If Notre Dame’s 2004 football season rises from the ashes after a disastrous beginning, Darius Walker might be the poster boy for the turnaround.
The true freshman running back rushed for 115 yards and scored two touchdowns as the Fighting Irish tallied three unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter to stun Michigan, 28-20, last Saturday. Some consider it to be the most significant victory in coach Tyrone Willingham’s three seasons in South Bend.
Walker has been named Rivals.com's National Freshman of the Week.
Two weeks ago, the Irish opened the season with a puzzling 20-17 loss at BYU. Walker did not appear in the game.
"When I didn't get a chance to play the first game, I didn’t really get down," he said. "The bad thing was that we lost. That was the main thing. I'm about the team winning. I got the opportunity today and I tried to seize it."
The former Buford (Ga.) High School star put Notre Dame ahead for good at 14-12 with 13:48 remaining in the game by scoring on a toss sweep. After the Irish blocked a punt on Michigan’s ensuing possession, Walker quickly scored his second touchdown, giving Notre Dame a 21-12 cushion at the 11:29 mark.
Notre Dame Stadium was alive, and Walker had lit the fire.
He did not play against BYU, primarily because of concerns about his blocking skills. But after last week’s performance on the national stage against Michigan, Walker could become a permanent fixture.
"He’s learning," Notre Dame offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said. "The speed of the game picks up tremendously as he’s finding out. It’s not all running the ball, it’s protections, blocking technique and learning to be patient, especially on certain types of plays. That for a running back is probably the hardest thing."
Other freshmen of note
Georgia Tech true freshman wide receiver Calvin Johnson could certainly stake his claim to being the top freshman standout last week, catching eight passes for 127 yards and three touchdowns in the Yellow Jackets' stunning win at Clemson. He caught an 11-yard fade pass from quarterback Reggie Ball with 11 seconds remaining to secure the victory.
One week after becoming the first Oklahoma freshman running back to rush for more than 100 yards in a game, Adrian Peterson was at it again last Saturday, rushing for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the Sooners' 63-13 pasting of Houston.
South Carolina true freshman safety Ko Simpson returned an interception 57 yards for a touchdown in a 20-16 loss to Georgia. He helped solidify a young, inexperienced secondary.