Oct. 5, 2000

by Bo Rottenborn

See if you can identify this team.

It began the season with a new starting quarterback making his first start. A season ago, he played behind a standout player now in the National Football League. The new signalcaller began the season with much success and quickly became regarded as a weapon instead of a question mark. But then injury strikes and he is sidelined.

Once again, there is much concern about a new quarterback, who had never played in a collegiate game prior to this season. The backup-turned-starter rises to the occasion and leads his team to a big win over a ranked team in taking over the duties of top quarterback. In fact, he leads his team 59 yards in the closing minutes for the game-winning score.

If you said the team is Notre Dame, you would be right.

If you said the team is Stanford . . . you also would be right.

These are two teams that have both experienced the roller- coaster ride of having to replace a just-proven quarterback in the opening weeks of the season. They have had amazing similarities in the early portion of the 2000 campaign and they meet today as both continue to try to be successful despite injuries to their leaders.

Stanford began the season with senior quarterback Randy Fasani as its starter, replacing current Washington Redskin Todd Husak. Fasani came into this season with just 22 pass attempts in his career, but in his first three career starts, he threw for 664 yards and six touchdowns, while only being picked off once.

He then tore the meniscus in his left knee and had to leave the game against fifth-ranked Texas on Sept. 16. Fasani underwent arthroscopic surgery on Sept. 29. At the time of his injury, he was fifth in the nation in pass efficiency.

Redshirt freshman Chris Lewis replaced Fasani against Texas and proceeded to lead the Cardinal to an upset victory, throwing for 214 yards and three TDs without an interception. Lewis performed well under pressure, leading the Cardinal on a 59-yard drive in the final minutes, before capping it off with a 15-yard touchdown pass to DeRonnie Pitts.

The Irish lost top signalcaller Arnaz Battle, who played behind current Denver Bronco Jarious Jackson a year ago and had just 15 career completions prior to 2000. He led Notre Dame to a victory over 23rd-ranked Texas A&M in the season opener, passing for 133 yards and the first two TDs of his career. The following week against Nebraska, he succumbed to a broken navicular (wrist) bone on the first play of the game. But Battle played the entire contest against the Huskers and helped the Irish take top-ranked Nebraska to overtime before falling 27-24. He also led Notre Dame with 107 rushing yards.

The following week, sophomore Gary Godsey made his collegiate debut and outdueled Drew Brees and Purdue, throwing for 158 yards on 14-of-25 passing. Godsey, like Lewis, led his team on a game-winning drive. In the final 3:39, Notre Dame moved 59 yards to set up Nick Setta’s game-winning field goal as time expired.

Through the first three games, Stanford led the Pacific-10 Conference in total offense, pass offense and passing efficiency. The Cardinal also ranked ninth in the nation in total offense, before a 27-3 loss to Arizona last week.

This follows up a 1999 season which saw the Cardinal offense set school records for points scored, touchdowns scored and yards gained. Stanford also led the Pac-10 in scoring offense and passing offense and was second in total offense, while ranking in the top 10 nationally in each.

This offense and a consistent defense helped the Cardinal to an 8-4 overall record. But a 7-1 conference mark, with a 35-30 loss to

Washington as the only blemish, was good enough for a trip to the 2000 Rose Bowl. Wisconsin downed the Cardinal in that game 17-9, having success because the Badgers controlled the tempo of the game and kept it low scoring. Only two other Stanford games in ’99 featured fewer than 60 combined points scored.

Holding the score down today will be a priority for the Irish, especially early in the game. This season, Stanford has scored 74 percent of its points in the first half of games, including scoring all 24 points in the second quarter of the season opener against Washington State.

In that opener, the Cardinal broke open a scoreless game with a 24-point second-quarter outburst en route to a 24-10 victory.

In week two, Stanford got into a shootout with San Jose State and ran out of bullets in the fourth quarter of a 40-27 Spartan win. It marked the third straight season San Jose State had beaten Stanford, after the Cardinal had taken the previous six meetings.

It rebounded well the following week, registering a 27-24 win over fifth-ranked Texas, despite a 15-point Longhorn final quarter.

Another key to Stanford success in 2000 has been rush defense. In the victories over Washington State and Texas, the opposition ran for fewer than 100 yards, including just 13 rushing yards by the Longhorns. But in the San Jose State defeat, the Spartans racked up 284 yards on the ground.

That run defense is anchored on the line by fifth-year senior tackle Willie Howard, who was tabbed as a preseason All-American by many publications. He was a leader of the defensive line unit of last season, known as the “Trench Dogs,” that helped the Cardinal to the Rose Bowl. Howard is the leading tackler returning from last year’s defense after an outstanding 1999 season, in which he registered 54 tackles, 10 sacks and 19 tackles for loss from his tackle position. For his efforts, he was named first-team all-Pac-10 and won the Morris Trophy as the top defensive lineman in the conference.

In 2000, Howard has been impressive again, registering four tackles for loss and two sacks through the first four games, to go along with 15 total stops.

Howard and the rest of the Cardinal defense have their work cut out for them as they try to stop the traditional strength of the Irish – their rushing game. The tactic this season for Notre Dame has been diversity in the backfield. Although Julius Jones has nearly half of the Irish carries this season, nine different players have gained yards rushing. The backfield trio of Jones, Tony Fisher and Terrance Howard is one of the top groups of tailbacks in the country.

Surprisingly, the Irish come into today’s game with many questions on offense, rather than defense which was a major concern coming in to the season. With the injury to Battle, Notre Dame’s quarterback situation is a question mark right now as Godsey and true freshman Matt LoVecchio have been splitting time with the first team in practice. LoVecchio, who saw his first action for the Irish against Michigan State two weeks ago, sparked the Irish back from 20-7 deficit to take the lead at 21-20 with 7:50 to go in the game. LoVecchio completed his first and only pass of the game, a 43-yard strike to junior receiver Javin Hunter, setting up a two-yard Julius Jones run. Throw Jared Clark, another true freshman, into the mix and the Irish have three talented quarterback, but all lack game experience as Godsey has played in two contests and LoVecchio one.

The Notre Dame defense has been much improved this season as the Irish have held #1 Nebraska, who is averaging almost 40 points a game this year, to a season-low 27 points. They also limited Purdue’s Brees to only 13-of-22 passing for 221 yards, season lows for the senior Heisman hopeful.

Today marks the 15th time the teams have met, including eight times in the 1990s. The Irish have taken nine of the previous 14 contests, but the teams split during the ’90s. A win today would mark the first time Stanford has downed the Irish twice in a row.

Last season, Mike Biselli kicked a 22-yard field goal (his fourth of the game) as time expired to give the Cardinal a 40-37 victory over the Irish in the regular season finale in Palo Alto. In that game, it was Husak and Biletnikoff Award winner Troy Walters who sunk the Irish, combining for two touchdowns on eight receptions for 183 yards. Husak finished with 334 yards through the air on 24-of-34 passing. Tony Fisher ran well for the Irish, accruing 107 yards on the ground and two touchdowns.

One thing that is in favor of the Irish today is they are coming off an open date. Since 1984, Notre Dame is 17-2 in weeks following a bye. The Irish have won each of their last eight games with an extra week to prepare, including five under head coach Bob Davie.