Special teams unit spearheads Irish offense
By KEVIN BERCHOU
Retired Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy, long called the father of special teams, often said that his baby constituted one-third of a football game.
Offense and defense were important, but not more than special teams.
Cynics chided Levy for overestimating the importance of a unit that graced the field only in kicking situations.
The 80,232 that witnessed the heart-stopping clash between Notre Dame and Nebraska would have deemed Levy's estimates of special teams' impact far too conservative.
With an offense struggling mightily and a courageous defense doing all it could to weather a Cornhusker storm, it looked as if the highly anticipated clash between two of history's most storied programs might turn into a blowout.
Instead the Irish struck not once but twice with lightning of their own, turning a potential dud into a "can you top this game" for the ages.
The Irish return team played like a squad on a mission, while 'Husker coverage units looked lost.
Down 21-7 after running back Dan Alexander's 28-yard touchdown scamper, it looked as if luck had run out for Notre Dame.
Then it happened.
Sophomore tailback Julius Jones took a kickoff at the goal line and raced up the left sideline towards a student body that was all too appreciative of his efforts.
Jones' burst not only left 'Husker coverage men searching for answers, but it altered the game's momentum.
Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie well understood the importance of his special teams units.
"That [Jones' return] was a huge play," Davie said. "That play got our momentum back and I don't think there was a player on our sideline who didn't think we would win that game."
Still down 21-14, the Irish needed still more special teams magic to even the score with Nebraska.
After being much maligned for the better part of last year, the Irish return teams packed an explosive punch against the 'Huskers.
After a diving Brock Williams batted away an Eric Crouch toss, Nebraska was forced to punt.
If Julius Jones is fast, Joey Getherall is a burner. The pint-sized receiver gathered the punt at his own 17, then cut to his right.
After it appeared he was hemmed in at midfield, Getherall eluded the chase, cut back and sent the stadium into a state of delirium.
"We have two outstanding returners," said Davie in what might have been the day's biggest understatement.
Notre Dame's potent return game brought Nebraska to its knees, reducing its proud head coach Frank Solich to a tired man looking for solutions.
"That is an area [special teams] that we are going to have to address," Solich said. "We need to get much better. We will take a very strong look at how we coach special teams. You gotta play in all three areas — offense, defense and special teams. And we need to improve in one of them big time."
"We put a lot of work into our sideline kickoff returns," said Davie
All Sports Stories for Monday, September 11, 2000