In 2002, Tyrone Willingham was in his first year as the head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Willingham was hired after the fiasco the Irish went through with their hiring of George O’Leary who was then forced to resign because of multiple false statements on his resume. The Irish started off the season 7-0 and were ranked #6 in the country as they headed south to play the Florida State Seminoles in Tallahassee.
Florida State was ranked #13 at the time and ESPN’s College Gameday was there for the occasion. Now, ESPN being at this game wasn’t surprising — but they were just at Notre Dame’s game against the #18 ranked Air Force Falcon in Colorado Springs. This team was getting some MASSIVE exposure.
2002: Notre Dame 34, Florida State 24
After forcing the Seminoles to punt on their first possession, the Irish struck quickly on their first play with a 65 yard touchdown pass from Carlyle Holiday to Arnaz Battle. It was a monster statement, and Battle immediately threw down a tomahawk chop to send a message.
Two of the funnier things mentioned in the broadcast with Brad Nessler, Bob Griese, and Lynn Swann:
- Nessler said that Tryrone Willingham was “the sharpest pencil in the drawer.”
- Griese mentioned that the Big 10 refs were overwhelmed in this game. That comment came after FSU receiver, Robert Morgan, fumbled the ball after a catch — a fumble that Notre Dame pounced on, but was whistled down as an incomplete pass. Stupid integer conference.
The meat of the game happened during the short span of two minutes and twenty-one seconds.
The game was tied 10-10 halfway through the 3rd quarter. With 7:30 to go, Courtney Watson intercepted Chris Rix, and the Nick Setta kicked a field goal that banked in off of the upright with 5:26 left in the quarter.
- At the 4:19 mark, Rix was rocked by Glenn Earl and fumbled the ball. Vontez Duff picked up the fumble and was downed at the 2 yard line.
- With 4:09 left, Ryan Grant scored a touchdown to make the game 20-10.
- Leon Washington fumbled the ensuing kickoff after he was hit by Brandon Hoyte. The ball was recovered by Hoyte.
- A little over a minute later, Holiday finds Omar Jenkins in the corner of the endzone for a touchdown to make the score 27-10 (which made Jenkins’s family so happy).
A 31 yard touchdown run from Grant made the game out of reach late with the score 34-10. The Seminoles scored two garbage touchdowns to make the game seem more respectable, but the Irish — especially the defense, went into Doak Walker Stadium and kicked the shit out of Bobby Bowden’s team.
We all know what happened after that game that season (and the two seasons that followed) but that night, it actually felt like Tyrone Willingham was the answer we were all looking for in South Bend.
We couldn’t have been more wrong... but that’s sports I guess.
You can watch an abbreviated version of the game HERE.