Aug. 27, 1999
By JR ROSS
Associated Press Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Don’t expect Notre Dame to show off too much of its offense against Kansas in the Eddie Robinson Classic.
It’s not that Bob Davie is afraid Michigan will learn any Irish secrets. It’s just that he’s not sure his players are ready for the full playbook.
But that’s what happens when most of your offensive line is new and your most experienced tailback has 36 carries for 127 yards.
“If you have a bunch of things and there’s a little bit of indecision, you lose aggressiveness,” Davie said. “We need to line up and let our players play.”
That’s a big reason why the No. 18 Irish decided to play Kansas in the Eddie Robinson Classic on Saturday before going to Michigan on Sept. 4. Outside of quarterback Jarious Jackson, the Irish aren’t really sure what they have on offense.
While Jackson threw for 1,740 yards and ran for another 441 last season in leading the Irish to a 9-3 record and the Gator Bowl, he doesn’t have much experience in the backfield behind him.
Tony Driver is the most experienced tailback on the roster, but he hasn’t played the position in almost two years after spending last season as a safety. He’ll split most of the rushing duties with Tony Fisher, who has 18 career carries.
With an offensive line that features only one full-time starter from last year, there are other problems, especially since the Irish are still looking for a big-play wide receiver. Notre Dame could get a break, though, from the Kansas defense, which was 107th in the nation against the run last season.
“Mainly, we just want to be able to do things right rather than doing a lot,” Irish offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers said. “It’s not like it’s going to be nothing.
“You’re legitimately talking about guys who have never been in a game before. Every game is a new experience for these guys.”
The Jayhawks have plenty of questions on their own offense, starting with quarterback Zac Wegner. The much-maligned senior is back this season despite three concussions last year – two he suffered on the field and one in a preseason brawl. He has something to prove after taking the brunt of the blame for the Jayhawks’ 4-7 record last year.
“It’s a motivation,” Wegner said of his first trip to Notre Dame Stadium. “Everybody is up for it. Everybody wants to play there. It’s legendary. It’s just a feeling of excitement.”
The Jayhawks also lack depth on their offensive and defensive lines, and their linebacking corps is inexperienced. Plus, the first good hit Wegner takes could end his season.
It makes one wonder why coach Terry Allen decided to schedule a 12th game. For one, he’ll now have to win seven games to make a bowl game, no easy task in the Big 12 after winning just one conference game last season.
Plus, a blowout loss to Notre Dame could do more harm than the $1 million payout is worth. The last time Kansas played in a preseason game sanctioned by the NCAA, the Jayhawks were thumped 42-0 by No. 1 Florida State and went on to finish 5-7.
Then again, about 80 players stayed on campus during the summer to work out with a focus on one thing – the Irish.
“Notre Dame was the foundation for us to get going,” said Allen, in the third year of a six-year contract. “Of course, if we lose 73-0 and get the roof blown off, then it’s a negative. But I don’t see us going into Notre Dame and being intimidated, not with the places that we have to go into in this league.”