Some fairy tales are too good to be true, even ones ripe with Irish luck. When Notre Dame fell in overtime to No. 1 Nebraska in 2000’s second week, the loss also cost the Irish their starting quarterback, Arnaz Battle breaking his wrist.
In beating a top-25 Texas A&M to open the season and taking the top team in the country to the brink, Notre Dame had quickly gone from unranked to not only No. 21 in the polls but also on the front of the public’s minds. The next two games would be against top-25 opponents, as well, but who would lead the Irish offense? Some recruiting mishaps and early-season injuries had depleted the position, to the extent that head coach Bob Davie called upon …
Gary Godsey. Former tight end recruit Gary Godsey. The subject of student-body T-shirts insisting “In Godsey We Trust.”
The sophomore’s debut behind center would simply be against No. 13 Purdue and future Hall of Famer Drew Brees in the 55th year of the in-state rivalry’s post-World War II revival, a tall order even for someone standing 6-foot-7. Of course, a challenge is needed for any worthwhile fairy tale.
And with that challenge, a few breaks, like Godsey running in a nine-yard score three plays after Notre Dame recovered a blocked punt at the four-yard line and like defensive back Shane Walton returning an interception 60 yards in the first quarter to stake the Irish to a 14-0 lead.
Godsey’s nine-yard touchdown dash was about the extent of Notre Dame’s offensive production. It gained a total of 236 yards against the Boilermakers, led by Godsey’s 14-of-25 passing for 158 yards with one interception. Purdue feared Godsey’s arm so little, it was able to sell out against Irish running back Julius Jones, who gained only 56 yards on 18 carries, a 3.1 yards per rush average during a season in which he otherwise averaged 4.17 yards per attempt.
Brees’ second touchdown pass gave the Boilermakers a 21-20 lead and one could be forgiven for doubting the veracity of the Davie era. Notre Dame struggled to 5-7 in 1999, his third season, done in by three consecutive September losses to rivals — at Michigan, at Purdue and vs. Michigan State — followed by four straight November losses to end the year, including defeats to three more rivals: at Tennessee, at Pittsburgh, vs. Boston College and at Stanford.
Falling to Purdue would put the Irish in a 1-2 hole with Michigan State once again looming. Since resuming that series in 1997, Davie had not beaten the Spartans. A 1-3 start seemed not only conceivable, but even likely. After all, a tight end was at quarterback. Even Davie did not want to know what his quarterback was thinking as he took the field with 3:39 left to get down the field and hold off the Boilermakers.
“I was afraid to ask him,” Davie said. “That was one thing I didn’t want to find out.”
While the University had never dismissed a coach after fewer than five seasons, Davie’s fourth year certainly looked like it was about to be his last.
RELATED READING: With Godsey at Quarterback, Notre Dame Mystery Is Solved
And then Godsey completed a nine-yard pass on the drive’s second play after a two-yard Jones loss. Facing a 3rd-and-10 a few plays later, Godsey threw for 15 yards to cross midfield. The next play was an 11-yard completion, suddenly putting the Irish into the outer reaches of field goal territory. Sophomore Nick Setta had already kicked 47- and 32-yard field goals, though also missing from 39.
A series of timeouts — three by Notre Dame and two from Purdue — stretched out the last 64 seconds, a time span in which the Irish gained 12 yards, but eventually, Setta lined up from 38 yards with the chance to beat the Boilermakers, keep the chances of the season’s success afloat and revive Davie’s long-term hopes.
“You kick a game-winner at Notre Dame, there’s nothing like it,” Setta said afterward with the luxury of knowing the feeling.
The Irish lost the following week in East Lansing, 27-21, and freshman Matt LoVecchio would replace Godsey a week later against Stanford to reel off seven straight wins, but doing so to get to 9-2 had a completely different tenor than it would have to reach 8-3. Frankly, the deflating effects of 1-3 and the drama surrounding Davie likely would have stymied some of LoVecchio’s realized success, as he finished the year with 980 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Godsey did enough against Purdue. Maybe just enough, but enough nonetheless.
30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC
Last-minute Golson-to-Koyack TD beats No. 14 Stanford in the rain
A dramatic, Pyrrhic victory over LSU in 1998
Beginning with ‘ultimate greed’ in 1990 and Indiana in 1991