WR Rhema McKnight (PHOTO CREDIT - Joe Raymond, South Bend Tribune)

2003 Statistics

Coach: Tyrone Willingham
15-10, 2 years
2003 Record: 5-7
at Michigan LOST 0-38
at Purdue LOST 10-23
at Pittsburgh WON 20-14
at Boston College LOST 25-27
NAVY WON 27-24
at Stanford WON 57-7
at Syracuse LOST 12-38

2003 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2004 Outlook

Having gone nearly a decade without winning a bowl game is no laughing matter for one of the most tradition-laden football programs in America. A tumultuous off-season escalated in a critical letter signed by over 400 alumni stating that the Notre Dame football program needs to make significant progress next season or, "a coaching change will become necessary". The pressure will be square on the shoulder of coach Tyrone Willingham and his staff to reverse the Irish fortunes and perform today.

Notre Dame is no longer in the elite programs - this year's recruiting class was ranked outside of the national top 25. Things do not figure to get much easier, with Michigan, Purdue and USC back on the schedule, along with additions Tennessee and Washington State. The Irish may be more competitive with elite teams, but with the overall lack of game-breakers and experienced returnees they are at least one year away from pleasing the alums.

Brady Quinn will take a step forward to becoming the leader on offense while Ryan Grant will return to his promising sophomore season form. The lack of size along both lines will continue to hurt the Irish endurance as games get late. However, a marginal secondary, no matter how senior-laden, will prove a weakness again against several dangerous passing attacks. The saving grace for the Irish to return to prominence could be if the special teams can go back to creating field position and points to provide support at opportune moments. This could be the coaching staff's lone hope, as another .500 season seems probable, something the Irish nation will not allow Willingham to survive past. Save a team performance like the one in his first year, this campaign will signal either a transition or a new talent-developer and motivator in Tyrone.

Projected 2004 record: 5-6
QB - 2.5 DL - 4
RB - 3.5 LB - 3.5
WR - 3 DB - 2.5
OL - 3.5 ..

Passing: Brady Quinn, 332-157-15, 1831 yds., 9 TD

Rushing: Ryan Grant, 143 att., 510 yds., 3 TD

Receiving: Rhema McKnight, 47 rec., 600 yds., 3 TD

Scoring: D.J. Fitzpatrick, 12-17 FG, 17-18 PAT, 53 pts.

Punting: D.J. Fitzpatrick, 44 punts, 36.8 avg.

Kicking: D.J. Fitzpatrick, 12-17 FG, 17-18 PAT, 50 long

Tackles: Brandon Hoyte, 74 tot., 48 solo, 7.5 TFL; Justin Tuck, 43 solo, 19 TFL

Sacks: Justin Tuck, 13.5 sacks

Interceptions: Quentin Burrell, 4 for 18 yds.

Kickoff Returns: Matt Shelton, 11 ret., 15.8 avg.

Punt Returns: Rhema McKnight, 5 ret., 14.2 avg.


DE Justin Tuck
OFFENSE: Omar Jenkins-WR, Jim Molinaro-OT, Julius Jones-TB, Nicholas Setta-K/P

DEFENSE: Darrell Campbell-DT, Cedric Hilliard-NG, Courtney Watson-ILB, Vontez Duff-CB, Jason Beckstrom-CB, Glenn Earl-SS, Garron Bible-SS


With sophomore quarterback Brady Quinn's 47% completion rate and 15 INTs in '03, it is difficult to understand exactly why Irish fans have so much hope. But Quinn won the Irish faithful over by taking control of the west-coast offense and handling the starting job with maturity well beyond his years. Even though the sophomore's need for seasoning is obvious, Quinn has the mental and physical tools necessary to lead this offense. The move of former starting quarterback Carlyle Holiday to receiver opens the door for former walk-on Pat Dillingham to be second in line. He is more mobile than Quinn but did not effectively move the offense in the small amounts of playing time he has seen. The maturing of each means this position will be only marginally better by campaign's end.

Running Back
Two years ago, Ryan Grant rushed for 1,085 yards and seemed like a budding star. One year later, he lost his starting nod and could never seem to find his grove. The biggest concern with Grant is that his deliberate style and patience in waiting for the hole to open does not compliment well the Irish weaknesses along the offensive front. This year will be about Grant trying to go back to the efficient form that the coaches expect. But do not expect his approach and therefore his results to change - Ryan will be a 3-to-4 yard per carry back with few 10+-yard carries. When he does not improve his play, Grant will be going from the shadow of Jones, into the shadows of new recruit, Darius Walker (ESPN top 100 nationally). Walker is extremely explosive with the ability to stretch the field. Willingham's patience will be short, and Walker will come in early and often as a result until he wins the starting job. The return of starting senior FB Rahson Powers-Neal needs to be as another option for the ball more than his 11 touches from last fall. You can bet old-time Irish backers are screaming for such, and a west-coast approach has to utilize all dimensions or risk being like the Irish have already shown so far in this scheme.

Wide Receiver
Omar Jenkins, Rhema McKnight and Maurice Stovall did not produce consistently as a collective whole. McKnight was the most effective with 47 receptions, while Jenkins and Stovall's productivity struggled as a result of their inability to gain separation from defenders. The trio had a bad habit of short-arming catches, and this caused ineffective results within the throwing of high percentage passes. A duo of young receivers and a quarterback transfer will be responsible for igniting this group next season. Irish fans are excited about underclassmen Jeff Samardzija and Chris Vaughn, both big and extremely fast. Carlyle Holiday, the maligned quarterback who has switched positions to aid his NFL draft possibilities, will take his athleticism to the flanker spot for his senior season. Talent is there, but is untapped for its potential so far and could remain this way.

Tight End
Billy Palmer returns as essentially an extra run-blocker along the offensive front (0 catches in '03). With the need for more receiving options, Anthony Fasono saw ample playing time with 18 catches and his increasing playing time should continue. A bonus will be if former-starter Gary Godsey has his sixth year medical red-shirt approved. Godsey has pro potential and would shine in this offense.

Offensive Line
Replacing four starters along the offensive line last season proved to be an unenviable task. A lack of size, along with constant position rotations to attempt to find balanced and effective run and pass-blocking combinations, were factors in the unit's inability to match the offenses' changing needs. Improvement finally began to show with the decision to move the team's best blocker, Ryan Harris to right tackle, allowing Dan Stevenson to move to his more natural guard spot. The athletic pair seemed to work well together on the right side of the front late into the campaign. That optimism is not shared on the other side, where there are major concerns over protecting Brady Quinn's blind side (24 sacks allowed). Massive returning guard Mark LeVoir struggled with his footwork. Meanwhile, the tackle spot will be a wide-open race where junior Jamie Ryan will play a role. Center Bob Morton rounds out the group for now, but more position changes and rotations are sure to come as the Irish try to ensure the building of a unit with abilities to run and pass block equally well. This area's fate will dictate whether the Irish have any team success.

When coach Tyrone Willingham decided to institute the west-coast offense, everybody expected growing pains. This year's third- and fourth-year offensive players were recruited prior to Willingham's arrival, and most were imported for the run-focused game plans Notre Dame has historically employed. The skill-position pieces are beginning to take form, as Ryan Grant should provide a good-enough running attack while quarterback Brady Quinn looks ready to have a breakout year, provided his receivers progress and his line holds, which is a 50-50 bet. As stated, it will all weigh upon the improvements of a shifting, instable offensive line that last year was dominated against all the top ten teams they played against (save Pittsburgh). The ball-control, short-passing attack can become effective with Quinn, but today it calls for too much precision that this current cast of Irish receivers and blockers do not have the abilities to perform.


TB Ryan Grant (PHOTO CREDIT - Joe Raymond, South Bend Tribune)


Returning Starters/
Key Players
QB Brady Quinn-So (6-4, 220) Pat Dillingham-Jr (6-2, 210)
FB Rashon Powers-Neal-Jr (6-2, 237) Josh Schmidt-Jr (6-1, 226)
TB Ryan Grant-Sr (6-1, 211) Travis Thomas-Fr (6-0, 208)
WR Maurice Stovall-Jr (6-5, 224) Jeff Samardzija-Fr (6-5, 208
WR Rhema McKnight-Jr (6-1, 108) Carlyle Holiday-Sr (6-3, 221)
TE Billy Palmer-Sr (6-3, 257) Anthony Fasano-So (6-4, 249)
Jared Clark-Sr (6-4, 244)
OT Ryan Harris-So (6-5, 285) James Bonelli-Jr (6-4, 272)
OG Bob Morton-So (6-4, 298) Darin Mitchell-Jr (6-3, 287)
C John Sullivan-Fr (6-3, 288) Zachary Giles-Jr (6-3, 285)
OG Dan Stevenson-Jr (6-5, 293) Jamie Ryan-So (6-5, 307)
OT Mark LeVoir-Jr (6-7, 317) Scott Raridon-So (6-6, 300)
K D.J. Fitzpatrick-Jr (6-1, 195) ..



Defensive Line
Although not as dominant as prognosticated, this group kept Notre Dame in games they would otherwise have been blown away in, allowing only 127 rushing yards per game and generating 39 sacks. End Justin Tuck will have his speedy pass-rushing skills (14 sacks) tested after a late knee injury. Opposite Tuck will be senior end Kyle Budinscak, who will also be returning from injury. Inside, the coaches will replace both starters with Greg Pauly and Derek Landri. Pauly is a disruptive force at times, but can be inconsistent throughout the course of a game while Landri is a hard-nosed player whose small body frame places him at a size disadvantage against most offensive guards. The unit likely won't perform at 2003's level, but should be a grounding factor to the defense.

How will the Irish replace all-everything linebacker, Courtney Watson? For starters, junior Brandon Hoyte did an admirable job (74 tackles) in the middle in Notre Dame's four-three schemes. His heady play and strong pass-coverage abilities give Hoyte the opportunity to be the new leader for this defense. Irish fans are also hoping that his recognition of opponent's plays will prove contagious to aggressive returning starter Derek Curry. Corey Mays has the inside track to be the third linebacker. In limited time, Mays showed a nose for the ball, but often lacked awareness of what was unfolding around him. Like many of the other talented Irish units, this one is a work in progress that has yet to be proven.

Defensive Back
Pass-happy quarterbacks consistently (save Pittsburgh's Rutherford) torched the Irish secondary unit as they allowed a year-long average of nearly eight yards a pass attempt. Under-sized Dwight Ellick struggled at corner when matched up against opposing team's number one receivers, but his abilities in run-support make him a returning starter. The early pre-spring favorite for lead coverage corner is Mike Richardson, an emerging sophomore expected to beat out senior Preston Jackson. Jackson was blown up in coverage several times, while Richardson provides a stronger physical match for today's bigger opposing receivers. The team will have experience returning at safety, where Quentin Burrell must improve this weakness from '03. Newcomer and three-time national Tae Kwan Do champion Freddie Parrish has coaches and fans excited with his speed and dynamic raw talent. He will have to unseat senior Garron Bible, another leader who has played often but not always well. Out of any area, this crew of DBs, with so many senior returning starters, will jell quickly and improve from their last national ranking of 48th.

Heading into last year Irish fans were okay with the changes on offense because they believed they had a dominant defense that could carry the load. Injuries along the front, over-aggressiveness in the secondary and an uncharacteristic lack of physically hurt the team in big games. The four-three this season will be anchored by a much improved and healthy front seven but progress will depend upon the ability of the back-four to prevent big plays in the passing game. You will, by some mid-season point, see a cohesive unit that will dominate weaker opponents as they simply provide field-position battles that neutralize more serious foes' offenses.


DE Victor Abiamiri (PHOTO CREDIT - Joe Raymond, South Bend Tribune)


Returning Starters/
Key Players
DE Justin Tuck-Jr (6-5, 239) Travis Leitko-So (6-6, 267)
DT Greg Pauly-Sr (6-6, 295) Kyle Budinscak-Sr (6-4, 270)
NG Derek Landri-So (6-2, 281) Trevor Laws-Fr (6-0, 289)
DE Victor Abiamiri-So (6-4, 265) Chris Frome-So (6-5, 268)
WLB Brandon Hoyte-Jr (5-11, 230) Joe Brockington-Fr (6-1, 226)
MLB Mike Goolsby-Sr (6-4, 248) Corey Mays-Jr (6-1, 244)
SLB Derek Curry-Sr (6-3, 234) Mitchell Thomas-Fr (6-3, 229)
CB Carlos Campbell-Sr (5-11, 197) Mike Richardson-So (5-11, 188)
CB Dwight Ellick-Sr (5-10, 183) Preston Jackson-Sr (5-9, 176)
SS Freddie Parish-Fr (6-1, 201) Lionel Bolen-Jr (6-0, 206)
FS Quentin Burrell-Sr (6-0, 187) Tom Zbikowski-Fr (5-11, 202)
P Geoffrey Price-Fr (6-3, 194) D.J. Fitzpatrick-Jr (6-1, 195)




Walk-on D.J. Fitzpatrick's leg proved more than capable inside 40 yards, but the coaching staff will likely have to rethink his current dual role as kicker and punter, as asking kickers to also take on punting duties typically diminishes productivity overall. As a punter, Fitzpatrick struggled by averaging only 36 yards per kick, and it was rare for him to stick opponents inside their own 20.

Return Game
The tradition of Notre Dame getting a game-turning play from its return game came to an uncharacteristic halt. Ironically, the Irish ranked 21st in all I-A in punt returns. The Irish will get game-tested starters into the roles by season's end, but, for now, look for Rhema McKnight and speedster Mike Shelton to get the shot. Someone will make a better time of it than last campaign's 19 yards per KR.

Inversely to the above 'return game' breakdown, the kick coverage proved great as net punting results reflected the weak Irish defense, ranking ND 101st. Accordingly, expect both coverage units to improve on 2003's results for tight play that bolsters an overall special team's advantage for the Irish.


Brady Quinn paced an extremely efficient Irish offense in the spring game, which averaged over ten yards a play. Quinn hit 17-of-22 passes for 263 yards and a TD. The backfield tandem of Ryan Grant and Rashon Powers-Neal contributed four of the offense's five TDs (three run, one receiving). Grant is going to be one of the better runners in the country this year- mark it down! We also expect to see Powers-Neal get more carries, thus complimenting Grant and improving the run-game. WR Jeff Samardzija stepped up and had a pleasant spring. The Irish will eventually need to get their WRs more involved (especially downfield), as the RBs and TEs earned the bulk of that attention in the passing game this spring. The offensive line has readily improved, especially in pass protection. Many people are counting out this Irish offense, but they are very athletic and groomed by a year of mistakes. They'll be potent - trust us.

FS Tom Zbikowski earned defensive MVP honors by picking off a pass (and had another erased by penalty) and covering the field with earnest defense. The LBs followed a solid spring with strong showings in the final scrimmage. Each had four tackles apiece, with Derek Curry adding two TFLs and a sack. The secondary is a young group, but all showed an abundant amount of exuberance this spring. They can fly to the ball and make plays in pass coverage, but need to shore up their tackling (or lack thereof) skills. Safety, Freddie Parish gave the coaching staff high hopes before the spring and even higher ones afterwards. Freshman Geoffrey Price displayed an extremely promising array of punts and tightly sealed the punting chores for the Irish. The Irish, as a team, have gotten back to their spirited, enthusiastic play that was characteristic of their successful 2002 campaign. Do NOT count this team out. Ty is a motivator and a winner. The Irish will be back to some degree in '04.

RB Darius Walker (fr)
DB Terrail Lambert (fr)
OLB Anthony Vernaglia (fr)