Autry Denson makes his Irish coaching debut on Saturday. In 1996, he ran for 158 yards and a TD in Notre Dame's win at Texas.

Old Friends Reunite in Notre Dame Stadium: Notre Dame and Texas

Sept. 2, 2015

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – This weekend there’s an old friend coming to visit who hasn’t been in Notre Dame Stadium for a while. That’s Texas head football coach Charlie Strong, a former Irish assistant coach from 1995-98.

There are three other old friends not seen for some time who hope to stay in town for several years or more. Those are former Irish All-America players Todd Lyght and Autry Denson-along with Mike Sanford, who used to watch his dad Mike coach in Notre Dame Stadium from 1996-98. All three are first-year Irish assistant coaches.

There’s a relatively new friend Notre Dame fans hope to get to know much better. That’s Irish quarterback Malik Zaire, who will make his first Notre Dame Stadium start Saturday.

There’s a left-handed quarterback expected in the starting lineup for Notre Dame. That’s Zaire. The only left-handed quarterback who previously played in a game for the Irish was Art Parisien, a backup who came off the bench to help the Irish to the game-winning touchdown in a 13-12 victory over USC in 1926 (the first meeting between those two schools).

There are a couple of old acquaintances meeting again Saturday for the first time in 19 years. That’s Notre Dame and Texas.

There are 10 individuals with Irish connections who should have little problem recognizing the burnt orange gear across the field. Those are Notre Dame players and state of Texas products Nicky Baratti, Grant Blankenship, Kyle Conrad, Jalen Guyton, Omar Hunter, Torii Hunter Jr., Jeff Riney, Corey Robinson, Durham Smythe and Nick Watkins.

There are more than 60 individuals coming to Notre Dame Stadium Saturday who all have hard-to-beat memories of facing Texas. Those are members of the 1970 Irish team that defeated the unbeaten Longhorns that season in the Cotton Bowl to end Texas’ 30-game winning streak. Among those are former Irish offensive lineman Dan Novakov, now a North Texas attorney and chairman of the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association. Novakov is sitting in the stands with former Texas defensive end David Arledge who lined up against him in that game.

There are four new individuals around with a vested interest in what happens the next dozen Saturdays. Those are first-year Irish assistants Denson, Lyght, Sanford and Keith Gilmore.

There’s a familiar name at Notre Dame who figures to be a lot more comfortable Saturday. That’s Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who a year ago this time was coaching his first game for Notre Dame.

There’s a former Irish Heisman Trophy winner who hails from Dallas, Texas, who has an emotional stake in how the current Notre Dame team represents against the Longhorns on Saturday. That’s Tim Brown. The only other Irish consensus All-Americans from Texas are late center Dave Huffman and former safety Bobby Taylor.

There’s a former Notre Dame kicker (whose father played football at UTEP) who became a freshman hero the last time these teams played in Austin in 1995 when he kicked the game-winning 39-yard field goal as time expired to defeat Texas. That’s Jim Sanson.

There are a couple of former Texas head coaches who took unbeaten and top-rated Longhorn teams into the nearby Cotton Bowl in Dallas and ended up on the losing end of the score against the Irish. Those are late Hall of Famer Darrell Royal in 1970 and Fred Akers in 1977.

There are two of the three winningest programs (in terms of victories) facing off Saturday in South Bend. Those are Notre Dame (882) and Texas (881), who stand behind only Michigan.

There are two of the most experienced offensive lines anywhere in the country displaying their wares this weekend at Notre Dame Stadium. That’s Texas, with four starters returning from 2014, and Notre Dame, led by all-star veterans Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin.

There are dozens of Notre Dame fans watching to see if the Irish will attempt to use that power up front, along with running backs Tarean Folston and C.J. Prosise, to control the game against Texas in the same manner Notre Dame bludgeoned LSU in Nashville the last time the Irish wore their game uniforms. Those are the ones wearing, blue, gold and green Saturday night.

There’s an often-used photo of former Notre Dame athletics director Moose Krause wearing his signature cowboy hat. That hat was a souvenir of Notre Dame’s 1978 Cotton Bowl triumph over unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Texas that vaulted the Irish into the top spot in the final polls.

There are two former BIG EAST Conference coaches facing off Saturday who missed each other by a year in that league. That’s Brian Kelly, who was at Cincinnati from 2006-09, and Strong, who was at Louisville from 2010-13.

There are two teams bound for Notre Dame Stadium Saturday night that would like to eliminate whatever remains of bad memories from the end of the 2014 season. Those are Notre Dame, which dropped its final four regular-season games a year ago, and Texas, which fell 48-10 at home to TCU to finish the regular season and then lost 31-7 to Arkansas in the Advocare Bowl.

There may not be Roger Clemens, Jordan Spieth or Matthew McConaughey sightings this weekend, but at least one noteworthy individual with University of Texas sports connections will be in attendance. That’s former pro golfer Ben Crenshaw, the 1984 and 1995 Masters champion, who collaborated on the design of Notre Dame’s Warren Golf Course. He played golf for the Longhorns from 1970-73.

There are two kickers on the Irish roster expected to make their college football debuts Saturday following the graduation loss of combo kicker Kyle Brindza. Those are freshman placekicker Justin Yoon and sophomore punter Tyler Newsome.

There have been 45 football seasons gone by since Texas last defeated Notre Dame in football. That came at the end of the 1969 season (the 1970 Cotton Bowl) when Billy Dale scored with 1:06 remaining to give the Longhorns a 21-17 victory over No. 8 Notre Dame in the first Irish bowl appearance in 45 years.

There are a particularly large number of quality, experienced pass-catchers on an ultra-deep Notre Dame receiving corps. Those include Will Fuller, Chris Brown, Torii Hunter Jr., Amir Carlisle and Corey Robinson-with a couple of rookies, CJ Sanders and Equanimeous St. Brown, also earning their stripes during preseason camp.

There are two Irish defensive linemen who will merit their share of attention Saturday from coaches, players and fans alike. Those are nose guards Daniel Cage and Jerry Tillery, who will work to replace the most experienced veteran player lost during the preseason-Jarron Jones, who will miss the entire 2015 campaign due to a knee injury.

There are a couple of reasons to note the number 25 at Notre Dame in 2015. It’s the 25th season that NBC has been televising Irish home games and the 25th season Brian Kelly has been a college head coach.

Beyond the NBC Sports announcers and the Notre Dame and Texas radio crews, there will be plenty of play-by-play broadcast talent in town to view Notre Dame-Texas football:
— Joe Bowen, radio/television voice of the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs
— Pete Weber, radio/television voice of the NHL Nashville Predators
— Bob Fitzgerald, television voice of the NBA Golden State Warriors
— Mark Boyle, radio voice of the NBA Indiana Pacers

Weber and Fitzgerald are Notre Dame graduates. Weber and Bowen are old friends from the NHL circuit and will be seated next to each other on the east side of the stadium. Bowen first brought a delegation to South Bend for the 2000 Notre Dame-Nebraska game and has attended an early-season Irish game (most at Notre Dame Stadium, but several in Ann Arbor) every season since then.

With a record six Atlantic Coast Conference opponents on the Notre Dame slate for 2015, the Irish meet ACC teams in two of their first three games, three of their first five and three of their last four. Since the ACC rotation means Notre Dame meets each league opponent about once every three years (requiring about six years to travel to each ACC venue), here’s when the conference teams on the 2015 schedule face Notre Dame again:

— Virginia: The Cavaliers come to Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 and Notre Dame next plays in Charlottesville in 2021.
— Georgia Tech: Notre Dame plays in Atlanta in 2019 and Tech comes back to South Bend in 2021.
— Clemson: The Tigers come to Notre Dame Stadium in 2020 and 2022 and the Irish next travel to Clemson in 2023.
— Pittsburgh: The Panthers come to Notre Dame Stadium in 2018 and the Irish next travel to Pittsburgh in 2020.
— Wake Forest: Wake Forest comes back to Notre Dame in 2017 and the Irish head to Winston-Salem in 2018 and 2020.
— Boston College: Notre Dame plays in Chestnut Hill in 2017, and the Eagles comes to Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 and 2022.

In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the City of South Bend, the national colors will be presented Saturday night prior to the Notre Dame-Texas football game by five of the city’s six living mayors-Jerry Miller (1972-76), Roger Parent (1980-88), Joe Kernan (1988-96), Steve Luecke (1999-2012) and current mayor Pete Buttigieg. Former mayor Peter Nemeth is traveling and is unable to attend.

The pregame band program Saturday night will include a moment of silence for former University president Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., as well as all former Notre Dame football players, coaches and others connected with the program who have passed away in the last year.

There will be a pregame flyover by two T-45 Goshawk aircraft from U.S. Navy Training Squadron Twenty-One (VT-21) located in Kingsville, Texas. The pilots are LCDR Maxwell Keith and LT Josh Feldman, with Capt. Douglas Kansier (USMC) and Ensign Andrew Maddox providing ground support. The pilots and support staff will be recognized in the third period.

High-achieving Notre Dame teams and individuals recognized at the Notre Dame-Texas game will be the Irish women’s basketball team (fifth straight NCAA Final Four in 2015), the men’s basketball team (2015 NCAA Elite Eight) and 2015 NCAA outdoor 10,000-meter champion Molly Seidel.

The Presidential Team Irish Award will be presented to Echo, and the Notre Dame faculty recognition goes to Richard W. Garnett, Associate Dean and Professor of Law.

— by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director