I’ve been kicking around something like this for a little while and since I’ve been taking a stroll back down memory lane this week, I figured I’d give it a whirl for this classic.
This is the second of the home and home series from the mid nineties, with Notre Dame winning the opener 55-27 in Notre Dame Stadium the season before. The two teams are very similar from the previous season; both starting quarterbacks return, as well as the key position players, with the exception of Notre Dame losing Derrick Mayes from the first matchup. It was a key loss for the Irish; Mayes caught seven passes for over 140 yards and a touchdown against star cornerback Bryant Westbrook in 1995.
Texas comes in featuring running backs Ricky Williams, Shon Mitchell, and Priest Holmes, or a Heisman Trophy winner (Williams) an NFL 2,000 yard in a season rusher (Holmes) and a guy named Shon Mitchell. They also had star receiver Mike Adams, who torched Notre Dame in 1995. Texas came in ranked 6th and Notre Dame 9th, a classic college football September matchup.
Keith Jackson and Bob Griese are on the call, and love them or hate them, they are iconic voices that let you know this is a titanic matchup, similar to hearing Fowler and Herbstreit now.
11:20 left in the 1st quarter, 0-0- Texas scores on the opening drive to make it 7-0, on a three yard pass from quarterback James Brown to receiver Mike Adams on a corner route. Pretty straight forward drive from Texas who does it mostly through the air, and Adams beats Rossum. Pro-tip to corners: Rossum isn’t in bad position, but he turns to look for the ball when Adams isn’t quite in touch, which slows him just enough to where he misses the ball boy fingertips. Once Adams breaks for the corner, it’s a race to a spot, and who would run a race turning to look? You wouldn’t and Rossum shouldn’t. Turning and looking isn’t always good folks.
10:00 in the 1st quarter, 0-0- Ron Powlus throws incomplete on third down to go three and out, but Notre Dame is bailed out by a roughing the passer call that would be an outrage today, let alone in 1996 when the rules were a bit more, let’s call it loose, on this type of call. But, Notre Dame is taking it.
8:01 left in the 1st quarter 7-0 Texas- On second and seven, Notre Dame is in the offset I, and Randy Kinder takes a counter play up the middle for 28 yards against a NINE MAN front. I’m always amazed that Lou’s teams were able to run against these types of numbers on defense, especially when it’s seven to block nine.
Kinder gets down to the six, but the drive stalls and they settle for a field goal. 7-3, Texas.
5:00 left 1st quarter 7-3 Texas- Kinnon Tatum eats Ricky Williams for no gain on a run, and couple things here: first, the linebacker tri0 of Tatum, Lyron Cobbins, Kory Minor, and Bert Berry was monstrous. With their size and the dark visors, it’s the stuff of nightmares. The second thing is the mesh jerseys that were a natural mid drift and couldn’t be tucked in were amazing and I wish it was still a thing.
The 1996 linebackers were something else pic.twitter.com/hkBysvokZP
— Greg Flammang (@greg2126) August 28, 2019
14:16, Texas 7-ND 3- Powlus throws incomplete to Shannon Stephens on 3rd and nine and Notre Dame has to punt. Seeing Stephens reminds me that he was supposed to be the deep threat on this team and it also reminds me that Randy Moss was also meant to be on this team. He was not allowed to enroll and unfortunately Notre Dame didn’t have anyone even close to what he was going to offer on the roster and it’s just a gaping hole for this team. They badly need a deep threat and it just isn’t there.
Also, Willie Nelson is in the booth and we get this exchange:
Keith: You know, this is largest crowd to attend a football game in the state of Texas.
Willie: Oh really?
Keith: Yep. Record setting day.
Great stuff, guys.
8:34, second quarter, 7-3 Texas- Priest Holmes scores on a three yard run to make it 14-3, he does the thing where he leaps in the air and does a flip. Quite the acrobat. Texas looks downright deadly at this point; they are running with Holmes and Williams, Brown is finding his receivers and picking on Ivory Covington. How does this team ever lose games? The answer is of course because James Brown is getting ready to do James Brown things, but that comes later.
4:20, second quarter, 14-3 Texas- Robert Farmer scores on an 18 yard run to make it 14-10. Lou Holtz man, this guy guys four wide with Powlus, who can’t run, and he runs speed option, and Farmer basically goes in untouched. Texas is blitzing and is in straight man across with a single safety, most of the corners don’t know what’s happening till it’s way too late. What a play call.
1:04, second quarter, 14-10 Texas- Autry Denson was so freaking good. He makes the perfect read on a zone play left to cut back right for 25 yards to the three. It’s pretty remarkable that Holtz wanted to put him at corner when his career started, especially considering he was recruited as a running back and he’s so natural at it. He’s up there with Darius Walker in terms of instincts and feel. Luckily Holtz figured it out, but sheesh what a mistake that would have been.
Anyway, Powlus hits Edwards for a three yard touchdown a play later and it’s suddenly 17-14 Notre Dame heading into halftime.
0:01, second quarter, 17-14 Notre Dame- Ok, I meant to pick this up in the 2nd half, but in watching Texas heave a Hail Mary towards the end zone I noticed Notre Dame had punter Hunter Smith out there to help bat down the pass, which has to be a first in the annals of the sport, so I felt it was notable.
8:09, third quarter, 17-14 Notre Dame- For whatever reason, Holtz comes out trying to throw the ball, this of course doesn’t work, leading to two punts on their first two possessions and Texas musters a little offense leading to a Phil Dawson 47 yard field goal. See, even Holtz had it in him to throw the ball when he shouldn’t.
5:02, third quarter, tied at 17- The YouTube video only shows the Bryant Westbrook hit on Randy Kinder on replay. A few things: first, Ron Powlus lays out his running back worse than anyone has ever laid out their running back. My goodness man, help your guy out. Second, it’s amazing that Kinder holds onto this ball. Third, in the modern era, as soon as the hit is made there are five flags on the field and Westbrook is immediately ejected without complaint. Launches helmet first into the head of a defenseless player.
10:52, fourth quarter, tied at 17- Four straight runs by Texas move the ball 53 yards into the end zone, mostly by Ricky Williams, who ends up with the one yard touchdown. Notre Dame did basically nothing in the third quarter, not even advancing the ball beyond midfield, and the game looks to be trending away from a victory. 24-17 Texas.
7:41, fourth quarter, 24-17 Texas- Notre Dame simply does not have a passing game that scares Texas at all and is again forced to punt on 4th and 1o from the Texas 38. Or are they? Instead Notre Dame tries a fake punt, with Hunter Smith launching a bomb 60+ yards in the air, unfortunately there were only about 58 yards of field for him to work with from where he threw it. It seems like they might have been trying to induce a pass interference penalty, but since the ball landed about five yards out of the back of the end zone, it was moot. Things are starting to look real bleak.
6:47, fourth quarter, 24-17 Texas- Ah, there you are James Brown. In a situation where keeping the ball away from Notre Dame is of the essence, James Brown does a James Brown thing. On 2nd and 7, he tries to force a ball to the tight end on about a two yard pattern, the ball is tipped into the air by Kory Minor, and intercepted by Lyron Cobbins. An inexplicable throw, but now Notre Dame is in business at the Texas 34.
3:04, fourth quarter, 24-17 Texas- Notre Dame moves the ball 33 1/2 yards, all on the ground, to the one foot line, but on fourth and goal, they false start, moving the ball to the 5 1/2. Holtz then calls a COUNTER OPTION, with Powlus pitching to Denson and it works, with Denson scoring, and the extra point tying it at 24. This sort of call would simply never happen in today’s game in this spot. No way, zero percent. But, Holtz pushes the right button and the game is tied.
1:07, fourth quarter, tied at 24- In case you’re wondering why Texas never got over the hump in the 90’s, ABC just showed a graphic showing James Brown is 2-7 for 16 yards and an interception in the second half. So, yeah.
Anyway, Texas is forced to punt, and it goes all of 20 yards, so Notre Dame gets the ball at their own 42 with 59 seconds left.
:05, fourth quarter, tied at 24- Denson gains 23 on a draw play to the Texas 35, Powlus misses a wide open Bobby Brown for a touchdown on 2nd and nine, then finds Malcolm Johnson on a 14 yard curl route to the Texas 20, and Notre Dame calls timeout with five seconds left to attempt the game winning field goal.
0:00, fourth quarter, Notre Dame 27- 24- Jim Sanson pipes the 37 yard field goal as time expires and Keith Jackson is so stunned Notre Dame won the game he tries to get them called for a penalty when the players storm the field. It’s one of the strangest game winning field goal TV calls I’ve ever heard. Lou Holtz and Bob Davie are embracing each other as Jackson wonders what exactly is going on. Just wild.
#9 Notre Dame kicks a game winning field goal at #6 Texas and Keith Jackson is in denial. pic.twitter.com/VeCGrm8S6o
— Greg Flammang (@greg2126) March 17, 2020
In any event, Notre Dame wins a classic, but the joy is short lived when the following week they drop one to top five Ohio State 29-16 at home.