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Holiday deserves to be the starter

Andrew Soukup | Friday, September 19, 2003

He’s been called a square peg in a round hole, a quarterback with a noodle arm, a runner who has no business standing behind center.

He’s heard the muttering walking through the dining hall, answered tough questions after tougher losses and gotten e-mails telling him in non-politically correct language that he stinks.

He’s seen a hotshot freshman anointed as Notre Dame’s quarterback of the future. He’s been blasted for his lack of pocket presence. He’s been torched because he gets knocked out of games too early.

In fact, about the only thing Carlyle Holiday hasn’t heard from Irish fans is the one thing he should be hearing.

Namely, that the third-year starter should be the undisputed starting quarterback at Notre Dame.

But Holiday is too proud to admit that the criticism gets to him. He’s too focused to let comments distract him. And he’s too disgusted at his own play against Michigan to care what others think.

“Right now, I gotta do what I gotta do,” he shrugged, “and let people say what they wanna say.

“And I’m fine with it.”

He should be, because if Holiday isn’t Notre Dame’s starter, than who is? Brady Quinn? The true freshman, whose potential talent on the field is making Irish fans drool as much as his good looks make girls drool off the field, has thrown a whopping 10 passes in his college career. Three were completions – good passes, but not a touchdown yet – and one was an interception.

But that hasn’t stopped countless fans from saying Quinn should start. Of course, these people were also calling for Quinn to start after he handed the ball off a handful of times during the go-ahead touchdown drive against Washington State. How much poise does it take to say hut, spin around and hand the ball to Ryan Grant or Julius Jones – at home?

Quinn will be Notre Dame’s quarterback of the future. But he’s not the quarterback of the present.

Sure, put a raw quarterback in this season, behind one of the worst Notre Dame offensive lines in recent years. If he plays badly (and he hasn’t exactly been impressive so far), his confidence could be irrevocably shaken and tomorrow’s golden boy could just be a relic on the bench.

What does Quinn think of him starting? “I think they’re silly,” he grinned. “I think they don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m in here doing my thing, and I know Carlyle is the man.”

Holiday knows exactly what the attention surrounding Quinn feels like. Two years ago, when Matt LoVecchio helped the Irish stumble their way through two losses in two games, fans tripped over themselves wondering when Holiday would start. By the third game of the season, Holiday was the starter, where the spotlight shined much brighter – and less rosy – than it did when he was on the bench. The best quarterback in America, as Holiday discovered, is the Notre Dame backup.

But, as Tyrone Willingham said earlier this week, the quarterback gets too much credit and too much blame.

It’s not Holiday’s fault he gets hit every play thanks to an offensive line that doubles as a sieve. It’s not Holiday’s fault the offensive play calling doesn’t utilize his mobility to let him roll out of the pocket, run some draws or – gasp – run a handful of option plays.

And it doesn’t help that two of Holiday’s worst games – USC in 2002 and Michigan in 2003 – came against arguably two of the best defenses in the nation.

Holiday is far from Notre Dame’s ideal quarterback. He is far from the most polished passer. He’ll make progress in moving through his receivers even as he struggles to get the ball to them. He’ll hold on to the ball too long in the pocket or try to rush it and force a bad play. In another year, Holiday may not even be the starter.

But he’s not the worst quarterback, either. Coaches say he understands Bill Diedrick’s complicated offense. Holiday openly and honestly discusses his shortcomings with reporters, but he also has had over a year of experience with the system. He’s one of the toughest players on the team, and he has to be, for all the hits he absorbs on Saturday (both during the game and in the interview room). Plus, he knows starting at quarterback for Notre Dame is a lot harder than backing up the quarterback for Notre Dame.

Meanwhile, Quinn was getting ready for the Dublin Coffman High School prom when Holiday was playing in the spring Blue-Gold game. As much as teammates praise his poise, and as much as some want to anoint him the next great Irish quarterback, there is no way he has the experience necessary to handle all aspects the Notre Dame quarterback position.

Quinn will get playing time this year. He’ll get the experience he needs. But, barring another meltdown like Holiday delivered Saturday, he shouldn’t start this year. Let him watch and adjust to the college game from the sidelines, and save the quarterback battle for the spring.

“You’re always going to have someone looking over your shoulder, especially at a place like this,” Holiday said. “You have to have snake skin.”

Don’t give the starting job to the guy who might be better in the future. Give it to the guy who is the best right now.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Andrew Soukup at asoukup@nd.edu.