Irish finally make The Big Plays
By ANDREW SOUKUP
Associate Sports Editor
They finally found The Big Play.
And they didn't find just one. They didn't find two. They found a whole bunch of them.
Who knows where they came from? Was it Bob Davie sitting in on the offensive meetings? Did he reach behind Kevin Rogers' ear and pull out A Big Play? Or was it divine providence that caused R.J. English to flat out drop the ball on the 1-yard line?
Nobody knows. Nobody cares. The Big Play happened, and that's all that mattered.
All season long, the Irish had been missing The Big Play. They hadn't completed a pass for more than 20 yards. They only had one run for more than 30. And the defense had caused a whopping two turnovers.
But that all changed Saturday.
Who could explain what happened when English caught the ball, turned for the endzone, and simply dropped the ball? He wasn't hit. He wasn't even touched. But when the ball popped out of his hands and into the hands of Abe Elam, the Irish finally made a Big Play.
"I felt like we won the game there," Tyreo Harrison said. "That was definitely the momentum-changing play. Abe was in the right place at the right time. Sometimes the sun shines on you."
"At that point they were going in there for the go-ahead touchdown," Davie said. "The next thing you know, we're going the other way with the ball. Let's face it, that's what this game is. Strange things can happen."
How important are those Big Plays the Irish were dearly missing? They fire up a team. They rile up an offense. They jack up a defense. They excite a crowd.
In short, they change the course of the game.
So when Tony Fisher took the handoff three yards deep in his own end zone and blasted through the Pittsburgh secondary, the Irish had another Big Play on their hands. There was nothing between Fisher and the longest rushing play in Notre Dame's 113 years of football except for 80 yards of slightly trampled grass — and a bum knee which brought him tumbling to the ground around the 30 yard line.
After the game, Fisher wasn't upset he was caught from behind. He wasn't upset that he was hurt. He wanted to make The Big Play.
"We need big plays as possible," he said. "Carlyle could do it, I could do it, anyone could do it. It doesn't matter who does it as long as it helps the team."
Two plays later, Holiday did it.
He broke through the defensive line, twisted his way past the linebackers, powered through the secondary, and was off and running. Sixty-seven yards later, the Biggest of Big Plays was in the history books.
Everyone wanted a piece of Carlyle's Big Play. As soon as he saw Holiday take off down the field, Javin Hunter raced down the field, throwing a block on a safety that should have been called a clip. David Givens was throwing blocks on everyone and their mothers. The Notre Dame sideline erupted. Davie actually smiled during a football game.
"I felt a little bit of a surge on the sideline during that third and fourth quarter," Davie said Sunday afternoon.
That's what The Big Play does. It creates momentum shifts. It alters games. It demoralizes and inspires players.
"Momentum's a funny thing," Davie said. "Momentum you can all talk about and plan. But momentum comes your way when you have guys step up and make big plays. That's what happened today."
There were other Big Plays besides the fumble and the big runs. Elam's interception in the first quarter marked the first time an opponent didn't score on their first drive this season. A play after officials blew a fumble call, Shane Walton forced Antonio Bryant to fumble the ball, killing another Pittsburgh scoring drive. Weaver's interception in the fourth quarter unnerved the Panthers. Walton's pick in the fourth quarter sealed the game for the Irish. A grand total of five — count 'em, five — turnovers.
"That's the one thing our defense was missing this year," said Rocky Boiman. "We hadn't really created any turnovers or any sparks out there, and we did that today."
By making those Big Plays, the Irish shut down the Panthers. By making those Big Plays, the Irish gained confidence. By making those Big Plays, the Irish looked like a football team again.
By making those big plays, the Irish won the game.
But then again, that's the nature of The Big Play. It wins games.
You can't coach it. You can't prepare for it. You can only hope to find it.
Saturday afternoon, the Irish did.
Andrew Soukup can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views of this column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Sports Stories for Monday, October 8, 2001