Thursday, January 05, 2006

Ohio State 34, Notre Dame 20

Quarterback: My how far we've come. Brady Quinn missed on 16 passes, no thanks to several drops. Yet, he still completed 64% of his passes for 286. In the first half, he had a tendency to hold on to the ball for too long, and coupled with good coverage by the Buckeye secondary, Quinn was sacked a season-high five times. This was also the first time Quinn failed to throw a touchdown pass all year.

Running Back:

Courtesy AP/Lenny Ignelzi

Coming into this game, it was likely that Ohio State would be without starting linebacker Bobby Carpenter. In his place, OSU had two options: play their experienced nickelback, or play a freshman linebacker. In either situation, wouldn't it have been favorable for Notre Dame to go with two tight ends and run at Carpenter's replacement? Darius Walker had one of his finest games of the season, finishing with 90 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. He had been criticized for not being able to break big runs, but Walker did average 5.6 yards per carry with a long of 20 against one of the better run defenses in the country. If only Notre Dame hadn't gotten behind so early, perhaps Walker could have had an even better day. Walker also finished with 7 receptions (second most on the team) for 37 yards, and several times put a nice block on a blitzing AJ Hawk. Most of those catches came late in the game, as Ohio State shut off all options downfield. Travis Thomas did not see any action in this game.

Fullback: Asaph Schwapp, counterpart of Ohio State's Stan White, Jr., only carred twice for 4 yards.

Receiver: Jeff Samardzija's case of the dropsies carried over from the Syracuse game. He did still finish with 6 catches for 59 yards. Mo Stovall fairly quietly ended up with 9 catches for 126 yards, both tops among Irish receivers. Matt Shelton, benefitting from lack of depth in the Buckeye secondary, had by far his best game of 2005 with 5 catches for 52 yards. For a period in the middle of the game, it seemed like Shelton was Brady Quinn's only reliable option. (There are some who would say that he was also the only one playing with heart in the middle of the game.)

Tight End: If Anthony Fasano's career with the Irish is over, he ended it on a very quiet note. Fasano grabbed two passes for 12 yards.

O-Line: On the plus side, Darius Walker ran for 90 yards against a great rush defense. On the other side, Brady Quinn was sacked a season high five times. But, how many of those can be attributed to Ohio State's secondary?

D-Line: Sadly, it was another quiet day for the Notre Dame defensive line. Derek Landri played hard, as he has all season, and ended with six tackles. Ronald Talley had three tackles and a fumble recovery, Victor Abiamiri had two tackles, and Trevor Laws had one. As much as I've praised this young line's potential, it appears that much of it is still just that - potential.

Linebacker: Corey Mays led the team with 12 tackles. He also had the lone Irish sack, forcing a fumble. Mays and Stovall quite easily could be the MVPs of the second half of the season. Brandon Hoyte added 10 tackles, including one in the backfield. Maurice Crum had 7.

Safety: Tom Zbikowski played hard. He had 9 tackles, and probably should have been credited with a fumble return for a touchdown. (I've only seen one camera angle to this point.) However, my statement that Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe are really both strong safeties held true in this game. Yes, Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn have tremendous speed. But, you can at least limit speed by keeping ahead of them and taking proper angles. Zbikowski and Ndukwe often failed to do both. The worst moment, though, was when Ndukwe (who finished with 2 tackles) let Holmes get past him, then made a half-hearted swipe at the receiver's shoulder. If that was full speed for Ndukwe, then a position change to linebacker is definitely in order. I don't really see Zbikowski moving to linebacker. Charlie Weis asked Mo Stovall to lose weight to become a better receiver. I don't see Coach Weis asking his All-American punt returner to put on weight to play linebacker. If David Bruton, or someone else perhaps, can play free safety properly, Zbikowski should do well settling in at the strong safety position.

Cornerback: Well, I've been talking about Ambrose Wooden's "let them catch it and then make the sure tackle" approach all season. In the Fiesta Bowl, that approach finally came back to haunt him. Wooden did finish with 7 tackles, but left in single coverage Holmes and Ginn often were able to put the moves on him. Mike Richardson, who had been having a solid season, was very quiet in this game. Leo Ferrine, despite only recording two tackles, played a decent game - especially considering he was often left covering Ted Ginn in the nickel formation.

Kicker: DJ Fitzpatrick appeared to be back in full health. He averaged 61 yards per kickoff. He did not attempt a field goal, but he did miss one of his three extra point attempts.

Punter: Fitzpatrick had a decent game punting, averaging 42.3 yards per kick. Two of his season high 6 punts landed inside the 20.

Kick Returner: Only two of Josh Houston's kickoffs were returnable. The opening kick, on which Houston slipped, was returned by Asaph Schwapp for 10 yards. DJ Hord had a return for 13 yards.

Punt Returner: The only return that counted for Tom Zbikowski wasn't that impressive: 0 yards.

Special Teams: While Chinedum Ndukwe and Trevor Laws had poor days on defense, they made up for it on special teams, each blocking a field goal. The Irish coverage teams did a respectable job against Ohio State's dangerous return men, giving up 17 yards per kick return and 10 yards per punt return.