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Up for grabs

Andrew Soukup | Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Notre Dame might be playing Purdue this week, but you wouldn’t guess it from listening to the media’s weekly press conference with head coach Tyrone Willingham.

Just two of the 40-odd questions asked Tuesday dealt with the Boilermakers. But when a team struggles to a 1-2 start and a head coach says a quarterback change could loom in the future, Willingham couldn’t have expected many of the questions to focus on Purdue’s dangerous offense.

Instead, question after question revolved around who will start Saturday as quarterback for Notre Dame. And as Willingham and the Irish are finding out, nothing generates as much interest as a quarterback controversy.

This week, Willingham said the Irish will decide whether to start Carlyle Holiday, a 24-game starter who has had difficulty executing the Irish offense in its first three games, or Brady Quinn, a true freshman who hasn’t yet thrown 30 passes.

Offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said the coaching staff would make a decision Friday at the latest, and Willingham said the Irish wanted to make a call as soon as possible. Both players are splitting repetitions equally in practice this week and are off-limits to the media until Thursday.

“We will go with the quarterback who will give us the best opportunity to win,” Willingham said. “We need to make that decision this week, and we’ll let our practices and previous history make that decision.”

Holiday’s recent struggles have been well documented, and the senior doesn’t shy away from admitting his shortcomings. In three games, Holiday has completed 36-of-73 passes for 303 yards, including one touchdown and four interceptions. He left the field Saturday to boos after he threw an interception that was returned 40 yards for a touchdown.

Although fans cheered him when he entered the game Saturday, Quinn’s numbers aren’t much better. The true freshman has completed just 10-of-27 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown and one interception. But he helped the Irish score Saturday late in the fourth quarter, leading the team on a nine-play, 85-yard drive against a Michigan State defense that was mostly trying to prevent a long pass.

The Irish offense under either quarterback hasn’t been particularly effective, either. Both Holiday and Quinn have connected on touchdown passes with Rhema McKnight, and Julius Jones rushed for the only other Irish touchdown.

Both Quinn and Holiday have said all the right things during the controversy, with Holiday saying he would support any decision made by the coaches and Quinn saying Holiday has the skills to be the starter.

“If I didn’t start, I’ll just have to sit back and know my role from there,” Holiday said. “I’m not a selfish person so I really want what’s best for this team now. I just have to go out and continue to practice and improve.”

Because of the nature of the quarterback position, Willingham said he would be cautious not to play anyone before they were ready. So how can Quinn, who coaches have praised for his poise and understanding of the Irish offense, surpass Holiday’s 26 games of experience?

“I don’t know if you gain on that,” Diedrick said. “It’s a matter of who can execute the offense and who can give us the best opportunity to win.”

While Willingham said he was anxious to make a decision, it was not one he was willing to make lightly. And after practice Tuesday, he said the competition was still up in the air.

“If we could have that decision today, it would be better for the team, better for the quarterback, better for everyone. We don’t have a problem making it as soon as possible. But it would have to be in our estimation the right time when you make that decision.

“So if it takes till the end of the week to make that decision, then that’s when we’ll make it.”