1991, joining Anthony Weaver in that elite group.
Linebackers — All three starting linebackers return for the Irish this season, led by senior inside linebackers and Butkus Award candidates Courtney Watson (team-high 80 tackles, eight TFL, one sack, one forced fumble, two PBU) and Mike Goolsby. Watson, a 2002 Butkus Award finalist and ’03 Butkus Award semifinalist, led the team with 90 tackles last year despite missing three games due to injury. He sat out the Washington State game, but has returned with a vengeance against Michigan and Michigan State, logging a team-high 12 tackles (one for loss) in each game. He also forced an early fumble at Michigan, added a season-best 14 tackles against USC and had 13 tackles (12 solo) at Boston College. He then collected 11 tackles and a season-best three tackles for loss vs. Florida State. Watson now leads the Irish in total tackles and solo tackles (49), is second in tackles for loss and has posted double-digit tackle marks in six of his seven outings this season. Goolsby was third on the squad with 75 tackles last season, but currently is sidelined with an injury. Junior Brandon Hoyte (51 tackles, six for loss, one sack, one fumble recovery, two PBU) has stepped in for Goolsby this season, carding a career-high 11 tackles vs. Washington State, adding 10 stops and his second career fumble recovery at Michigan and logging two tackles for loss at Purdue (he is third on the team in TFL). Senior Derek Curry (46 tackles, four TFL, three sacks, one INT, two forced fumbles) mans the outside linebacker post and sparkled in the season opener vs. Washington State, logging seven tackles and his first career interception. He also chalked up a career-high two sacks at Purdue and added another at Pittsburgh before carding eight tackles against USC. He then erupted for a career-high 11 tackles (all solo) at Boston College and is third on the team in tackles. Junior Corey Mays (14 tackles, 1.5 TFL, one blocked kick) started in place of Watson vs. Washington State and had a career-high four tackles at Michigan. He also has been effective on special teams, blocking a punt vs. USC and tackling the Boston College punter for a heavy loss. Besides Mays, senior Jerome Collins (five tackles) is the other main linebacker reserve.
Backs — Even with the loss of unanimous All-America cornerback Shane Walton and strong safety Gerome Sapp to the NFL, the Irish secondary is particularly sturdy in 2003. Senior cornerback Vontez Duff (29 tackles, two TFL, one INT, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, three PBU) was a third-team All-American last year who has started the last 29 games for the Irish. He collected a season-high six tackles vs. USC and added a fumble recovery at Boston College before returning an interception 55 yards against Florida State. Meanwhile, hard-hitting senior strong safety Glenn Earl (35 tackles, 1.5 TFL, one sack, one fumble recovery, one INT, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, two PBU) wound up tied for second on the team with 81 tackles last year. Both Duff and Earl were preseason candidates for the Jim Thorpe Award and both were key parts of the win over Washington State — Duff forced a critical fourth-quarter fumble and Earl recovered the loose pigskin to help ignite a 20-point Irish rally. Earl also registered a season-high 10 tackles at Michigan before adding six stops and an interception against Michigan State. He then shifted over to strong safety for the first time in his career, starting at that position for the Purdue, Pittsburgh and USC games, logging seven tackles against USC. However, he since has been sidelined indefinitely with an injury. Junior Quentin Burrell (29 tackles, one TFL, 0.5 sacks, one INT, one fumble recovery, one PBU) was used primarily as the Irish dime back in the first three games, picking off a pass against Michigan State. However, he has made the first starts of his career at free safety in the last five contests, logging five tackles against Purdue and USC and adding a fumble recovery in the latter game. He then piled up a career-high six tackles at Boston College. Senior Garron Bible (19 tackles, one fumble recovery) started the first three games this season at strong safety after having had only two career starts entering 2003. He tied his career high with seven tackles against both Washington State and Michigan and added his second career fumble recovery against the Wolverines. With the injury to Earl, Bible returned to the lineup at Boston College before coming off the bench against Florida State. Meanwhile, the competition to replace Walton at the other cornerback position was tight between seniors Jason Beckstrom (16 tackles, one INT, one PBU) and Preston Jackson (22 tackles, one INT, one TFL), as well as junior Dwight Ellick (15 tackles, two PBU, one QB hurry). Beckstrom missed all of last season with a torn biceps, while Jackson appeared in every game last year (starting once). At the same time, Ellick is a former all-BIG EAST track standout who has played in 29 career games, mostly on special teams. Jackson got the starting call in the first four games this season, picking up a career-high eight tackles at Michigan. All three men saw extensive time in the win over Washington State, but Ellick did not play in the Michigan or Michigan State game. Beckstrom sparkled against MSU, turning in a career-high six tackles and was rewarded with a start at Purdue as the Irish began in a nickel package. Ellick has gotten his turn in the lineup the last four games, making the first starts of his career and collecting a career-best nine tackles against USC. Both Beckstrom and Jackson stood out against Florida State, each coming up with an interception. Junior Lionel Bolen (nine tackles, 0.5 TFL) and freshman Freddie Parish IV (three tackles) head up the reserve secondary unit. Parish has appeared in five contests, mainly in nickel and dime situations, while Bolen had a career-high four tackles at Boston College and made his first career start vs. Florida State, winding up with three stops vs. the Seminoles.
SCOUTING THE IRISH KICKING GAME
Senior Nicholas Setta has taken on the dual role of placekicker and punter in 2003, becoming the first person to hold down both positions for the Irish since Craig Hentrich from 1989-92. A two-time Lou Groza Award candidate, Setta is now in his fourth season as Notre Dame’s kicker this year, setting his sights on several school records. He has made 46 career field goals (five shy of John Carney’s mark) and is third on the Irish career points-by-kicking chart (242, record is 294 by Hentrich). In addition, Setta has made 92 consecutive PAT kicks, the second-longest streak in school history (136 by Hentrich from 1989-92). Setta got his final season off to a terrific start against Washington State, tying his career best with five field goals on six attempts, including the game-winning 40-yarder in overtime. He also established a new personal best with 17 points by kicking, one more than his previous high set in the ’02 opener vs. Maryland. The Lockport, Ill., native then made all three of his field goal attempts against Michigan State, marking the fourth time in his career he has made at least three field goals in one game. For the season, Setta is nine for 10 on field goals, including seven of seven inside 40 yards, and ranks 22nd in the nation with an average of 1.5 field goals per game. His nine consecutive field goals stands as the third-longest streak in school history, four away from Mike Johnston’s mark of 13 set back in 1982.
This season marks Setta’s first as the everyday punter following the departure of two-time Ray Guy Award semifinalist Joey Hildbold. Setta, a 2003 Ray Guy Award candidate, has easily slipped into his second job, averaging 40.9 yards on 26 punts this season, including a 43.9-yard average on a career-high nine punts at Michigan. Setta also has boomed six 50-yard punts this year, including a career-long 54-yard shot on his first kick of the season in the win over Washington State. However, Setta has been sidelined the past four games with an injury.
Junior walk-on offensive lineman Casey Dunn (54 special teams appearances) and sophomore Scott Raridon (26 special teams appearances) are splitting time as the Irish snappers, taking over for the departed John Crowther. Meanwhile, junior reserve kicker D.J. Fitzpatrick (4-7 FG, 4-4 PAT, 37.1-yard punting average) has assumed Hildbold’s role as the holder on placement kicks, while also backing up Setta at both kicking positions. Fitzpatrick was called upon to replace Setta in the lineup the last three games, and the Mishawaka, Ind., native didn’t waver, kicking a pair of field goals (19 and 34 yards) and adding a PAT at Pittsburgh, all of which proved to be critical in the six-point Irish win. He then converted both of his field goal attempts (27 and 38 yards) and only PAT try at Boston College. Fitzpatrick also had a good punting day vs. Florida State, averaging 41.1 yards per kick with a career-long 49-yard boot late in the first half.
Seniors Vontez Duff and Julius Jones make up a formidable kick return crew for Notre Dame. Duff is ranked 31st in the nation in punt return yardage (11.19). He rang up 50 yards on two kickoff runbacks at Boston College, pushing him into fourth place on Notre Dame’s career kickoff return yardage list (now with 1,158). In addition, he has 108 career total kick returns (punts and kickoffs), which is second all-time at Notre Dame, and 1,793 career total kick return yards, which is good for third place in the Irish record books. Meanwhile, Jones leads the Irish in all-purpose yards (111.0 ypg.) this season and ranks as the school’s all-time leader in four career return categories. With one kickoff return for 18 yards at Boston College, he supplanted 1987 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown as Notre Dame’s career leader for total kick return yardage (2,104 and counting). Earlier this season, he passed Brown to become the Irish all-time leader in kickoff returns (72), total kick returns (110) and kickoff returns yardage (1,678).
Demand for tickets to two of Notre Dame’s six home games in 2003 ranks among the top five in the history of Notre Dame Stadium. The Notre Dame ticket office received 54,244 ticket requests for the Oct. 18 game vs. USC, making it the fourth-highest requested Irish home game in history. In addition, the Nov. 1 Notre Dame-Florida State game garnered 51,051 requests, placing it fifth on the all-time list. In fact, Notre Dame set a record by refunding $5.1 million to lottery losers in the University’s ticket distribution for contributing alumni. That total easily exceeded last year’s mark of $2.1 million and outdistanced the old refund record of $3.8 million in 2001.
The Notre Dame Stadium record of 59,368 ticket requests was set in ’01 when the Irish took on West Virginia. Demand for that game was based on parents of current Notre Dame students being guaranteed four tickets for that contest — plus contributing alumni having the opportunity to apply for four tickets instead of the usual two, based on its designation as an alumni family game.
Counting Saturday’s game, the Irish have posted 172 consecutive sellouts at Notre Dame Stadium and 220 in their last 221 home games.
Notre Dame has played in front of sellout crowds in 158 of its previous 181 games, including its last 22 games in a row. On Sept. 13 at Michigan, the Irish and Wolverines helped bring in the largest crowd in NCAA history (111,726), marking the third time in the history of that series that an NCAA attendance record has been set. It also represents the sixth time in the last three seasons that Notre Dame has been a part of establishing a new stadium attendance record (at Nebraska and Texas A&M in 2001; at Air Force and Florida State, home vs. Boston College in 2002).
NOTRE DAME ON THE SMALL SCREEN
With Saturday’s Navy game slated to be televised nationally by NBC, the Irish will extend their streak of appearances on one of four major networks (NBC, ABC, CBS or ESPN) to 133 straight games, a stretch that spans 10 full seasons (1993-2002). The last time the Irish didn’t appear on one of those four networks was more than 11 years ago (Oct. 31, 1992), when Notre Dame downed Navy, 38-7, at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. That game was shown locally in the South Bend area on WNDU-TV.
NOTRE DAME FEATURED PROMINENTLY ON TELEVISION THIS YEAR
In addition to continuing its streak of consecutive games played on one of the four major television networks (NBC, ABC, CBS or ESPN), Notre Dame is being spotlighted on the small screen in several other ways during the 2003 season. Here’s a thumbnail look at each of the individual TV projects which are featuring the Irish this year:
- ESPN is filming “The Season: Notre Dame Football” in South Bend throughout the ’03 campaign. Crews from the network are attending practice sessions, team meals and other team-related activities, as well as conducting regular interviews with Irish players and coaches. “The Season: Notre Dame Football” airs Thursdays at 11:30 p.m. (EST) on ESPN.
- ESPN College GameDay is celebrating its 10th season of live remotes from college football’s top games. In recognition of its first-ever road trip (a Nov. 13, 1993 journey to South Bend for the game between No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Notre Dame) is airing weekly all-access features on the Irish adapted from its feature presentation, “The Season: Notre Dame Football.” Former Irish flanker and two-time All-American Raghib “Rocket” Ismail lends more of a Notre Dame flavor to “College GameDay” this year as he joins the crew for regular contributions.
- College Sports Television (CSTV), the nation’s new 24-hour cable channel devoted exclusively to college sports, highlights Irish athletics on Sunday nights (8-9 p.m. EDT) in a show called “Notre Dame Primetime.” The program, which is co-hosted by former Irish split end Derrick Mayes, focuses on all 26 Notre Dame sports and the continuing growth of Irish athletics. In addition to its regular Sunday night broadcast, the show also airs on a delayed basis Mondays at 7 p.m. (EST) on WHME-TV (Channel 46) in South Bend.
- Besides these features, Notre Dame is now in the 13th season of its unique relationship with NBC. All Irish home football games since 1991 have been televised on the network, with the current agreement slated to continue through 2005. Tom Hammond (play-by-play) and Pat Haden (analysis) are in their third full season broadcasting the action for NBC.
2003 Notre Dame Opponent UPDATE
The following is a look at Notre Dame opponents’ upcoming games. Since 1977, when the NCAA started rating strength of schedule, Notre Dame’s schedule has been rated the most difficult five times (1978, 1985, 1987, 1989 and 1995) and has appeared in the top 25 a total of 19 times in the last 26 years. This year’s schedule currently is ranked as the third-toughest in the nation by the NCAA (as of Nov. 2).
THE 2003 SCHEDULE
Once again, Notre Dame is facing one of the nation’s toughest schedules, as the Irish played seven of their first eight games against teams that currently are ranked in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls (No. 2/2 USC, No. 3/3 Florida State, No. 8/8 Michigan, No. 12/13 Washington State, No. 14/15 Michigan State, No. 16/14 Purdue and No. 25/21 Pittsburgh). Seven of the 12 foes on this year’s Notre Dame’s schedule went to bowl games last season, highlighted by three Bowl Championship Series qualifiers (Washington State, USC, Florida State). All of this comes on the heels of the 2002 Irish schedule, which was ranked 28th in the nation.
According to the latest NCAA rankings (as of Nov. 2), Notre Dame has the third-toughest schedule in the nation.
In addition, based upon past opposition only, the NCAA has rated Notre Dame’s schedule the toughest in the nation, joining the most recent USA Today/Sagarin ratings in that assessment. The first eight opponents on the Irish schedule have a current combined record of 56-16 (.778), far outdistancing second-place Iowa State, whose past opponents have a combined mark of 45-16 (.738).
Furthermore, the latest data compiled by Pythagoras Sports shows that Notre Dame has the nation’s most demanding schedule, based both on quality of opposition (all eight of the Irish opponents to date have winning records, the highest percentage in the nation) and Division I-A wins per opponent (Notre Dame’s first eight foes have averaged seven wins vs. I-A opposition, leading the nation in that category as well).
THE 2003 CAPTAINS
For the second consecutive season and the third time in the 115-year history of football at Notre Dame, the Irish are designating captains on a game-by-game basis this season. The 2003 captains have been named as follows (career captain selections in parentheses):
Washington State: CB Vontez Duff (3), FS Glenn Earl (2), WR Omar Jenkins (1), OT Jim Molinaro (1)
Michigan: DT Darrell Campbell (3), LB Derek Curry (1), QB Carlyle Holiday (1), K/P Nicholas Setta (3)
Michigan State: RB Ryan Grant (1), NG Cedric Hilliard (3), TE Billy Palmer (1), LB Courtney Watson (4)
Purdue: CB Vontez Duff (4), SS Glenn Earl (3), WR Omar Jenkins (2), OT Jim Molinaro (2)
Pittsburgh: SS Glenn Earl (4), OT Jim Molinaro (3), K/P Nicholas Setta (4), LB Courtney Watson (5)
USC: DT Darrell Campbell (4), RB Julius Jones (1), OT Jim Molinaro (4), LB Courtney Watson (6)
Boston College: LB Derek Curry (1), CB Vontez Duff (5), WR Omar Jenkins (3), TE Billy Palmer (2)
Florida State: CB Vontez Duff (6), WR Omar Jenkins (4), OT Jim Molinaro (5), LB Courtney Watson (7)
THE 2003 NFL DRAFT
Seven former Irish players were selected in the 2003 NFL Draft, the most of any school in the country with the exception of Florida and Ohio State (eight each). Leading the way was center Jeff Faine, who was chosen in the first round (21st overall) by the Cleveland Browns. Notre Dame now has had 58 opening-round selections, which ranks second only to USC (62) in the 67-year history of the NFL Draft.
Joining Faine in Notre Dame’s ’03 draft class were: offensive tackle Jordan Black (fifth round by the Kansas City Chiefs), offensive guard Sean Mahan (fifth round by the Tampa Buccaneers), cornerback Shane Walton (fifth round by the St. Louis Rams), strong safety Gerome Sapp (sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens), wide receiver Arnaz Battle (sixth round by the San Francisco 49ers) and offensive tackle Brennan Curtin (sixth round by the Green Bay Packers). All seven Notre Dame players selected in the 2003 NFL Draft made the final cut and were on their teams’ opening-day rosters.
IRISH FOOTBALL NAMED ONE OF NATION’S TOP 10 MOST POWERFUL PROGRAMS
As part of its 2003 college football preview, SI.com developed its list of the top 10 most powerful programs in the nation and Notre Dame was listed second behind only Miami (Fla.). According to the website, “college football’s most recognizable program saw a return to glory under Lou Holtz, which included landing its own TV deal with NBC, and after a few down years appears to be headed in the right direction under Tyrone Willingham.”
MAKING THE GRADE
The Notre Dame football squad recently has had four of the most successful semesters in the classroom in the history of the program, based on final grades from the past four semesters (2001-03). In the fall of 2001, the Irish team finished (at the time) with its second-highest combined grade-point average on record (2.685) since statistics were kept beginning in 1992. A total of 12 players earned Dean’s List recognition and 38 players posted a “B” average or higher last fall. Then, in the spring of 2002, the Irish topped that mark with a record-setting 2.911 combined team GPA, with 13 players making the Dean’s List and another 47 averaging a “B” or better. In the fall of ’02, the Irish logged a 2.835 team GPA, followed by a 2.79 average in the spring of ’03. Eight players made the Dean’s List in both of the last two semesters, while 43 players had a “B” or better during the fall of 2002, and 50 more reached that mark in the spring of 2003.
NOTRE DAME EXCELS IN THE CLASSROOM AS WELL AS ON THE FIELD
The Notre Dame football team has earned American Football Coaches Association Academic Achievement Award special mention honors announced in August. To earn the award, a team must have a graduation rate of over 70 percent. Duke won the 2003 overall award with a 100 percent graduation rate.
Notre Dame has been recognized 22 of 23 years the award has been presented, the most of any school in the nation. Notre Dame has won the overall award six times with the most recent coming in 2001 as the Irish posted a perfect 100 percent graduation rate, becoming (at the time) the eighth school in history to graduate everyone in the class during the reporting period. Notre Dame also won the overall award in 1982, 1983, 1984, 1988 and 1991. In 1988, Notre Dame became the only school to win the Academic Achievement Award and the National Championship in the same year.
FORMER IRISH GREAT DAVE DUERSON HEADS UP NATIONAL MONOGRAM CLUB
Former Notre Dame football All-American Dave Duerson is still extremely involved with the University in a number of capacities. A former team captain, Duerson was named to the Notre Dame Board of Trustees in 2001, and was the winner of the 2001 Rev. Edward F. Sorin, C.S.C., Award from the Notre Dame Alumni Association. The Sorin Award is presented annually to a graduate who has embodied “the values of Our Lady’s University” in his service to the community. In 2002, Duerson founded his own company, Duerson Foods, after serving as president of Fair Oaks Farms, Inc., a Wisconsin-based international meat supplier that in 1999 was ranked 64th among Black Enterprise 100 companies. In addition, Duerson was a member of the advisory council for the University’s Mendoza College of Business and currently is president of the Notre Dame National Monogram Club, a post he will hold through June 2005. He also is a member of the athletic department’s student development mentoring program.
“THE SHIRT” NOW ON SALE FOR 2003 SEASON
For the 14th consecutive year, Notre Dame Student Activities and Government are sponsoring a T-shirt that benefits scholarship funds, student groups and service projects. Already, the initial run of 50,000 shirts has sold out, easily topping last year’s early sellout of 44,000. In 2002, a record-setting total of 130,000 shirts were sold, with that initial run of 44,000 selling out within six weeks of its debut (at the time, it was one of the earliest sellouts in the history of the project). As a result, Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham began labelling the Shirt-clad crowd as the “sea of green.”
Over the past 13 years, the venture has more than $2 million in net profit for worthy causes and serves the dual purpose of promoting spirit and raising funds. Some of the proceeds supported students and employees who have incurred catastrophic accidents, while others benefitted endowment funds and additional monies were given to support service projects for student organizations on the Notre Dame campus.
In a rare break from tradition, “The Shirt 2003” once again is green and features this year’s motto, “Here Come The Irish.” The short-sleeve shirt is traditionally worn by Notre Dame students and fans at the first home game of each football season. The cost of this year’s shirt is $15 and it is available on campus to the University community and the general public at the Hammes Bookstore, Irish Express, the information desk at the LaFortune Student Center, the Varsity Shop at the Joyce Center and the Alumni Association at the Eck Center. Orders also may be placed by telephone (1-800-647-4641) or on-line through the official Notre Dame athletics web site (www.und.com).
TICKETS AVAILABLE FOR 2003 FOOTBALL KICKOFF LUNCHEONS
Tickets are now on sale for the 2003 Notre Dame Kickoff Luncheons held the Friday prior to each Irish home football game. The luncheons feature Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham, Irish players and assistant coaches, plus special guests and other attractions.
Tickets are $18 each, with a handling fee of $3 (payment may be made with one check for more than one luncheon). There are 10 seats per table — and if you wish to sit as a group at the same table with other guests, please return all reservations in one envelope.
Checks should be made payable to “University of Notre Dame” and mailed to: Athletics Business Office, 112 Joyce Center, Notre Dame, IN 46556. Telephone and credit card reservations are not accepted. A printed reservation form also is available on Notre Dame’s athletics web site at www.und.com.
The luncheons are held in the Joyce Center fieldhouse (north dome) on the Notre Dame campus, with a noon (EST) start. Be aware that advance reservations are required for tickets, and tickets are not routinely available at the door. Remaining luncheon dates are Nov. 7 (Navy) and Nov. 14 (BYU).
All 2003 pep rallies will be held in the Joyce Center Arena (south dome) on Fridays before Saturday home games, beginning at 6 p.m. (EST). The Irish squad enters the arena at 6:30 p.m.
“NOTRE DAME EXPERIENCE” RETURNS FOR 2003 SEASON
For years, the Joyce Center Fieldhouse has been the “pregame meeting place” for several thousand Notre Dame alumni. In an effort to add to this tradition, the Notre Dame Athletics Department is providing an interactive fan experience for each of the 2003 home football games. For the second consecutive season, the “Notre Dame Experience” will combine the Notre Dame Alumni Association Hospitality Center with interactive inflatables, photo booths, autograph sessions, Notre Dame football trivia and stage activities. Gates open three hours prior to kickoff and will stay open until one hour after the game. Admission is free for all “Notre Dame Experience” events.
ORDER THE 2003 NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL YEARBOOK TODAY
This season marks the 10th edition of the Notre Dame Football Yearbook — an official publication by the University of Notre Dame athletic department. The 1994, ’95, ’96, ’97 and ’98 and 2000 editions were voted best in the nation in the special publications competition sponsored by the College Sports Information Directors of America. The yearbook, published by Ave Maria Press, numbers nearly 100 pages, including game action shots of returning Irish players and coaches, position-by-position breakdowns and a feature on head coach Tyrone Willingham. It’s a collectors item perfect for autographs — with an emphasis on outstanding color photography unavailable in any other publication. The yearbook is priced at $8 (plus $4 for postage and handling) and can be ordered by calling 1-800-647-4641.
FOUR BOOKS FEATURING NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL NOW ON SALE
The rich history of Irish football is the focus of four books that currently are on sale to the general public nationwide, including at Notre Dame’s Hammes Bookstore. The first is entitled “Return To Glory” and it was written by Alan Grant, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a former defensive back at Stanford who played for current Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham. Grant received unique behind-the-scenes access to the Irish throughout last season and his book details Notre Dame’s remarkable 10-3 campaign in 2002, including its eight-game winning streak to begin Willingham’s tenure.
Also new in bookstores is a coffee table book by The Sporting News called “Fighting Irish,” a 224-page work that spotlights the unparalleled history and pageantry of the Notre Dame football program through a variety of photographs and essays. A special section is devoted to the ’02 season and the foreword was written by former Irish quarterback and 2003 College Football Hall of Fame inductee Joe Theismann.
The third new book featuring Notre Dame to debut is entitled “Tyrone Willingham: The Meaning of Victory,” a 144-page hardcover piece on the coaching career of Irish mentor Tyrone Willingham and what his arrival at Notre Dame has meant to the program. It was written by longtime Chicago Tribune sportswriter and columnist Fred Mitchell and is packed with dozens of full-color photos.
The most recent book on Irish football to hit store shelves in “Connor: The Life Story of George Connor,” written by Jack Connor, the older brother of the legendary Notre Dame All-America tackle. The 272-page work details George Connor’s struggles growing up on the south side of Chicago, through his athletic development at De La Salle Institute and Holy Cross College, his maturation into one of the greatest players in Irish football history, and his Hall of Fame status as the last and best of the two-way players for George Halas’ Chicago Bears.