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Jones finally meets expectations

Joe Hettler | Monday, October 13, 2003

Bob Davie knew how crucial Saturday’s contest between the Irish and No. 16 Pittsburgh was for Irish running back Julius Jones. Seeing Jones near the entrance gate after breaking Notre Dame’s single-game rushing record, the former Irish coach saluted Jones with a smile and gave his former star a hug.

It was a symbolic gesture of sorts – the man that recruited Jones congratulating him on a night when the senior showed the nation just what he was capable of accomplishing.

Jones had 262 yards rushing en route to breaking Vagas Ferguson’s 225-yard game in 1978. Jones also rushed for two touchdowns and was the key in Notre Dame’s 20-14 upset of Pittsburgh.

After being kicked out of school and missing a whole season of football last year, Jones finally gave Notre Dame’s coaches and fans the kind of game they’ve been expecting since his freshman year in 1999.

He ran over, through and around Panther defenders all night. He made the big run when the Irish needed it, and he had several key touchdown sprints. But most importantly, Jones simply embarrassed the Pittsburgh defense by doing what Irish fans have been waiting for since his arrival back to campus in the early fall.

The extra classes at Arizona State and the rigorous training with his brother Thomas, a running back for the Tampa Bay Buccanneers, wasn’t easy for Jones. But Saturday night’s performance made all the sweat and pain in the offseason and year off worth it.

“It means a lot, just to be away and have the opportunity to come back and go through the things I’ve gone through,” Jones said. “It’s a great feeling and I feel like everything I did paid off.”

In his first four games, Jones had a mere 152 yards and averaged a modest 3.5 yards per carry, struggling since his solid performance against Washington State in the opener. He gained only six yards against Purdue last week and was visibly angry after Notre Dame’s 23-10 loss. While Jones did not perform to expectations, neither did Notre Dame in going 1-3.

But this week was different. Jones showed the game-changing abilities he displayed as a sophomore and junior and flashed the brilliance that the Irish have expected since his return to school.

Most importantly, Jones gained the swagger he had during his first three years at Notre Dame when he gained 1750 yards and 19 touchdowns. He can take that swagger into the remainder of Notre Dame’s games this season.

“It was a lot of confidence,” Jones said. “I felt confidence in the offensive line and they felt confident in the running backs. It was a great game for us to get our confidence going for USC and the rest of the season.”