Battle-testing Arnaz proves wise decision
By TIM CASEY
Sometimes you don't realize your mistakes until it's too late. That's exactly what happened to Bob Davie 10 months ago.
On Nov. 21st, Davie's 8-1 team was on the verge of defeating a talented LSU team. With the victory, the Irish were in position to grab an elusive BCS spot and play for millions of dollars.
Then it all came undone.
Three seconds remained. Jarious Jackson was told to take an intentional safety, which would have ended the game. Instead, he was hit twice.
First, linebacker Arnold Miller came through the line and nailed Jackson, then strong safety Clarence LeBlanc finished the damage. Jackson and the team's season ended with an MCL injury to his right knee.
The skeptics soon came out in bunches wondering why Davie kept Jackson in the game.
The real question, however, was who would replace Jackson. Neither backup — junior Eric Chappell and freshman Arnaz Battle — had seen significant playing time all year. It showed in the following week's game against USC, where the two combined for four interceptions and completed less than one-third of their passes in a 10-0 loss.
Davie won't repeat 1998's mistakes.
Instead of resting on the laurels of the fifth-year senior Jackson, Davie inserted Battle into action against the first team Kansas defense. The Irish were up 20 points at the time, but if this were a year ago, Jackson would have certainly been in the game.
For evidence, look at the Halloween game against Baylor. Ahead 24-3 with 14 minutes left in the third quarter against a weak team, Jackson remained in the game until midway through the fourth quarter.
Now a year older and wiser, Battle proved that he can run the football, highlighted by a 74-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
"Last year I had a lot of setbacks with injuries," Battle said after the game. "It was a great feeling to come out and make some plays."
"He made those runs pretty consistently in practice," Davie said following Saturday's game. "He has a special talent running the football."
But can he direct the team? Only time will tell.
Battle came into the game Saturday on the fourth Irish series — far earlier than any of the three games (excluding USC) where he saw action last year. He ran three option plays to the left side of the field, pitching twice to Tony Fisher for 20 total yards, along with a keeper for a minimal gain. But he also overthrew Bobby Brown in the end zone and threw an incompletion intended for Javin Hunter on successive plays from the 20-yard line.
He was reinserted in the fourth quarter. On second and six from Notre Dame 26-yard line, Battle again underthrew David Givens. The very next play, Battle scrambled right on a keeper, broke a tackle and reversed himself to the left and the rest was history.
Those two plays define Arnaz Battle.
Without a doubt, he's one of the most athletic quarterbacks in college football. He has tailback speed with the toughness of a fullback. When he's in the game, he's reminiscent of a young Tony Rice. Battle has the athletic skills that no coach can teach. He can improvise and get positive yardage out of a broken play.
But he must throw the ball better.
At this point, Battle is a mediocre passer. Nobody will mistake him for Tim Couch in terms of accuracy. Battle does not have the rifle of John Elway or the football intelligence of a Peyton Manning.
In the present, however, that's not the end of the world for the Irish.
What's encouraging is that he's getting a chance to perform.
The only way he'll improve his timing and accuracy is if he gets quality time. Jackson is the clear-cut starter but, as the Irish can attest to from a year ago, nothing is written in stone.
"In the spring, Coach Davie said I was going to play in order to gain experience," said Battle. "This year we're going to do a lot of things at quarterback and we'll take a beating, so I'll need to be a capable backup.
"We've got to get Arnaz Battle in the game," Davie added. "He's a game-breaker. Plus, we need to get him settled down throwing the football. He needs to play."
Apparently, Davie has learned from his mistakes.
All Sports Stories for Monday, August 30, 1999