Sunday, October 16, 2005

USC 34, ND 31

Quarterback: Brady Quinn didn't put up gaudy numbers this week, but he did play with the heart of a champion. After a very rough start, Quinn ended with completions on 19 of his 35 pass attempts for 264 yards. His "token" TD pass to Jeff Samardzija made this game Quinn's 11th straight with a touchdown pass, breaking John Huarte's school record. Quinn was able to run the ball effectively, picking up 41 yards on 10 carries (and -20 yards on 3 sacks), including a late go-ahead touchdown.

Running Back: With Rashon Powers-Neal suspended for a violation of team rules (he's rumored to be in Charlie Weis's doghouse), Travis Thomas needed to step in. He did an admirable job sharing the load with Darius Walker. Thomas had 18 carries for 58 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown run. Walker contributed 74 yards on 19 carries, his average output when sharing playing time with Ryan Grant last season. Walker was also an important and reliable safety valve for Quinn, picking up 43 yards on 4 catches.

Fullback: With RPN out, Asaph Schwapp got all the snaps at fullback. He had one catch for one yard.


Courtesy AP/Tom Strattman

Ho hum, another big game for Jeff Samardzija. The Shark had 6 catches for 99 yards and a TD. Mo Stovall probably wishes he still had a few years of eligibility left in this new coaching staff. He had 3 catches for 30 yards, but also a drop or two. In retrospect, it seems like every big run play this season has been run in his direction. That's a testament to his blocking skills. Wish I had the ability (or time, or motivation) to go back to the game film to verify my observation. Matt Shelton added one catch for 5 yards. David Grimes picked up his first two career carries on end arounds, which is a great example of the teaching abililty and patience of this staff. On his first run, Grimes was stopped for no gain. On that run, he kept trying to move sideways, when there was a small hole just as he got past the tackle. Most coaches would have put that play away for weeks, if not for the season, after Grimes failed to gain anything. Not Charlie. I'm assuming that a coach pulled Grimes aside and told him where the hole was. Later in the game, Grimes' number was called again, and on his second opportunity he picked up 8 yards.

Tight End: Despite his fumble, Anthony Fasano did have big catches in big situations. Fasano ended the day with 4 catches for 86 yards.

O-Line: You make the call. The Irish gained 417 yards against the #1 team in the country. USC made 6 stops in the backfield, including 3 sacks.

D-Line: I would call this the d-line's best effort this season, especially considering the hype surrounding USC's veteren offensive line. LenDale White, a terror in the PAC-10, picked up a scant 29 yards against the first physical front 7 he's faced this season. Except for one 8-yard TD run, White was simply stuffed every time he touched the ball. Matt Leinart was only sacked twice, but he was getting hit hard all through the second half. Derek Landri had a fine day with 7 tackles, tying him for the team lead. Victor Abiamiri had a sack, and officially hit Leinart two other times. Trevor Laws, starting at tackle, had a sack. Ronald Talley, filling in for the injured Chris Frome had four tackles. If anything, the line's future is promising.

Linebacker: Well, they still can't contain that Reggie Bush guy. Even so, the unit still combined for 16 tackles. Even though he tied for the team lead in tackles, this may have been the first game in a long time where Brandon Hoyte was kept out of the backfield.

Safety: Well, either Tom Zbikowski was unofficially moved to free safety in this game, or USC simply gameplanned to pick on his side of the field all day long. Several times, Zbikowski bit on playaction or a short route, and was beat deep. All part of the learning curve, I suppose. Chinedum Ndukwe was fairly quiet in this game, except for an endzone interception off an Ambrose Wooden tip.

Cornerback: Once again, Ambrose Wooden tied for the team lead in tackles. I still haven't determined if that's a good thing or not. He did have the great pass breakup mentioned above, tipping the ball to Ndukwe. Momentarily, Wooden also saved the day by running down Dwayne Jarrett after a long run late in the game. Of course, at the same time, it was Wooden who gave up that reception in the first place. Mike Richardson continues to quietly get better, as he added 6 tackles and an interception in this game.

Kicker: DJ Fitzpatrick made one of his two field goal attempts on the day. He hit from 32 but missed wide right from 35.

Punter: DJ had five punts, averagind 39.8 yards per with a long of 45. He had 2 punts land inside the 20.

Kick Returner: David Grimes had returns of 15 and 21, while Ambrose Wooden had a return of 13 yards.

Punt Returner:

Courtesy AP/Tom Strattman

For me, this was the least exciting punt return TD ever. Just as Zbikowski caught the punt, I saw Terrail Lambert enter the shot and the referee throw something. So, I was sitting there waiting for the return to be called back. As it turns out, the ref threw the blue change of posession beanbag, and, as I had originally thought, Lambert had done nothing close to a hold or illegal block. Touchdown Irish, and this game was starting to resemble Nebraska 2000. It was an exciting moment that demonstrated Weis' opinion of Zbikowski's moves in the open field, and of Zbikowski's toughness.

Special Teams: It was a good day for the Irish coverage teams, with two small exceptions. Desmond Reed had a 31 yard kickoff return that gave USC the ball near midfield. Terrail Lambert attempted to tackle Reggie Bush after Bush called for a fair catch. But, other than that, the Trojan return men were held at bay. Kudos go to Lambert and Leo Ferrine for their work as gunners.