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Notre Dame Football

What If Wednesday: Jarious Jackson's Injury Vs LSU

May 17, 2017

If anyone says Bob Davie and Notre Dame together then most people around here aren't going to have many positive thoughts. Just listen to the most recent Power Hour in case you don't know what I'm talking about. Davie followed a coach that they eventually built a statue for and saying that Davie didn't live up to the standard set by Lou Holtz is beyond an understatement.

He went 35-25 at Notre Dame and was fired after a 5-6 season in 2001. He didn't coach again for the next 11 years after moving into broadcasting, but he recently resurrected his coaching career by turning around a New Mexico program and taking them to back to back bowl games.

When you consider how unsuccessful his time was in South Bend (two losing seasons in five years), I'm not sure if anything could have happened differently that would have altered his fate. Even with a good number of assistant coaches that went on to be highly successful at other programs (Charlie Strong, Urban Meyer, Greg Mattison, Steve Addazio, and Mickey Marotti), it couldn't change the fact that the program did not play at a high level while he was the head coach.

However, there is one particular moment that sticks out that at least makes you think what could have been. I'm referring to the infamous Jarious Jackson injury at the end of the LSU game in 1998.

The backstory

After a disappointing 7-6 first season, Davie experienced success with a new quarterback in year two. By no means were the Irish a dominant team, but they were 8-1 and ranked 10th in the nation heading into Senior Day versus LSU.

The Tigers fell apart during that season. At one point they were undefeated and ranked 6th in the nation, but ended up finishing 4-7 with six losses in games by one score or less. They almost came up with an upset over the Irish, but the home team held on at the end of the game for a 39-36 victory.

It was extremely bittersweet, though. On a play that wasn't executed well at all, Jackson took an intentional safety in the final minute of the game. It was an awkward play from the start and he ended up getting tackled. He injured his knee in the process and was ruled out versus USC the next week.

Normally I would say injuries are off limits for this kind of hypothetical, but it was such incredibly bad luck with a call that I know Davie wishes he could have changed. I think it's fair game to explore because of that.

Without Jackson against a mediocre Trojans teams, 9-1 Notre Dame was anemic on offense. They lost the game 10-0 and ended up losing a shot at going to a BCS bowl game. The Irish played against Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl instead and lost to Joe Hamilton and the Yellow Jackets to fall to 9-3.

What might have been

I know we can't go back in time and watch them play USC with Jackson, but I think we can safely assume that the Irish would have won. Why can we assume that? How about the fact that they never scored less than 20 points in a game all season? Or the fact that the quarterbacks who replaced him threw for four interceptions and didn't complete a pass until 2/3 of the way through the 3rd quarter?

USC loaded the box to stop Autry Denson and the Irish running game and there was nothing the coaches could do. I have little doubt that Notre Dame would have won that game, been ranked in the top 10 to finish the season, and then went on to a BCS bowl game.

Which game would it have been? It's very likely it would have been the Orange Bowl where they would have played Big East Champion Syracuse. Though they had Donovan McNabb on that team, I think it would have been a very winnable game. Notre Dame could have finished the season 11-1 and had a top 5 ranking to end the season. That's a huge difference between 9-3 and 22nd.
Notre Dame could have finished the season 11-1 and had a top 5 ranking to end the season. That's a huge difference between 9-3 and 22nd.

It would have been the highest end of the season ranking for them since the 1993 team that finished in the top two.

Butterfly effect

If Jackson was healthy for USC and then they went on to win the Orange Bowl and finish in the top 5, it's a bit crazy to think of how that might have affected a lot of things with Notre Dame.

For one, it could have changed some things with Davie and how his time at Notre Dame went. I do think he was not quite ready for the job and that his fate would have eventually been the same, but maybe he wouldn't have been let go at the same time he was. Maybe it would have given him more time and maybe it would have helped him land better players. That is something I'm almost sure would have happened.

The 1999 recruiting class was a very good one. It included Jeff Faine, Julius Jones, Glenn Earl, Gerome Sapp, Darrell Campbell, Cedric Hilliard, and Courtney Watson. With the exception of Jones who missed the 2002 due to academics, those players ended up being a big part of Tyrone Willingham's 10 win first season.

It ended up being a top 5 ranked class, but chances are it would have been even better if they had won a BCS bowl. One thing to remember is that things moved slower in recruiting at that time. Players did not commit as early as they do now. Davie and his staff could have closed on one or two more difference makers down the stretch.

Would those guys have made a difference in the years to come? It's tough to say that they wouldn't have. If he had lasted longer and won a handful or more games to extend his time, he might have been the beneficiary of that 2002 team that Willingham coached. Every major contributor on that team was recruited by him and his staff after all.

I don't think Jackson being healthy would have been a catalyst that would have ultimately saved Davie's job. He made too many other mistakes with coaching hires and general program management to suggest this would have taken his career at Notre Dame to a different level.

But it may have prolonged his stay and that could have had huge repercussions. Notre Dame might have avoided Willingham and George O'Leary. Recruiting may have been a lot different. They may have been able to swoop in and hire Urban Meyer at the right time before the Florida job came open. There are probably about ten other obvious things that would have changed that I haven't thought of as well.

There are almost endless possibilities of what could have happened if Davie made it longer than five years. I think it's likely he would have if Jackson didn't get hurt versus LSU.
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