When Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz listed his team’s big
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) _ When Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz listed his team’s big games, Northwestern was right up there with Southern Cal, Ohio State and Washington.
Northwestern? The team that’s usually in the hunt for the Big Ten basement? The team that hasn’t had a winning season since 1971 or beat Notre Dame in 30 years?
Yep, same one.
``In the opening game, you never know what to expect,″ Holtz said. ``Last year they were able to control the football. I worry about their ability to control the football because we’re so much lighter up front.″
The No. 9 Irish open their home schedule Saturday against Northwestern in the last game of a four-year series.
Notre Dame had an easy time with the Wildcats last year, defeating them 42-15 on the strength of quarterback Ron Powlus’ arm. In his first college start, Powlus threw for 291 yards and four touchdowns _ including three in the second quarter.
But the Irish ground game stalled, a sign of things to come for the rest of the dismal 6-5-1 season. Notre Dame was held to 161 yards rushing, five less than the Wildcats.
The running game is still a concern for Holtz. The offensive line that had so many problems last season is finally settled, but running backs Ray Zellars and Lee Becton have graduated.
And Northwestern coach Gary Barnett has his best defense yet. The line is nearly 20 pounds heavier per man than a year ago, and eight starters return. Those include linebacker Danny Sutter, who led the Wildcats with 120 tackles last season.
``Offensively the big key to this football team is can we run the ball with some degree of success,″ Holtz said. ``We could not last year.″
If the Irish can’t run the ball, they at least have Powlus and his favorite receiver, Derrick Mayes, to fall back on. The two teamed for 11 touchdowns last year, and both looked good during fall practice, Holtz said.
The biggest question for the Irish will be on defense. Most of Notre Dame’s top tacklers are gone, and a neck injury this spring put defensive tackle Melvin Dansby out for the season.
Linebackers Lyron Cobbins and Kinnon Tatum will be making their first starts ever, and Holtz might start a freshman, Kory Minor, at rush end.
``We’re going to have a lot of people playing on defense that’s probably a little bit undersized,″ Holtz said. ``I think that just because we’re undersized does not mean we don’t have a chance, but I’m concerned about the ability to take the ball and control it. This is what Northwestern did to us last year.″
The Wildcats have a very solid offensive line, Holtz said, and they finally settled their quarterback controversy. Senior Steve Schnur will start after winning the three-way battle for the spot.
The Wildcats have lost Dennis Lundy, their career leading rusher, to graduation, but sophomore running back Darnell Autry is just as much of a threat, Holtz said. In his first start, Autry rushed for 171 yards against Big Ten champion Penn State.
Barnett also plans to start freshman running back Levelle Brown.
``Brown was the surprise of camp,″ Barnett said.
The Irish are heavily favored, and a victory would make Holtz the 15th coach in college football history to win 200 games. But Northwestern is looking to turn the corner this season after losing its final four games last year and finishing 3-7-1.
``This year is critical for us,″ said Barnett, who is 8-24-1 in his four years at Northwestern. ``Another three-win season isn’t going to cut it. We’ve got to break through.″