Sunday, November 27, 2005

Notre Dame 38, Stanford 31

Quarterback: On October 17, 1994, the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs faced off on Monday Night Football. With 1:29 left in the game, John Elway led his Broncos to a touchdown and a 28-24 lead. Not to be outdone, Joe Montana took the Chiefs on a 75 yard drive to score the winning touchdown with 8 seconds left in the game. On Saturday, Elway was in attendance to see his Alma Mater Stanford, while Montana was there to see his Notre Dame. With just under two minutes to play in the game, Stanford scored to go ahead 31-30. However, in under a minute, Brady Quinn led Notre Dame to a touchdown and an eventual 38-31 win. I don't think I was ever more confident that a two-minute drill would go my team's way - including all those times where my team's defense had the lead. I wanted Stanford to score quickly, and for the first time I believed myself.
Quinn had 432 yards passing on the day. As my dad pointed out, it's normally not a good thing when Quinn has to throw for that many yards. He completed only 9 of his first 19 passes, with 2 interceptions - his first multi-interception game of the season. However, he finished by completing 16 of his next 19 passes, including his final 9. Even with his early struggles, and with all the throwing downfield, Quinn completed close to two-thirds of his passes.

Running Back:

Courtesy AP/Paul Sakuma

In three games against the PAC-10's 2nd (USC), 5th (Washington), and 6th (Stanford) ranked rushing defenses, Darius Walker has run 75 times for 386 yards. Let's project that over a full 11 game PAC-10 schedule. Walker's 1415 yards and 128.7 yards per game would be second in the league, far behind Washington State's Jerome Harrison, but just ahead of Reggie Bush. Of course, Bush's numbers are on 163 carries, whereas Walker would have approximately 275 carries in this simulation. Walker's 5.1 yards per carry would be only seventh best in the league, but he would be ahead of UCLA's Maurice Drew. My point? Well, I don't have much of one, since this is a very small sample set. But, before you a) call for Walker's benching, or b) hype Drew or LenDale White's performance in a conference historically weak against the run, think how things would be with the roles reversed.
Walker, by the way, had 186 yards on 35 carries in this game. Pure workhorse. His touchdown and two-point conversion run were the clutch plays of this game. Walker also tied his season-long with a 38 yard run and added 5 catches for 55 yards. He now has 1106 rushing yards on the year. Contrary to what Keith Jackson said several times, Walker's receiving yards do not also count towards his rushing yards. In addition to becoming Notre Dame's 9th 1000-yard rusher, he also brought his rushing average to just over 100 yards per game. Oh, and did I mention how well he does in blitz pickup?
Travis Thomas added 3 carries for 13 yards, including a touchdown.

Fullback: Asaph Schwapp ran twice, each time for 5 yards.

Receiver: Notre Dame's receivers piled up the yards at will in this game. Jeff Samardzija started with an 80-yard touchdown run on a simple crossing pattern, and he ended up with 216 yards. Pulling my media guide out of the trash (since I'd thrown out the record book! get it? ha!), I see that Samardzija's 1215 receiving yards this season surpasses Tom Gatewood's record of 1123. The Shark's 72 receptions are just five shy of Gatewood's season record, and the 216 yards were the third best single-game total by an Irish receiver. In fact, Samardzija was just one yard shy of Jack Snow's second place performance.
For most of his career, it was assumed that a long pass to Maurice Stovall would end with nothing more than a spectacular drop. Not any more. On Notre Dame's winning drive, Stovall had a Cardinal defensive back pulling on his collar and he still made the catch. Stovall's 136 yards makes him the fourth receiver in Irish history to pass the 1000 yard mark in a season; he now has 1023 yards. His touchdown reception gave him 11 on the season - tying him with Derrick Mayes for what is now second best all-time.
Matt Shelton had one catch for 6 yards, but that wasn't his best play of the game. On Jeff Samardzija's 80-yard touchdown, Shelton put a block on a Cardinal linebacker to seal the corner for Samardzija. Now, the 172 pound Shelton didn't exactly "win the battle" against the much bigger linebacker, but he did do just enough to disrupt the defender's pursuit.

Tight End: Anthony Fasano had another relatively quiet day, hauling in 3 passes for 18 yards. Despite what may seem like an off year to casual observers, Fasano's 45 receptions on the season match his combined numbers for 2003 and 2004. He's now a reasonable 9 catches away from Ken MacAfee's record for season receptions by an Irish tight end. Fasano's 90 career receptions put him alone in third place behind MacAfee and Tony Hunter.

O-Line: 663 total yards, one sack. You be the judge.


Courtesy AP/Paul Sakuma

It was the most dominating performance by a Notre Dame defensive lineman this season, and it went largely unnoticed. C'mon, Keith, "Abiamiri" isn't that hard to pronounce, especially when you have ten chances to say it. That's right, Victor Abiamiri had 10 tackles, including four sacks (four!) to lead the Irish. It was arguably the highly touted recruit's best game in a Notre Dame uniform. Justin Brown, filling in for the injured Ronald Talley (himself filling in for Chris Frome) had four tackles. Trevor Laws added 2 tackles and Brian Beidatsch a stop in the backfield. Derek Landri was a disruptive force at times, but it didn't show on the stat sheet as he wasn't credited with a single tackle.

Linebacker: It was a solid game by the entire linebacking corps. Maurice Crum, Jr. had one of his biggest games to date with 7 tackles. Brandon Hoyte, who by the way is leading the team in tackles, had 7 stops and two sacks. Corey Mays, who has moved past the surprise/breakout/"most improved" labels into "he's just good" territory, had 6 tackles, including one in the backfield.

Safety: Not a good day for Tom Zbikowski. He had only one tackle, and was beat deep on Stanford's second touchdown. Chinedum Ndukwe. fared slightly better with 3 tackles and 2 pass breakups.

Cornerback: "Know thy enemy, and know thyself." This is a key tennet of The Art of War, a favorite of Lou Holtz. Notre Dame's secondary is the weak link on this team, but perhaps only Michigan State and Stanford went out of their way to exploit that fact. If Notre Dame's offense had to face its defense, things would be brutal. Ambrose Wooden looked lost on Stanford's first touchdown. Mike Richardson was beat deep on Stanford's second TD, but he presumably was hoping for some safety help. All in all, Richardson did have another decent day with 7 tackles, including 2 TFL and 1 sack. Richardson is the only corner that I've seen blitz; I'm not sure what to make of that, though. Leo Ferrine gave everyone flashbacks to Clifford Jefferson and Preston Jackson as the current #15 got beat by his man on a play that set up the late go-ahead score. However, thanks to talent and proper coaching, this number 15 will likely follow in Pat Terrell's footsteps rather than Clifford Jefferson's. (Pat from BGS gets credit for this last thought.)
In their defense, Richardson, Wooden, and Ferrine are all much improved over last year, but there's still room to get better.

Kicker: It was a rough day for DJ Fitzpatrick, as he missed an extra point and two field goals - all key points in this game. However, in his defense, he was playing with a brace on his kicking knee. Carl Gioia stepped in admirably to convert a field goal and an extra point. Had Gioia gone in for the final field goal attempt instead of Fitzpatrick, he would have been a big contender for the Horse Trailer.
Oh, and this one month break is just what the doctor ordered for DJ's knee, Stovall's ankle, and all the bumps and bruises on the defensive line.

Punter: Despite the bad knee, DJ punted twice for a combined 70 yards. Brady Quinn pooched a 48 yard kick that just barely rolled into the end zone. He's just a weapon now.

Kick Returner: David Grimes handled 4 kick returns for 97 yards, which is an average of just under 25 yards per return. His long was 28 yards.

Punt Returner: Stanford did a good job of bottling up Tom Zbikowski on his punt returns. He averaged 5.7 yards per return with a long of 13.

Special Teams: Notre Dame surrendered its first kick return touchdown of the season, an 87 yarder by TJ Rushing. At the time, I joked that he was able to score because Carl Gioia (who had that kickoff) isn't a good tackler like DJ Fitzpatrick or Nick Setta. The truth is, though, Fitzpatrick simply kicks it deeper and does a better job of pinning the returner in a corner. Stanford averaged 30 yards per kick return. Neither of ND's punts were returnable by the Cardinal.