Sunday, September 11, 2005

ND 17, Michigan 10

Quarterback: You don't have to be perfect for a whole game, as long as you can be perfect (or near perfect) for a few key drives. At times, Brady Quinn looked shaky, often throwing behind his intended receiver. But twice Quinn was near perfect, leading scoring drives of 76 and 73 yards, each capped off with a 5-yard touchdown pass. In the end, Quinn did complete 63% of his passes (19 for 30). He hasn't completed many (if any) deep balls this season, but to this point he hasn't had to.

Running Back: Another year, another workhorse-like performance against Michigan for Darius Walker. Walker may have found Michigan's run defense to be a bit stouter than Pitt's, but the only halfback that Charlie Weis used on Saturday was still able to turn 26 carries into 104 yards. Walker was credited with one fumble, but that came on a botched exchange from Quinn; it's arguable who was at fault there. (In the end, it was a moot point, as the Irish defense was able to force a turnover on downs at their own five yard line.) Darius Walker also led the team in catches with 5 for 22 yards.

Fullback: It was not as glamorous a day for Rashon Powers-Neal, but he was still able to pick up 19 yards on 6 carries. Asaph Schwapp joined in with 2 carries for 8 yards.


Courtesy AP/The Detroit News (Steve Perez)

Rhema McKnight began his day with a 5-yard touchdown reception, and ended it with what appears to be a twisted knee. Results from a halftime MRI will reveal the extent of his injury. When McKnight went down, in stepped Jeff Samardzija with 4 catches for a team-leading 52 yards. Included in those four catches was Samardzija's own 5-yard TD reception, this one off a deflection from a Wolverine linebacker. Maurice Stovall added two catches for 17 yards, and Matt Shelton caught his first pass of the year, a 4-yarder.

Tight End: Anthony Fasano didn't have a flashy game, but he was reliable as a true tight end should be. Fasano had 4 catches for 18 yards.

O-Line: The line gave Darius Walker another 100-yard rushing game. As a team, Notre Dame surrendered three sacks. However, two came from cornerback Leon Hall, and one of those came when Hall rushed from the blind side, undetected by Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija, the slot receiver assigned to pass block on that play.

D-Line: When the #3 team in the nation goes 0 for 3 in red zone chances, that speaks volumes for your defense as a whole. But, when that #3 team is stopped twice on quarterback sneaks from the one, that speaks volumes for your defensive line. (Granted, the second stop was due to a fumbled snap, but it's still an accomplishment.) The line didn't record many tackles in this game - Ronald Talley led the unit with two, Derek Landri had a stop for a loss, and Brian Beidatsch had the line's lone sack. But the line did do an outstanding job of getting their hands up to knock down Chad Henne's passes. Five linemen each knocked down a pass, including Talley, Landri, Chris Frome, Trevor Laws, and Victor Abiamiri.

Linebacker: Notre Dame's linebacking corps looked like it was taking a big loss coming into this year. Only three players on 2004's team had decent playing experience, and two of those players graduated. The only returning starter, Brandon Hoyte, was great against the run but supposedly weak against pass coverage. However, something happened this offseason - Hoyte developed into a complete player. BHoyte had 12 tackles, a sack, and a textbook pass breakup against Michigan. Another pleasant surprise has been 5th year senior Corey Mays. Mays, who has been primarily a special teamer his whole career, played like he was a four year starter on Saturday, contributing with 8 tackles and 2 pass breakups. Also getting in on the act was Maurice Crum with 5 tackles and a forced fumble.


If there was an award for "Unit of the Week," it would definitely go to the Irish safeties for the Michigan game. The picture of Tom Zbikowski says it all - he's lost some of the gold paint off his helmet, and traded it in for some blood and blue helmet paint. Both Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe had takeaways on the one yard line that broke the hearts of Michigan fans. Zbikowski ended a 14-play Michigan drive by stepping in front of tight end Tyler Ecker for an interception in the third quarter. As if finding a million dollar needle in a haystack, Ndukwe alertly reached into a goal line pileup to retrieve the football after Chad Henne fumbled the snap on a quarterback sneak. Granted, the safety play wasn't perfect - Michigan scored their lone touchdown when Zbikowski bit on a short route, leaving receiver Mario Manningha open on a deep post - but their heads up momentum swinging turnovers helped the Irish win this game.

Cornerback: Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. There were countless times when Chad Henne had a receiver open on a deep route, only to watch that receiver drop the ball. But, then again, it wasn't only luck that kept the Wolverine passing game in a relative state of check. Star receiver Jason Avant was incredibly quiet for most of the game, being held to "only" 5 catches and "only" 90 yards. Henne's only reliable option for most of the game was tight end Tyler Ecker, who ended up with 7 catches for 74 yards. So, although they had some help, a big round of applause is still due to defensive coordinator Rick Minter, defensive backs coach Bill Lewis, and the trio of Ambrose Wooden (5 tackles), Mike Richardson (5), and nickel back Leo Ferrine (1).

Kicker: DJ Fitzpatrick had only one field goal opportunity, but it was a big one. Fitzpatrick's 43-yard attempt at first looked like it had plenty of distance but was headed wide right. Then, the ball bit hard down and to the left like a Fergie Jenkins slider, barely tucking itself inside the crossbar and right upright. It was a key score for the Irish, giving them a two-touchdown lead early in the fourth quarter.

Punter: Another week, another chance for Fitzpatrick to show that he deserves to be the scholarship punter on a top 25 team. DJ had 9 punts in this game, averaging 41.2 yards per. His long was a 60-yard bomb that drove Steve Breaston back inside the 20.

Kick Returner: On ND's lone kick return opportunity, Justin Hoskins returned the ball 24 yards.

Punt Returner: Notre Dame was only able to return one of Michigan's eight punts. Tom Zbikowski took the ball 19 yards on his lone opportunity.

Special Teams: It was as if Notre Dame's coverage teams had Brad Nessler's audio feed in their helmets. Every time Nessler warned that "this could be the time Breaston breaks one," the Irish special teams stepped up. Steve Breaston returned 6 punts and 2 kickoffs for a total of only 61 yards. Breaston's longs were a 15 yard punt return and a 20 yard kick return. Grant Mason also returned two kicks, for 23 and 19 yards.