Irish backs lead offense
By Ted Fox
Fox Sports ... Almost
There's an old saying out there that goes something like, "You never can get too much of a good thing."
As far as the Notre Dame football team is concerned this year, that old saying would probably be modified to: "You can never get too many good tailbacks."
At the beginning of any new football season, a coach will, of course, have hopes of a team that is solid in all facets of its game — whether he's looking at offense, defense or special teams.
As long as I'm dropping old sayings, I'll add another one: "No man is an island," just as no part of team's game is isolated from another. On the offensive side of the ball, in order to have a good passing game, you usually need a solid running game to set up the pass.
On the flip side of this coin, it usually takes a solid passing game to open up the field for the run. These two ways of moving the ball flow together in some sort of circular thingy that makes up the offense, and when one breaks down, the whole offensive arsenal tends to go with it.
Anyway, the point (finally, you say) is that to establish this running game and therefore a high-octane offense, any coach would be delighted to have one really solid back and a couple of capable guys he can drop back there with him.
Well, it's Christmas morning for Bob Davie and he must have done all the right things because Santa brought a lot more than the one solid tailback the coach wished for.
Junior Tony Driver, sophomores Terrance Howard and Tony Fisher and freshman Julius Jones have all lined up as the featured back for the Irish this year. Other teams would be happy to have any of these backs as their only featured back.
At his press conference Tuesday, Davie described each man in the following way, respectively: "He'll just flat run over you," "He's an explosive guy," "Tony Fisher's done some tremendous things. [He] gives you some flexibility ... He's a pretty good receiver, blocks pretty good ..." (not to mention leading the team in rushing), and, of Julius Jones: "When he touches the ball, you get excited."
Power. Flexibility. Explosiveness. Good blocking. Solid receiving. Excitement.
And, most obviously, good running.
Any coach aims for the last qualification in his featured back. Get one or two of the other qualities and he'll like his options coming out of that backfield. Get all these things together in a backfield that's so young and you'll have Keith Jackson going, "Whoa, Nellie."
And I haven't even mentioned that Driver, Howard and Jones are the kick and punt returners, respectively, for the Irish. Or that, due to his exceptional play, Driver now lines up with every special teams unit. All this just a year after he won games by playing safety on defense.
These four, along with quarterback Jarious Jackson, whose phenomenal passing and rushing deserves a column of its own, have placed the Irish 19th in the country in rushing yards per game at 201.
But to stop at the rushing totals really misses the point.
These guys are all over the field, making plays rushing the ball, catching the ball, blocking, returning kicks and covering kicks. Dividing time at a position among four guys is tough, but they all make impacts on the game whenever they're called to do so.
Whether it's Howard keeping a drive alive with a catch on a screen or Fisher bruising Oklahoma for 140 yards on the ground or Jones making like Superman and diving into the end zone from somewhere near Senior Bar, these four guys are striking fear into the hearts of defensive coordinators across the country.
You know, there's one more old saying I'm going to toss in here: "When it rains, it pours."
It doesn't look like South Bend's forecast will be clearing up for a few years.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Sports Stories for Wednesday, October 13, 1999