Sunday, November 13, 2005

Notre Dame 42, Navy 21


"Foreshadowing?" Courtesy AP/Joe Raymond

How good has Brady Quinn become? You could argue that he had a bad second half, as he tried to force the ball to Jeff Samardzija to continue his receiver's TD streak. He threw his first interception in 130 attempts, shortly after breaking Carlyle Holiday's record of 126 (2001-2002). He threw for less than 300 yards. And yet, he did complete almost 71% of his passes, threw for four touchdowns, and broke three passing records. Not only did Quinn break Holiday's attempts-without-completion record, but he also passed Jarius Jackson for season passing yards (2931 to2753, and Ron Powlus for career passing TDs (53 to 52). Not bad for a "career 50% passer."

Running Back: Let me start by saying that I had amazing seats for this game. I was in the first row of the south end zone field-level bleachers, just to the right of the goalposts. (Ooh, look at me!) At one point during the game, Navy punted the ball inside the five, and the Irish offense huddled not 20 yards from me during an NBC time out. Someone a few rows behind me stood up and yelled, "Darius is the man!" Walker turned to look directly at the guy, and smiled and nodded in approval. With the day he had, Walker could afford a smile. Again playing with a large wrap over his left thigh (courtesy BGS), Walker picked his way to 118 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown. His long was only 15 yards, but again consistency was the key, as he finished with 6.2 yards per carry.
Travis Thomas also had a very nice day, gaining 58 yards on 11 carries with a TD. He continues to be a pleasant surprise in a bounce back season. Late in the game, Justin Hoskins finally got to see some time at tailback. He ran two times for a combined -1 yard.

Fullback: Asaph Schwapp ran 3 times for 13 yards. Also, in two of the first pass plays designed to go his way, Schwapp had 2 receptions for 21 yards.


Courtesy (South Bend) Tribune Photos/Marcus Marter

From my seats, I didn't see that Mo Stovall's catch above was one-handed, but I was in perfect position to see Stovall stomp his left foot into the ground before falling out of bounds. What a catch! Before the game, Stovall and Anthony Fasano played catch, and practiced over-the-shoulder catches. Frank Leahy always preached preparedness for any situation, and this little drill by Stovall and Fasano paid off later in the game. Quinn lofted a ball to the corner of the very same end zone, and effortlessly Stovall looked over his shoulder and waited for the ball to land in his arms. With 8 catches, 130 yards, and 3 TD's to follow up his 14/200/4 day against BYU, Stovall's stock hasn't been this high since his infamous SI cover. My favorite Stovall moment, however, came in a post-game interview. This will show you how much the team believes in what Charlie Weis tells them. Stovall was asked if the gameplan was to exploit the size advantage the Irish receivers had over the Navy corners. No, Stovall replied, as if he was channeling Weis. "The gameplan was to execute our plays, both passing and running." Simple yet brilliant.
Being overmatched on talent, Navy's defense chose to shut down ND's biggest weapon, Jeff Samardzija, and hope for the best. The Midshipmen were able to keep The Shark out of the end zone, but in the end Notre Dame had too many other weapons. As it was, Samardzija still had 5 catches for 42 yards. Matt Shelton added a catch for 6 yards.

Tight End: If you thought Anthony Fasano was having an off season, you should now be able to rest easy. Fasano had 4 catches for 70 yards and a TD. The touchdown again showed the discipline and awareness of this Irish offense. Samardzija was coming across the field on a slant as Quinn threw the ball. The receiver started to reach his arms out for the pass, and then, realizing that the ball was a little too high and two hard, he pulled his hands back. The pass then hit Fasano right between the 8's for the score.

O-Line: 505 yards of offense, 221 rushing yards, and no sacks. The undersized Midshipmen did make five stops in the backfield, but for the most part the experienced Irish line gave its backfield time to run their plays.

D-Line: Derek Landri, the only returning starter on the line from last year's Navy game, showed his experience by leading the Irish down linemen with 7 tackles and 1 TFL. Despite being a nose tackle, he moved well from side to side to follow the ball. Trevor Laws and Victor Abiamiri weren't too far behind Landri, with 6 and 5 tackles respectively. Brian Beidatsch, Dan Chervanick, Ronald Talley, Justin Brown, and Pat Kuntz also contributed on the line, while Casey Cullen had yet another special teams tackle. Kuntz, however, is now on crutches after a right knee injury.

Linebacker: Defensive coordinator Rick Minter decided to play it safe on defense, telling the Irish to keep everything in front of them to avoid the big play (Navy's long run was 12 yards). Predictably, then, the team's leading tacklers were its three linebackers. Corey Mays had a huge day with 14 stops, while Brandon Hoyte added 9 and Maurice Crum, Jr. 7. Nick Borsetti, Anthony Vernaglia, Joe Brockington, Steve Quinn, and Anthony Salvador also contributed at linebacker.

Safety: Against the Navy "flexbone," Chinedum Ndukwe spent most of the game dropping down into a fourth linebacker position. He had a relatively quiet day from that position with only 4 tackles. Tom Zbikowski added 5 tackles and an interception from his free safety spot. David Bruton also contributed on special teams, as did Jake Carney at free safety and Ray Herring at strong safety.

Cornerback: With only 10 passes attempted by Navy, the Irish corners spent most of their days trying to fight off blocks to contain end runs. Mike Richardson had another solid day with 6 tackles, while Ambrose Wooden had 3. In their relief, Leo Ferrine and Terrail Lambert also contributed on defense.

Kicker: DJ Fitzpatrick didn't have to attempt a field goal, but he was perfect on 6 extra points.

Punter: The official scorebook shows Notre Dame with zero punts, but I could have sworn DJ had at least one.

Kick Returner: Tight end John Carlson took a short opening kick 14 yards. David Grimes added returns of 11 and 16 yards. In his first return since the beginning of the season, Justin Hoskins gained 13 yards late in the game.

Punt Returner: Tom Zbikowski had one return for eight yards. In his relief, David Grimes found some daylight, but was tripped up after 17 yards.

Special Teams: Slot back Karl Whittaker had a pretty good day as Navy's kick returner. His 6 returns average 26.5 yards, and he had a long of 39 yards.