THE BEAT GOES ON
Life has been rocky at the top this season, but Notre Dame seems to have discovered how to cope. Before facing No. 9 Tennessee in Knoxville, Irish coach Lou Holtz prepped his team for the ravings of Volunteer fanatics at Neyland Stadium—the official attendance was 97,123, second-largest in Tennessee's 100-year football history—by conducting practices with the Tennessee fight song, Rocky Top, blaring from loudspeakers. The tactic almost drove his players crazy—"I was hearing it in my sleep," said cornerback Todd Lyght—but it got them into the right frame of mind to handle everything Tennessee threw at them, including a school-record 60 passes by quarterback Andy Kelly. The result was a 34-29 win that enabled the Irish to hang on to that slippery No. 1 ranking.
Tennessee led four times—3-0, 13-10, 20-17 and 23-20—but each time Notre Dame fought back to tie or regain the lead. The Vols took what was to be their final lead on Greg Burke's 45-yard field goal with 9:57 remaining. But shortly thereafter, Raghib (the Rocket) Ismail made his ever-dangerous presence felt without so much as touching the ball. Trying to keep the ball away from Ismail, freshman punter Joey Chapman shanked a 20-yarder out of bounds, setting up the Irish on their own 43-yard line. Four plays later, Ricky Watters, who rushed for 174 yards, bolted over from the 10 to put the Irish ahead 27-23 with 5:30 to play.
A couple of minutes later, Ismail took a pitchout and exploded for a 44-yard TD run around right end that gave the Irish a 34-23 lead with 3:33 left. "You can't keep him under control the whole game," said Notre Dame quarterback Rick Mirer. "Sooner or later, he's going to do something to help you."
Ismail had his own way of coping with the electrified atmosphere in Knoxville. While awaiting kickoffs, he did some dance steps to an imaginary beat. Asked about that, the Rocket smiled and said, "That was the 'house' dance."
And what, pray tell, is the house dance? "I think it comes from, you know, house parties," said Watters afterward. "He's an awesome dancer, one of the best on the team."
This party, however, wasn't over after Ismail's TD. With 1:44 remaining, the Vols cut the lead to 34-29 on a 23-yard pass from Kelly to Alvin Harper. Then, after regaining possession on an onside kick, Tennessee drove to the Notre Dame 20 with just under a minute to play. The Vols tried the same Kelly-to-Harper pattern, but this time cornerback Rod Smith made a game-saving interception. Mirer killed the clock by taking the last two snaps and kneeling. "In the huddle," said Mirer, "we called that last play Rocky Top because we were so sick of hearing it."
A WITHERED ROSE
Once again the Rose Bowl will be the Doze Bowl, at least as far as the national championship is concerned. For that, the folks in Pasadena can thank Pac-10 champion Washington, which lost 25-22 to UCLA in Seattle. The Huskies had moved up to No. 2 in the polls last week and were harboring national championship hopes. The Washington athletic department arranged for 30,000 roses to be handed out to fans as they arrived at Husky Stadium. But coach Don James must take some of the blame for the overconfidence that was epidemic in the area before the UCLA game. On Friday, the university newspaper published a letter from James urging students not to tear down the goalposts after the game, as they had after last season's final home victory. Apparently it never occurred to James that his team might not emerge victorious over a 4-5 Bruin team that was a three-touchdown underdog.
The Bruins, though, came up with their best effort in two seasons on a windy day that made passing and kicking tricky propositions, at best. On offense, UCLA's Brian Brown raced 88 yards untouched for a touchdown, the longest scoring run ever against Washington, and quarterback Tommy Maddox, throwing out of the shotgun, had a fine game, completing 23 of 41 passes for 239 yards. On defense, the Bruins shut down tailback Greg Lewis, who failed to gain at least 100 yards for the first time this season. Lewis had 50 yards on 12 carries when he left the game with a hyperextended knee early in the third quarter.