Sept. 29, 2001
By MICHAEL GRACZYK
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Texas A&M added a chapter to the storied history of Notre Dame football the Irish will not cherish.
The Aggies scored on their first three possessions Saturday, including quarterback Mark Farris' touchdown catch, to down Notre Dame 24-3. For the first time since they began playing football in 1887, the Irish are 0-3.
"You cringe when you hear that," said coach Bob Davie, who returned for the first time to College Station since leaving as assistant head coach in 1994. "It stings to hear that, but all that matters is how it ends."
Added quarterback Carlyle Holiday, who was making his first start in hopes of generating some offense: "We never thought it could happen."
Davie hasn't won since signing a five-year contract extension last Dec. 5. Counting a bowl loss to end last season, that's four straight defeats for Notre Dame.
"What I see right now is a very anemic football team," he said. "I really appreciate how we prepare and I appreciate the effort we get, all those things, the character. But rght now we're just anemic. We can't seem to get a play."
That wasn't a problem Saturday for Texas A&M (4-0).
"It was very important for us to get off to a good start," Slocum said. "We wanted to come out swinging."
They did, grabbing a 17-0 lead, and backed by a record crowd of 87,206 - the largest crowd ever to watch a football game in Texas, they throttled Notre Dame's offense.
Holiday lasted less than a half, knocked out late in the second quarter with
a sprained neck and the Irish trailing by 17. At the time, he was 6-for-13 for
73 yards and two interceptions. He also had 23 yards on 12 carries.
"I can't recall being hit that many times in one game," Holiday said.
It didn't get much better for Matt LoVecchio, who lost the starting job after the 0-2 start and took over for the injured Holiday in the second half.
On his first series, it was three and out, then his second possession ended with an interception. On his third possession, again it was three and out. Joey Hildbold's punt on fourth down at the Irish 20 was blocked by Jay Brooks. A&M's Randall Webb grabbed the ball and ran it in from 13 yards for the TD to break the game open.
"The blocked punt is kind of when it hit rock bottom," Davie said.
A&M grabbed a 7-0 lead when Derek Farmer, a freshman and surprise starter at running back, went 31 yards for the score, capping the Aggies' opening 76-yard drive. Farmer, who finished with 100 yards rushing, including 51 in the first quarter, took a deep handoff, cut to his left, then back to the right and down the sidelines into the end zone.
Holiday drove Notre Dame to the A&M 13. On third-and-10, his pass to the right side of the end zone was intercepted by Sean Weston.
It set the tone for the day.
"The bottom line, I take responsibility for it," Davie said. "If it was just one thing certainly you could correct that. It's not one thing.
"Where we are right now? I don't know... I don't know what we're good at right now. You have to be a pretty optimistic person to say right now that there's many positives."
Holiday said Davie and his coaches shouldn't have to shoulder all the blame.
"It's not fair at all," he said. "They're good coaches, but when it comes down to it, players have to play."
A&M responded to the first turnover with an 80-yard drive in only five plays to make it 14-0. On first down at the A&M 33, Terrence Murphy hauled in a 44-yard pass from Farris to set up the Aggies on the Notre Dame 22.
On the next play, Farris pitched back to Oschlor Flemming, who rolled to his right, stopped and threw back to his left to the wide-open Farris. He ran untouched to the end zone to make it 14-0.
"I was thinking: 'Man, don't drop it,"' Farris said.
"It was just a great call on the throw back to the quarterback," Davie said. "We were outcoached on that play."
"The key was making them have to defend everything," Aggies coach R.C. Slocum said.
Notre Dame couldn't.
Cody Scates made it 17-0 with a 29-yard field goal set up by Dawson Gentry's 39-yard punt return.
In the second quarter, Holiday connected with Javin Hunter for a 19-yard completion, equaling the longest Irish pass play of the season. But on the next play, he threw into double coverage and was picked off by Terrence Kiel.
Holiday was sacked three times and hit numerous others. He needed assistance to get off the field after taking the shot late in the second period that left him with the neck sprain.
On the next play, Nicholas Setta's 47-yard field goal equaled the longest of his career to account for the only Irish points.