’02 and ’05 Openers Similar in Style, Not Substance

UHND.com — Numerous articles on Sunday compared the opening night victory over Pittsburgh to the Irish’s victory over Maryland in Tyrone Willingham’s first game. Most of these stories, written by sports writers who do little more research and analysis than simply looking at the final score, are comparing two very different games with similar outcomes.

Whether or not these writers watched both games or just looked at the final scores of both games, they fail to realize that the team that beat Pitt 42-21 Saturday night is much farther along than the Irish squad that beat Maryland 22-0 in 2002.

On paper it looks like these wins are very similar. Two 20+ wins over a top 25 ranked opponents away from home on primetime televised ABC games. Wow, what a coincidence, these two games must be carbon copies of either other right? I mean come on, look at the similarities — its uncanny how similar are they are right?

Either these writers don’t do their homework or they don’t want to admit that yes Notre Dame is indeed much better off right now than they were in 2002 or 2003 or even 2004.

Not to discredit the victory that the Irish gained over the Terrapins in the 2002 opener. It was indeed an impressive victory given the circumstances and yes there are similarities as I have already mentioned. However, the win in 2002 came with good defense and special teams with not much offense.

Against Maryland, Notre Dame failed to score an offensive touchdown — instead kicking five field goals while gaining a touchdown in the return game. Nicholas Setta was a busy man that night, kicking field goals from 51, 32, 18, 46, and 24 yards. Vontez Duff added a 76 yard punt return for Notre Dame’s lone touchdown.

Notre Dame had a pretty good offensive night in ’02 with 130 yards rushing and 226 yards passing. Carlyle Holiday completed 17 of 27 passes in the game. All in all, not a bad night. Not a particularly good night either though and that’s where the difference between these two games in most noticeable.

Against Maryland, the Irish failed to crack the end zone despite good field position and multiple opportunities deep in Maryland territory. That didn’t happen against Pitt. The Notre Dame offense got into the end zone 6 times and could have more times had the horses not been called off once the Irish got up 42-13.

The way the Irish moved the ball is also vastly different than the ’02 opener. Notre Dame was not blessed with excellent field position other than their one touchdown drive that came off the Marcus Furman fumble. Notre Dame had scoring drives of 78, 65 (twice), 70, and 80 yards.

Even with the 19 yard touchdown drive, the average drive length of a scoring drive against Pitt was 62.8 compared to 48.0 in the Maryland game. All of the scoring drives against Pitt also ended with 7 points instead of 3 as well. So the differences in these scoring drives are almost 15 yards and 4 points.

Against the Panthers Notre Dame also ran the ball like the Notre Dame of yester year with 275 yards on the ground. That is more than twice than what the Irish were able to gain in their first game in the Bill Diedrick offense. Notre Dame ran for 130 yards against the Terps.

The success of the Irish running game helped the Irish convert 10 of 15 (67%) third downs Saturday night compared to 8 of 19 (42%) three years ago.

On the defensive side of the ball, the 2002 squad had more impressive stats. Maryland gained just 133 yards of total offense compared to 323 yards for Pittsburgh. Many will say that this should offset the differences in offense. Those people fail to point out that Maryland had a first time starting quarterback, Scott O’Brien, and had to replace their leading rusher and 2001 ACC Offensive Player of the Year Bruce Perry who missed the 2002 season with an injury. Compare that with Notre Dame facing an offense with a Heisman candidate in Tyler Palko and a Biletnikoff Award candidate in Greg Lee.

I’ll say again that the point of this article isn’t to discredit the performance of the 2002 squad, but rather to point out that the win over Pitt was indeed more impressive.

The bottom line is that this was not a repeat performance of the 2002 opener. Notre Dame looked good on the offensive side of the ball in 2002, but they looked down right dominant against Pitt this past weekend. To use clich

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