Sunday, September 24, 2006

Notre Dame 40, Michigan State 37

Quarterback: A 2-for-8 start had Irish fans thinking "here we go again." But then something clicked, and Brady looked like the Brady of old. (Maybe it was the sideline fight that had me informing the entire bar that "finally the Indians are showing signs of life!") Quinn ended up with 319 yards and 5 TDs. The fact that those five touchdowns aren't making everyone stop and say wow is a testament to the high expectations Quinn is facing this year. Perhaps after a few more weeks of this, he'll earn his due respect.

Running Back: It was another very quiet day for Darius Walker. Then again, when you spot the other team a 17 point lead, you can't afford to run too much. Plus, the numbers aren't as bad as they look. Walker only gained 47 yards, but it was off of only 11 carries. He wasn't stopped in the backfield once, and he ended averaging a respectable 4.3 yards per carry against a talented group of linebackers. Walker was stifled as a receiver, being held to 15 yards on 5 catches, but fortunately Quinn's other pass catching targets stepped up on Saturday.

Fullback: Asaph Schwapp is still injured and did not make the trip to East Lansing. His backup, Ashley McConnell, only got in on a handful of plays and did not touch the football.


Courtesy AP/Bob Brodbeck

Any criticism of Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight can stop now (or at least for another week). Samardzija put up numbers reminiscent of his 2005 campaign: 7 catches for 113 yards and 2 TDs. McKnight added 2 highlight reel TD grabs of his own, and totalled 4 catches for 70 yards overall.

Tight End: John Carlson once again got a chance to show off his raw athletic ability. He may not be Anthony Fasano, but he's at least this year's Jerome Collins - and probably equally as worthy of an NFL tryout. Carlson turned a nice catch in the seam into a determined 62-yard touchdown run. He finished with 4 catches and 121 yards on the day.
(Note to ESPN DreamJob winner Mike Hall: The next time you wonder why you're stuck on ESPNU, remember that this guy's name is John, not Josh. Also, don't listen to Bob Davie when he tries to claim that Ryan Harris started the fight by grabbing Matt Trannon's facemask. Also, that's probably the first time ever that Davie's recognized an ND player by face alone.)

O-Line: It was a win. No comment.

D-Line: This line may be undersized, but they're using that to their advantage as they fly around the field. Derek Landri was in on quite a few plays, including some at least 10-15 yards away from where the ball was snapped. He finished with 6 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and a sack. Chris Frome showed great athleticism in shutting down the option whenever it came to his side. He's back to full strength, and with this start, it looks like he's officially taken over the job from Ronald Talley. Trevor Laws looked like the high-motored Trevor Laws of old. When it still looked like everyone else may have been a little flat, Laws was plowing his way into the backfield. He finished with 7 tackles, 2 TFLs, and a sack. Victor Abiamiri was only able to bust through the line a few times, but he made one count with a sack.

Linebacker: Travis Thomas stepped up and took charge of the linebacking corps, leading the team with 8 tackles. Maurice Crum added 5 tackles of his own.

Safety: Chinedum Ndukwe and Tom Zbikowski each turned in decent performances; both finished with 7 tackles apiece.


Courtesy AP/Al Goldis

The Irish stuck to a nickel set against MSU's multi-receiver sets, and the corners stepped up when the game counted. Terrail Lambert, who looked simply awful last week, stepped up with the go-ahead Pick Six, and a second interception to end the game. He also threw in 5 tackles. Mike Richardson was again most effective blitzing and in run support, recording 2 of his 3 stops in the backfield. Leo Ferrine made his first appearance of the season and recorded a tackle.

Kicker: Carl Gioia made 4 of 5 extra points on the night. His one miss would have cut the MSU lead to 37-34, but he hooked the ball wide left in downpour conditions. He did convert his next attempt, putting the Irish up 40-37 following Lambert's interception return. Since Gioia's last make put the Irish up by a field goal, it was in fact more important to the final outcome than his earlier miss. Bobby Renkes "only" averaged 60 yards per kick in this one, but he did have 2 touchbacks. And, with 7 kicks, it's a wonder that his leg didn't fall off.

Punter: Like Renkes, Geoff Price had an off night, but who's complaining? Price averaged 43.3 yards on 7 punts, with a long of 54. He also graduated from the Nick Setta School for Kickers Who Can Tackle with a perfect form tackle on the Spartan return man.

Kick Returner: MSU obviously watched tape of George West's fumble last week, and they kicked it his way 3 times. West picked up 71 yards on those returns, with a long of 30. David Grimes got one return, which he took back 28 yards.

Punt Returner: Finally, both opposing gunners were covered, and Tom Zbikowski had a good return. Unfortunately, after his 25-yard run, he fumbled. The short field position gave MSU a touchdown. Still, the Spartans feared Zbikowski, as he did not get a chance to return any of their 6 other punts.

Special Teams: This week it wasn't #60 Casey Cullen rushing in on every special teams play buy #61 JJ Jansen, the long snapper. Still, Cullen had 1 tackle to Jansen's 0. Other than Zbikowski's one punt return, ND's special teams were average. The Irish averaged 24.8 yards per kick return while giving up 20 yards per kick return and 15 per punt return.