Lou Holtz sizes up Notre Dame-Florida State past and present

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

In less than predictable fashion, Lou Holtz on Thursday sized up Everett Golson and Jameis Winston, explained the exhilaration and the heartache of the 1993 football clash between Notre Dame and Florida State and revealed what might be in store for the loser of Saturday’s biggest college football showdown.

Then the Hall of Fame coach and retiring ESPN college football analyst dropped the ball when it came to lobbing praise at ESPN’s College GameDay, which had its very first road show at the 1993 No. 1-vs.-2 battle the Seminoles and Holtz’s Irish in South Bend.

The Saturday college football staple will be at Tallahassee, Fla., this weekend in advance of Saturday night’s primetime showdown (8 p.m., ABC-TV) between No. 5 Notre Dame (6-0) and No. 2. Florida State (6-0).

GameDay will be making its 25th appearance for a Notre Dame game. The Irish are 7-8 all-time when GameDay is present outside an opposing stadium, 4-4 when present on Notre Dame's campus and 11-13 overall regardless of site.

Holtz was asked to give his presumably nostalgic recollection of that first GameDay experience in 1993.

“Well, I remember vividly,” Holtz said during a media teleconference Thursday he co-hosted with fellow ESPN analyst and former Florida State quarterback Danny Kanell.

“Now they didn't have it at the stadium. They had it up in the Joyce Center, which was just outside my office, up one flight of stairs. … I go up there, and they put the earpiece in. I do the interview.

“Now in my life, and I'm an old man — my birthday candles cost more than the cake — I’ve never had an earache in my life, but that Sunday my ear started hurting. Monday I had a very bad earache. Tuesday it was excruciating.

“They called the team physician. He came over and looked at my ear, took a pair of tweezers and pulled the earpiece that ESPN left in my ear out of my ear. That's what I remember about GameDay.”

Here are some of the less excruciating memories and thoughts from Holtz and Kanell as they look back on the rivalry, look forward to the eighth incarnation of it and some big-picture topics in between.

On which team, if either, of the two teams could lose Saturday night and still climb back into the national four-team playoff race:

Holtz: “I think both of them have an excellent chance with this loss. I think the team that wins this game is really punching their ticket to the final four. … I think both of them, regardless of the outcome of this game, should win out. If both sides do that, both of them will be in the game again and have a chance to possibly repeat this performance (in the playoffs).

Kanell: “I do feel like it's more of a must‑win game for Florida State. I'm sure if Florida State lost this game, the immediate reaction after would be, ‘Well, they're done, because they play in the ACC, which is one of the weaker conferences in college football, (and) because on the remaining schedule, there aren't too many tests where they can make a statement down the road as it looks now.

“I think the team that probably has the best chance to move on with a loss and get back in the hunt is Notre Dame, just because of the schedule that they've got set before them and because of their signature win against Stanford at home.”

On Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and whether he has the scheme and personnel to affect the outcome of the game:

Holtz: “I don't think Golson has to play an ‘A’ game. I think Notre Dame's defense does. The one advantage that Notre Dame has is in the offensive and defensive lines.

“I think Notre Dame can run the ball and protect the passer. I’m not sure Florida State can. I think Notre Dame’s secondary plays the ball much better than Florida State’s.

“With that being said, that was my observation before they gave up 43 points to North Carolina. Now is that an enigma or did somebody finally attack them? I knew Brian VanGorder when he was at Georgia. He’s an excellent coach. He’s very sound in what they do, but I would be concerned after the North Carolina game. Up until then, I thought Notre Dame’s defense was definitely for real.”

Kanell: “I think he’s one of the strongest defensive coordinators in the game with what he brings to the table. He brings a ton of stuff. I mean, you have to have a very smart and intelligent defense to pull off some of the schemes that he does. And that could present some challenges for Florida State.

“I would agree in the trenches, Notre Dame has an advantage. Florida State has struggled mightily running the football, and that is one area where Notre Dame can absolutely go toe to toe with Florida State.”

On Notre Dame’s handling of the academic fraud investigation, which got a twist Thursday night when ND coach Brian Kelly acknowledged that safety Eilar Hardy had an avenue to rejoin the Irish roster yet this season after the bye week:

Holtz: “Having been at Notre Dame, it doesn’t surprise me that they would investigate everything at the first slightest allegation. I had the same experience when I was at the University of Notre Dame. I am surprised it took them so long to make a decision. How long does it take to investigate something?

“But the one thing I learned, having coached at Notre Dame for 11 years, Notre Dame is going to march to their own drummer. They don’t care what people on the outside say. As a matter of fact, they don’t care what the football coach says.

“They’re going to do what they feel is in the best interests of the university, to uphold the integrity of the university. I’m just surprised it took that long. I’m not surprised with what they did, the manner they did, the decision they reached, I have no idea about anything involved, but that’s just Notre Dame.”

Kanell: “I would say this is an example of why Notre Dame is truly an elite academic institution with the standard that they hold their student-athletes to. It’s a different set of rules that they expect their students to go by.

“And I think that speaks to the challenge and how hard it is to not only get top-tier athletes into the university, but to keep them there. I mean it’s extremely rigorous. The expectations are extremely high, but I think that’s why it’s a special place as well.”

On key ’93 memories:

Holtz: “The final drive should have been completely irrelevant. What people overlook is we’re up 21-7 and we drop some passes wide open. We’re up 21-7 at halftime. The first 26 minutes of the second half, we score 10 points, Florida State scores 10 points, and we’re up 31-17.

“Four minutes are left to go in the game. Florida State is fourth and 20 on our 20. They throw a pass. It hits our linebacker in the helmet. If he didn’t have a helmet on, he’d have a concussion. Bounces up in the air, Florida State catches the ball, that made it 31-24.

“We get the kickoff, we run the ball three times, we don’t get a first down. We punt. We had a prevent defense so to speak. Some people all it prevent. Some people call it victory. I call it prevent victory. … Florida State was a great football team. Bobby Bowden’s a great coach, but more importantly a great person.

“Florida State might have beaten us seven out of 10 times. That’s very, very possible. But I honestly felt that particular day we were the better football team. And if on fourth and 20, our linebacker just knocks it down, than everything else is irrelevant. You’re not talking about the last play.”

Kanell: I didn’t play in the game. I was the holder for kicks, but I just remember the incredible atmosphere. When you think about college football and the types of games that you want to play in, there’s not one you could picture being much better than that, especially the way the game played out. …

“And then there was this feeling of shock, because we thought we were the best team in the country and felt like we let it get away from us.

“And then for me, personally, I had actually played the week before against Maryland. Charlie (Ward) was hurt, and I’m sure there was some gamesmanship from our coaches saying we’re not sure how Charlie Ward’s status is and would he play.

“And I was absolutely terrified. I had just started my first game as a collegiate quarterback the week before. And I watched Charlie closer in that Notre Dame game than ever before and just kept praying that I would not have to go in that game, because it was a different speed of athlete on the field for that one.”

On the two starting QBs in Saturday night’s game:

Holtz: “These quarterbacks can beat you four different ways. They can beat you with their arm. They can beat you with their head. They can beat you with their feet. Some of the plays that Jameis made last year was incredible, as well as Golson does on a consistent basis.

“The other way they can beat you is with their heart. They're winners. They're competitors, and Danny knows that's inbred in certain quarterbacks and not in others.

“I think they both have a presence. I've gotten to sit down with both of them. They have a presence about them, sort of an intangible quality that you're drawn to them. You want to play for them. You feel confident when they're under center and they're taking the snap that something good with happen. But I will say this, both quarterbacks have to play better than they have as of late.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz speaks during the Notre Dame vs. Michigan pep rally on Friday, Sept. 5, 2014, at Notre Dame in South Bend. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)