ND, WVU meet in battle of underachievers
By KERRY SMITH
At first glance Saturday's match-up between Notre Dame and West Virginia appears to produce a similar pair. Both teams are struggling offensively, both head coaches have searched for a leader at the quarterback position and both teams are looking for ways to turn a losing season around.
But Irish head coach Bob Davie thinks his team has the key to victory: momentum.
"This week is especially important because we do have what amounts to some momentum right now ... I think this is a criticial stretch for us right now to get things back on track," the fifth-year head coach said. "I think our football team feels better about itself right now obviously after the win. It's a lot easier to coach coming off a win. Just momentum is a funny thing."
Davie and the Irish hope that momentum is a big enough of a wave to ride out a 1-3 sluggish season start.
Mountaineer head coach Rich Rodriguez is looking for that same spark. His 2-3 team is suffering through a two-game losing streak and is coming off its worst home shutout loss since 1963 — a 35-0 loss to Virginia Tech.
Coming into Saturday's contest, both the Irish and the Mountaineers are laboring to put points on the scoreboard. The Irish, despite some positive signs of point production against Pitt, dwindle at the bottom of the NCAA offensive rankings averaging less than 12 points per game.
The Mountaineers aren't faring much better. Despite scoring a season-high 34 points against Kent State, Rodriguez's team is averaging about 16 points a game.
Much of the failure to produce points has stemmed from early season quarterback woes. The Irish have gone back and forth between last season's starter Matt LoVecchio and last season's backup Carlyle Holiday.
But after Holiday's effective start at home last week, Davie hopes the so called "quarterback controversy" is in the past.
"I think first of all the reason we went with Carlyle is he's able to create plays on his own," Davie said. " ... I think you're going to see his development as a passer ... I don't really worry about him scrambling. In fact, we kind of encourage it because I think he has some amazing ability with the ball in his hand."
Rodriguez is currently experiencing the struggle for a ball handler that the Irish hope they're through with.
After a dismal performance against Virginia Tech last week, Rodriguez declared Monday that he is considering replacing starter Brad Lewis in this Saturday's outing.
"We've got to get better production and he quarterbacks have got to start taking charge more," Rodriguez said. "This week we've got three of them who have got to do it in practice. We'll see how all three of them do."
Lewis has thrown seven interceptions and just three touchdowns.
Those are numbers the Irish defense wants to capitalize on.
"They're going to spread the field," Davie said. "They basically play 70 percent of the time with four wide receivers in the game. Obviously you're going to be in a lot of nickel, in a lot of dime."
The Irish are hurting in the secondary, with Gerome Sapp and Ron Israel at less than full speed. Clifford Jefferson, who sat out of the Pitt game with an injury will return to the line-up but won't start. Vontez Duff will for the second game in a row start in his place.
Injuries to the defensive unit aren't the only Irish impediments.
Tony Fisher's status reamains a game-time decision. The senior tailback suffered a knee and hamstring injury during last week's outing.
All Sports Stories for Friday, October 12, 2001