Willingham faces former team
Pat Leonard | Thursday, October 7, 2004
Stanford holds no grudges – at least none that are visible.
During the 57-7 Cardinal home loss to Notre Dame last season, critics gasped when the Irish attempted a fake punt in the fourth quarter. Punter D.J. Fitzpatrick threw 14 yards to Chinedum Ndukwe on fourth-and-17, and the Irish turned the ball over.
Stanford junior center Brian Head said he and his teammates not only have turned the page on that play – they also are not phased by facing their former coach.
“I think about all of our opponents in pretty much the same way,” Head said. “To me, it doesn’t make much of a difference that we’re playing against coach Willingham. I just want to go out there and beat them in their house.”
Willingham expects the attitude Head exudes.
“Even though some of the [Stanford players] were recruited by myself, hopefully they have some fond memories of our relationship,” Willingham said. “But when the game starts, I’m quite sure that they will forget who is on the other side and see only Notre Dame and see only that they want to defeat Notre Dame.”
Willingham said he does not expect a game like last season’s blowout.
“Stanford is coming to town probably the best that we’ve seen them in the last two years,” Willingham said. “They are coming in here a very confident team. They have got one loss, that one loss to co-national champion USC, and they took them right down to the wire.”
But Willingham would not rule out using the same fake punt – in any situation.
“If we were to get the same rush which we had, we’ve had it twice this year in games, and if we are that situation where we’re not backed up on our goalline and the percentages are not favorable, we’ll try to complete [the play again].”
Running back Ryan Grant and wide receiver Maurice Stovall are not listed as starters on the Notre Dame depth chart this week. Darius Walker is listed as the starting tailback, and Matt Shelton is penciled in as a starting wideout along with Rhema McKnight.
Willingham said at the beginning of the week that the statuses of both Grant and Stovall were unknown.
“We’ll see as we progress through the week,” Willingham said. “Tuesday is usually our first day when we have an opportunity to really see him on the field. We start to evaluate today to pace them on the week and see where they are at.”
Walker has filled in for Grant and taken the majority of snaps in the backfield, with Marcus Wilson seeing the field along with Walker against Purdue. The Irish, though, could use Grant’s leadership and physical talents to compliment Walker, and vice versa.
“Ryan Grant has a leadership presence, he has a performance presence and he has an experience presence,” Willingham said. “And all of those things you count on in a play in your system; that players around him feel very comfortable with what he adds to our football team. His running style is that of a slasher, so therefore, he can do things that some of the other backs can’t do.”