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Walker upset for outgoing seniors

Pat Leonard | Wednesday, January 18, 2006

TEMPE, Ariz. – Darius Walker has two more years of eligibility in a Notre Dame uniform. D.J. Fitzpatrick, Brandon Hoyte, Mark LeVoir, Dan Stevenson, Corey Mays, Maurice Stovall and a slew of others don’t even have one.

The sophomore running back was experiencing mixed emotions in the post-game locker room, none of them pleasant. But he was learning from the experience, disappointed he could not honor the seniors with a victory but also aware he will be in their position one day.

“It really hurts to not be able to send the seniors out right, to not send the seniors out on top,” Walker said. “So I know the underclassmen are hurting for that. But I guess we can use this to help prepare us for going into the offseason next season, and maybe we’ll have a little more drive and determination to not feel like this next year.”

Walker was not necessarily blaming himself. He personally did everything he could on Jan. 2 to prevent such a feeling for his elders.

The junior carried the ball 16 times for 90 yards and three touchdowns against Ohio State, which came into the game ranked No. 1 nationally in run defense.

His three touchdowns fell one score short of tying the Fiesta Bowl record set by Arizona State’s Woody Green against Missouri in 1972.

Though Irish quarterback Brady Quinn had no touchdown passes, Quinn also threw no interceptions and gave Walker the room he needed to operate early on.

“They’ve got a great defense. They really do,” Walker said. “We really wanted to come in to run the ball, even though we were going against the No. 1 rush defense, the goal was to run the ball. We did have some success early, but …”

The Irish were forced into limiting rush attempts. Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis did not feel the Buckeyes ever actually contained Walker.

“We really didn’t get shut down [running the ball],” Weis said. “We had to start throwing. That’s really what happened. What I decided at halftime was I was not going to allow the tempo of the game to stay the way it was.”

Notre Dame’s defense could not find a consistent answer for Troy Smith, Antonio Pittman, Ted Ginn and company on Ohio State’s offensive end.

That meant fewer carries for Walker and more passes to mount a comeback from the 21-7 halftime deficit.

But the game didn’t start that way.

Walker carried the ball three times on Notre Dame’s opening drive, which ate up 72 yards in six plays and only 2:01. Walker’s third carry was a 20-yard touchdown run. The Irish were able to block and contain Ohio State’s aggressive linebackers on the play, despite solid penetration by Hawk and others.

“It seemed like the first drive we got a chance to execute and we were clicking on all cylinders,” Walker said. “And somewhere along the line it just didn’t, and we really never regained our composure.”

Walker finished the season with 1,196 yards rushing, averaging 4.7 yards per carry and 99.7 yards per contest.

He accounted for nine of the team’s 21 rushing touchdowns and 68 percent of its offense on the ground. Add that to his 43 catches for 351 yards and two touchdowns, and it creates a productive and efficient ground game that balances an offense.

But when the opposition forces Notre Dame into passing situations like Ohio State did in the Fiesta Bowl, the strength in the running game is negated.

“It depends on us,” said Irish defensive back Ambrose Wooden, a member of the secondary that surrendered two long touchdown passes leading to the early deficit.

“We didn’t play like Notre Dame has this entire season,” Walker said. “So that’s what really hurts about losing this game is that we lost to a team but we really didn’t come to play.”