Sunday, November 06, 2005

Notre Dame 41, Tennessee 21

Quarterback: Brady Quinn had a stretch where his throws were all just offline. (For a while during the game, I was considering giving receivers coach Rob Ianello and tight end coach Bernie Parmalee the Horse Trailer after tip-drill receptions by Jeff Samardzija and Anthony Fasano.) But, if completing 61% of your passes is an off day, I'll take it. The key thing was that Quinn didn't force anything. He had no interceptions, and took three sacks instead of throwing the ball up for grabs. It's all part of the maturation process that may be turning him into the best pro prospect in Division I.

Running Back: Tennessee came into this game with the fifth best rushing defense in the country. So, Charlie Weis came out throwing. However, once Notre Dame built a lead (which soon diminished), Darius Walker was able to pound out a few yards on the ground. Once again, there was nothing too fancy, but Walker was consistently able to get about 4 yards per carry. He ended the day with 62 rushing yards. Walker also added four catches for 34 yards. KankaManiac Nick Yonto theorized that Walker is much better in open space on draws then he is on running plays. At 5'11, 200 lbs., Walker isn't the biggest guy in the world, so Nick may be on to something.
This game saw Travis Thomas officially move into Rashon Powers-Neal's "power back" role. Thomas is bigger than Walker, but he's also supposed to be the "slasher." Seeing a fullback or power back dance around in the backfield on 3rd and short reminds me a little too much of the Bob Davie era. But hey, I'm no Robot Genius. Thomas ran for a combined loss of 7 yards, and combined gains of 22. Preferrably, you'd like to see your short yardage guy have as small a number as possible in that loss column.

Fullback: There was not much action for Asaph Schwapp in the stat book or on the field. As mentioned above, Notre Dame wanted to come out passing. As a result, three receiver sets were used quite often, leaving Schwapp on the sideline. He did finish with 3 carries for 1 yard.


Courtesy AP/Michael Conroy

I think I need to start a new segment called "Fun with Perspective," using the weekly Jeff Samardzija/Maurice Stovall high-high-five picture. If you check out the picture in my BYU writeup, it looks like Jeff has jumped so high that he's smacked his head into the goalpost crossbar (a mere 10 feet above the ground). This week, the pair has jumped so high, their hands have cleared the top edge of the stadium! Yes, they are just that tall.
Samardzija once again put up big numbers. He also had me saying to myself, "yes, he's just that good" several times over the course of the game. He ended up with 7 catches for 127 yards, including two that were giant momentum changers. A 73-yard sprint down the sideline on what was otherwise a short pass took the ball down to the two. Then, on third down, Samardzija caught a swing pass and powered into the end zone. "I didn't try to make any moves," he said after the game. "I just tried to get into the end zone." So simple, yet so brilliant. Samadzija's starting to sound like his head coach.
You may recall the screen pass where Jeff Samardzija got absolutely pasted in the backfield. Well, it turns out that play was going to be a pass, and it was probably going to be a successful one. As Samardzija was getting his grip on the ball along the right sideline, Darius Walker was running left out of the backfield, basically unnoticed. It would have been almost a sure score, if only Samardzija had one extra blocker to pass protect. (By the way, since Samardzija became a passer on that play, it technically should have been credited as a sack. However, it looks like the official scorer missed that one.)
Stovall had a relatively quiet game, with only two catches for 41 yards. That didn't mean he had a bad game, though. First of all, in a game against a tough defense, where your QB's a little shaky, he's going to go to his most comfortable options. In this case, his favorite receiver (Samardzija - 7), his tight end (Anthony Fasano - 4), and his dump off option (Walker - 4) combined for 15 of Quinn's 20 completetions. Secondly, in a well-designed offense, there's more to being a receiver than just catching passes. In his press conference Sunday, Coach Weis praised Stovall for "several critical blocks." Oh, and the next time you want to complain that Stovall has bad hands, check out how close his TD reception was from being an overthrow.
Matt Shelton added 1 catch for 6 yards.

Tight End: As stated above, Anthony Fasano had four catches. His biggest one, though, was a 43 yard rumble down the sideline, aided by several key blocks. That play highlights the new tenacity of this offense. Fasano, and his blockers for that matter, could have settled for a 5-10 yard gain. Instead, he kept rumbling forward, and they kept blocking, until the Irish had 6.

O-Line: Coach Weis points out Dan Stevenson and Ryan Harris for their efforts this week. But, the whole line should be applauded for only giving up only three (or four) sacks to a great pass rushing team like Tennessee.

D-Line: After a few good weeks, the defensive line became quiet again. The unit combined for 9 tackles, led by Trevor Laws with 3.

Linebacker: The linebackers didn't have a spectacular day, but they were able to get into the backfield quite a bit. Corey Mays had 6 tackles, including 2.5 TFL and a sack. Maurice Crum, Jr. had five tackles, three for a loss. However, he did at times look lost in pass coverage. Brandon Hoyte added five tackles.

Safety: It was a stat-sheet-stuffer day for Tom Zbikowski. Not only did he have two return TDs - on a punt and then an interception - but he also shared the team lead with 9 tackles, adding a sack for good measure. Borrowing a page from Fasano's book, Zbikowski didn't go down easy on his interception return. He fought and stiffarmed his way through tackles until he was in the end zone. Why run past guys when you can run over them? This return, coupled with the punt return TD, led to chants of "Zibby! Zibby!" from the student section. After the game, Zbikowski joked that he was only trying to catch up to his friend Jeff Samardzija touchdown-wise.
Chinedum Ndukwe added 7 tackles and two pass breakups.

Cornerback: Mike Richardson is far from an All-American, but he does just keep making plays. Richardson forced two fumbles in this game and added another sack. Coach Rick Minter is not afraid to send Richardson on the blitz. In fact, in this game, he was not afraid to send anyone on the blitz. Richardson, Zbikowski, and Ndukwe all had at least one TFL, including Richardson's and Zbikowski's sacks.
Ambrose Wooden had 6 tackles, to go along with Richardson's team-leading 9. Why are their numbers so high week in, week out? The corners play soft coverage, letting the receiver catch the ball to make sure the play stays in front of them. I'm no football expert, so I'll let you form your own opinions on that.
Leo Ferrine had a typical Leo Ferrine day - he gave up a touchdown, but played well other than that. Leo had two tackles, and I believe he also recovered the fumbled Tennessee kickoff (which was wrongly credited to Darius Walker in the box score).

Kicker: DJ Fitzpatrick had three big kicks in this game: field goals of 36 and 28 yards, and a PAT after an illegal formation penalty. That doesn't seem like much in a 41-21 win, but those points were meaningful at the time.

Punter: DJ didn't have a spectacular day. He had 5 punts, one for under 20 yards, on his way to a 34.6 yard average. He did bounce back from that shank with a good kick, and he also managed to land one inside the 10.

Kick Returner: DJ Hord returned 3 kicks for an average of 26 yards, including a long of 36.

Punt Returner:

Courtesy AP/Michael Conroy

Write this down: in order to succeed in college football, you need to be able to recruit the Eastern European athlete. Zbikowski. Samardzija. Need I say more? (And did I mention I still have some eligibility left?)
By the way, is that Darius Walker's dad following Zbikowski into the end zone? No, it's backup safety David Bruton, but I'd love to know why Walker's family all wore Bruton jerseys to this game.

Special Teams: The Volunteers averaged 21.4 yards per kick return and 4.7 per punt return. Comparitively, the Irish averaged 39.8 yards per punt return.