Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rich Rod, Lou Holtz Sympathizes

A Michigan-Notre Dame game in South Bend ends with a team who was thoroughly outgained escaping with a victory over an unranked team with a first-year coach thanks to a bevy of turnovers, special teams errors and questionable officiating.

Think I'm talking about this past Saturday? Try 1986.


The parallels between Michigan's 24-23 victory at Notre Dame Stadium borderline on eerie.

Goodness gracious, who won this game, anyway?

Surely it was the team that piled up 455 yards and 27 first downs, converted 8 of 12 third-down situations, completed 21 of 33 passes, averaged 6.3 yards per play and never had to punt. Sorry.

You mean it was the team that punted four times, began one offensive drive on its own seven-yard line and finished it on its own five, averaged 2.4 yards per running play in the second half, gave up as many rushing touchdowns in the first half (two) as it did in the entire 1985 season and generally played defense more ineptly than it had since the ark was built—when Bo looked up and saw that, yeah, all bad things are wont to fall from the sky?

Well, at least Bo didn't tear his ACL and MCL. But yeah, other than that, replace Bo with Charlie Weis and fudge the numbers a little and this is essentially the same game. And think Michigan fans were tortured by the mistakes that plagued the Wolverines on Saturday?
Luck of the Irish? Hah. Notre Dame suffered two lost fumbles, an interception in the end zone, a kickoff it could not field, a dropped touchdown pass, a missed extra point, an apparent go-ahead touchdown reception in the fourth quarter that was ruled incomplete and a last-second field goal attempt that was tipped and barely missed winning the game.
It keeps going. Michigan fans were relieved to see that Rich Rodriguez's offense would be less predictable and (eventually, hopefully) more successful than the plodding mess that Mike DeBord's offense was. On first-year coach Lou Holtz:
Another is that Notre Dame finally has itself a real college coach who can draw up real college plays. "We could predict how they'd line up, but not what they'd run," said Schembechler. Said Notre Dame's Tim Brown, who led the team with 65 yards rushing on 12 carries, "No more Pinkett right, Pinkett left, Pinkett up the middle, punt." Allen Pinkett, since graduated, was Faust's idea of offense last (5-6) season.
Seriously, this is creeping me out. If there's a critical touchdown catch negated by a possibly dubious call, I'm locking all the doors and closing my blinds.

It was clear that Notre Dame could win the game. In fact it appeared that Notre Dame had , when Beuerlein threw a bullet to tight end Joel Williams leaping in the back of the end zone with less than five minutes to play. But the pass was ruled incomplete because the back judge, Ted DeFilippo, saw Williams's right foot come down on the end line (NCAA rules require a receiver to first touch one foot inbounds for a reception to be legal). Neither photographs nor TV replays conclusively supported the call by DeFilippo, who had a direct sightline to Williams's feet. Notre Dame settled for a field goal, making it 24-23, which was how it ended, after John Carney missed a 45-yard field goal attempt with 13 seconds left.

Williams said after the game that he had been told by a Michigan ball boy poised near the end line that Williams had, indeed, landed inbounds. Said a crushed but ever-wry Holtz afterward, "The ball boy said he was in, and I believe Michigan runs an honest school."

Self-portrait, taken moments after reading SI's recap of the 1986 Michigan-Notre Dame game.

Good lord. I guess the debacle in South Bend was 13 years in the making. It's even stranger when you consider that Saturday was the day Notre Dame honored Holtz for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. Holtz went 5-6 in that 1986 season, losing five of those six games by a combined 14 points. He then went on to post a 100-30-2 career record with the Irish, and captured the 1988 national title.

Now if RichRod started talking with a lisp and committing major recruiting violations, we'd really be talking about some interesting parallels here.

Sorry, that was too easy. Michigan's loss to the Golden Domers certainly wasn't fun to watch, but there was enough good there to be very optimistic for the future. There's clearly already a very good precedent set, even if it was set by the insufferable Dr. Lou.

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