Japan Bowl today

Published 9:10 pm Friday, July 24, 2009

TOKYO, JAPAN – Kickoff is just a few hours away for the University of Notre Dame football alumni who are preparing to take on the Japanese national team at the Tokyo Dome in the nation’s capital on today at 4 p.m. local time.

The Notre Dame Football Legends, led by head coach Lou Holtz, have spent the past nine days preparing to face Japan at training camps in South Bend, Indiana, and at Nihon University in Tokyo. On Friday afternoon the team inspected the field where they will face Japan at the Tokyo Dome.

“It will be great to get back out there on the football field wearing the gold helmet of Notre Dame again,” said quarterback Tony Rice, who led the Fighting Irish to the 1988 college football national championship.

Rice and fellow quarterback Gary Godsey have been battling injuries since arriving in Tokyo, opening the way for safety Ambrose Wooden to take reps under center and coach Holtz has suggested that his emergency quarterback may start the game against Japan.

There is also an element of the unknown, pitching a team of players drawn from multiple generations of Notre Dame football against a team that plays and practices together regularly.

“I am hoping it is like riding a bike and that the players who have played in big football games will remember how to play,” said coach Holtz. “I worry most about our skill positions. We haven’t played in a complete game and sometimes the mind is willing but the body isn’t. But whatever happens, I have told the players to have fun and to represent themselves and the University of Notre Dame with pride.”

Defensively the Legends have impressed on the practice field with depth at linebacker and defensive back to complement a defensive front that will dwarf its opponents.  Japan boasts several offensive linemen taller than six feet, with Yuji Taniguchi and Takanari Murakami the tallest at 6-feet-3, but none compare to the 6-5 of defensive tackle Darnell Smith and Chris Frome. The Japanese hosts will give up several inches in height to the Notre Dame Football Legends offensive line, which features Casey Robin at 6-7 and Greg Pauly and Brian Mattes at 6-6.

As the team returned from its stadium walkthrough at the Tokyo Dome, safety Ron Israel warned his teammates of the threat that Japan will pose, particularly at receiver and in the running game.  Israel saw first hand the talent of Japan wideout Noriaki Kinoshita, when the pair played together with the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe in 2005.

“He’s fast and he’ll get by you if you can’t jam him at the line of scrimmage,” said Israel of the receiver who was on the Atlanta Falcons practice squad in 2008.
Coach Holtz acknowledged that he is aware of Japan’s strengths, while talking to opposing head coach Kiyoyuki Mori. “Your quarterbacks throw the ball very well and your receivers run great routes,” he said. “I stand in awe of your discipline, effort and intensity.”

CBS College Sports Network, the original 24-hour sports network, will broadcast the Notre Dame Japan Bowl to a nationwide audience in the United States on Monday, Aug. 10 (9 p.m.) as part of the Network’s “Countdown to Kickoff Week” programming.