Sunday, October 22, 2006

Notre Dame 20, UCLA 17

Quarterback: The numbers look good - 27 for 45, 304 yards, 2 TDs, and no interceptions - but that doesn't mean Brady Quinn couldn't have been better. Quinn was sacked 5 times, often as the result of just a 3- or 4-man rush. One could blame the line for that, but it wasn't all their fault. The UCLA pass coverage held well all day, and Quinn often held onto the ball far too long in an attempt to make something happen. Quinn normally has a good inclination of when to scramble, but he didn't show it on Saturday. He also didn't show that he knew when a throwaway was better than a sack.

Running Back: It's become a pattern over the past few years - opponents put up impressive defensive averages against weak teams, and counterintuitively those averages hold up against Notre Dame as well. UCLA's run defense was stout against their weak out-of-conference schedule, and they were stout against ND as well. Darius Walker was held to just 56 yards on 21 carries, an average of 2.5 yards per. Walker did add 22 yards on 4 receptions.

Fullback: With a variety of spread formations and the use of John Carlson as an H-back, Ashley McConnell saw limited playing time and didn't touch the ball.


Courtesy SB Tribune/Jim Rider

If Jeff Samardzija is the player of the game, David Grimes at least deserves a star on his helmet. On a day when Samardzija was suffocated until the end of the game (3 catches for 7 yards in the first half), and Rhema McKnight was suffocated for the entire game (3 catches for 28 yards total), Grimes had a career day. Grimes ended with 8 catches and 79, which is almost double what he had in each category to date. (Of course, Grimes did make the Willingham-era mistake of running a comeback route 1 yard short on a crucial third down late in the game. If he runs just three yards further before cutting, Brady Quinn doens't even need to try that final quarterback sneak.) But it was Samardzija who was the hero, finishing with 8 catches for 118 yards an 2 TDs. On the game winner, he willed himself over and past several defenders on his way to the end zone.

Tight End: John Carlson also managed to step several times when Samardzija, Walker, and McKnight were covered. Carlson finished with 4 catches and 57 yards. It would have been less if Carlson didn't treat passes like bombs that detonate upon touching grass.

O-Line: The Irish offensive line helped prove how talented their UCLA defensive counterparts are. As mentioned above, some of the sacks were the fault of Quinn and the UCLA pass coverage, but the Bruins defensive line was still in the Irish backfield all day. Fourty-one total rushing yards isn't going to get it done on most days, either. Fortunately, as Lou Holtz pointed out in the postgame, Coach Weis was smart enough to max protect Quinn on the last drive, leaving one or two tight ends and a back home to block on each play.

D-Line: While it wasn't flashy, this may have been the Irish front seven's best game to date. While it seemed like Victor Abiamiri had a quiet day (I'm told that once again he was being held all day), he did finish with a sack and 2 quarterback hits. New starter (same as the old starter) Chris Frome had only 3 tackles, but Derek Landri and Trevor Laws each had solid performances as the Irish held UCLA to 26 rushing yards and 243 total yards. Again flying all over the field, Derek Landri had 5 tackles, including a sack. Trevor Laws had 4 tackles, 1.5 for loss. Laws also reached into a pile to rip out a loose ball.


Courtesy Getty Images/Andy Lyons

I think we have our starting three set. Joe Brockington's performance in the Stanford game earned him a start. This performance - 7 tackles - should have earned him another one. Those 7 tackles were one off of Maurice Crum's team-leading 8. Crum added a sack and a passa breakup. Travis Thomas returned and added 7 tackles, two for a loss. They may not be stars, but this is a unit that works.

Safety: The defense played well except for a few big plays. Unfortunately, the D's focus this year is to cut down big plays. On the first UCLA touchdown, Tom Zbikowski was up in run support, leaving Chinedum Ndukwe in a Cover-1. Someone on the UCLA side read the formation well, and called a double crossing route. The Bruins receiver caught a pass in the middle of the field and zoomed right past Ndukwe and the Irish secondary for a score. On the second touchdown, Ndukwe and Rey Herring seemed to be more interested in the big hit than wrapping up, and they both bounced right off the UCLA tight end. It's interesting to note that Zbikoski had 2 quarterback hits on the day, meaning he was playing more of the hybrid linebacker position then true safety. I don't see how a shoulder injury would hinder his ability to play in coverage, so perhaps that was done more out of faith in Ndukwe and Herring.

Cornerback: Terrail Lambert continues to improve - to the point that he was awarded a starting position - but he's not perfect yet. Lambert had 6 tackles and his third interception of the season, but he was also flagged on a key pass interference penalty late in the game. (The play looked like offensive interference if anything, but who's counting? At least the PAC-10 refs let them play for most of the game.) Ambrose Wooden recorded one tackle in his return to action. He'll need to step up in the next few weeks if he wants to take his starting position back from Lambert.

Kicker: Carl Gioia converted 2 of 3 field goal attempts on the day. Gioia's lone miss was from 48 yards. But consider this: The miss had plenty of leg, it was just wide right. Plus, Gioia's a former walk-on, while UCLA's "best kicker in the country (OMG!!!)" Justin Medlock missed from 47 in this game. I think we'll let Gioia's miss slide.

Punter: Coming into this year, Geoff Price was a very inconsistent kicker. That being said, I'm surprised it took until week 7 for the young man to have his first major shank of the year. The important thing is that Price wasn't rattled after the 21-yard punt, as he recovered to average 43 yards on his other five kicks. With a pooch punt of only 37 yards, Brady Quinn lowered his career average to 43 yards per.

Kick Returner: David Grimes handled all three of ND's kickoff returns. Unfortunately, freshman returner George West was afraid to tell Grimes when to stay in the end zone, and that often led to poor field position. Still, Grimes finished with an average of 17.7 yards per return.

Punt Returner: With an inconsistent UCLA punter, and with Tom Zbikowski still resting, Coach Weis chose to use the talented George West as a deep return man on punts, with the sure-handed Jeff Samardzija as a short man. (Thus marks the last time anyone will use Samardzija's name and "short man" in the same football article.) West had one return of 3 yards, while Samardzija had one return of 2.

Special Teams: Notre Dame's coverage teams were average at best, giving up 12.5 yards per punt return and 20.5 per kickoff return.