#2: Julius Jones @ Pittsburgh (October 11th, 2003)
The Stat Line:
24 Carries for 262 Rushing Yards, 2 Rushing TDs
The Final Score:
#15 Pittsburgh 14 - Notre Dame 20
Gipp. Hornung. Watters. Bettis. Pinkett. Ferguson.
None of these Irish football greats ever ran for more yards than Julius Jones did against Pittsburgh in 2003.
Jones ran for 262 yards over, around, and through the Pittsburgh defense, leading the Irish to a shocking 20-14 win over the #15 team in the nation.
Why was this win a shock, and Jones's performance an even bigger shock?
Notre Dame came into the game with the eighth worst rushing attack (109th in the country) in the NCAA through four games, and a disappointing 1-3 record. Pittsburgh looked to be a little too tough for such a young offense to do anything against, and many of the predictions before the game said as much. Some people had even looked ahead on the schedule and were predicting a 1-7 start for the Irish. Luckily, a change in game plan was all it took to make sure that slide did not happen.
Notre Dame caught Pitt off guard with the rushing attack, only two weeks removed from Brady Quinn reaching 59 (!) attempts against Purdue. Clearly the Pittsburgh staff had spent plenty of time worrying about the pass-happy Irish. What they hadn't been ready for was Notre Dame to line up in the I-Formation and shove the ball directly down their throats.
"When we watched them on tape, they were struggling to get the running game going," Pitt lineman Vince Crochunis said. "We expected them to throw more. But when something's working as well as that did, why try anything else?"
Julius Jones struck early in the game with a 25 yard touchdown on a Power-O play to the right, immediately putting the Panthers on their back foot. Jones would score his second touchdown, a 49 yard touchdown on another Power-O play to the right side of the line ("why try anything else?"), after breaking a tackle in the hole and winning the footrace to the end zone; tying the game at 14-14.
Jones would go on to break several more long runs, with a big focus on power running plays (FULLBACKS). He was the anchor of a controlling Irish offensive performance where Notre Dame held the ball for 36:46, and amassed 352 rushing yards in total (compared to 33 passing yards).
When the dust cleared and the clock read 0:00, Julius Jones had broken Vagas Ferguson's long-standing school record, in what is most likely the most surprising record-breaking performance in history for the Irish football team.
With everything stacked against him, Julius Jones was a man possessed that night, a senior running back on an underperforming offense led by a freshman QB. He took the game into his hands, and had statistically the top performance of any RB in Notre Dame history (let alone since 2000). The sheer ability to turn around the 109th rushing offense was a small part catching Pitt by surprise, but was a much larger part Julius Jones putting his foot down and not letting the Irish slide into mediocrity his Senior season.
125 Years of ND Football Video
#2 - Julius Jones vs. Pittsburgh (October 11th, 2003)