Sunday, November 26, 2006

USC 44, Notre Dame 24

Quarterback: It was shades of the Ty Willingham days, as Brady Quinn was forced to throw 45 times, completing only 22 of them. To his credit, he once again didn't make any stupid mistakes - intead of forcing the ball, he threw it where no one could get it. Quinn finished with 274 yards and three touchdowns. He also finished with 74 rushing yards, thanks to the soft pass defefense USC could afford to play with a huge lead.

Running Back: Like Quinn, Darius Walker moved the ball fairly well on the ground, going 56 yards on 14 carries. Of course, it would have been nice to see how Walker would have done without the Irish spotting USC a 21 point lead. USC did step up on obvious running downs: Travis Thomas rushed once for -3 yards, and James Aldridge ran twice for a combined 0 yards. Aldridge should get credit for keeping his knees off the ground on a then-important fourth-down conversion. In what was perhaps a very telling stat, Walker was held to 0 yards receiving on 1 catch.

Receiver: Rhema McKnight ended up with a rather nice day - 6 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. However, it was his key drops in the first half that swung momentum USC's way. Jeff Samardzija added 6 catches of his own for 79 yards and a touchdown. David Grimes showed that the receiving corps will be in decent hands next year by adding two acrobatic catches of his own for 34 yards. Grimes also russed for 2 yards out of the backfield on a busted trick play. In a move that went largely unnoticed, George West came in on a five-receiver set on the last drive and recorded 2 receptions for 14 yards.

Tight End: Marcus Freeman may not be able to stretch defenses like John Carlson can, but Freeman still did a commendable job as a pass catcher. Freeman had 5 receptions for 38 yards and one touchdown.

O-Line: The line did fairly well to a point. Then things got ugly and the concentration collapsed, leading to many false start penalties. I did like the use of backup tackles Paul Duncan and Michael Turkovich as short-yardage/max protect tight ends, and they played well in that role. In an ideal situation, perhaps one of them could have had the chance to slip downfield to make a catch.

D-Line: Those who have criticized Notre Dame's lack of a pass rush since the end of last season will no doubt be back after this game. The line combined for just 7 tackles; Victor Abiamiri had none. Trevor Laws made a very heads-up and athletic play to get an interception off a screen attempt. However, as was the story of the game, the Irish were unable to cash in when it mattered most.

Linebacker: Here's where waiting for the ball to come to you, instead of moving to the ball, hurts. Maurice Crum tied for the team lead with 9 tackles, but often found himself out of position both on runs and passes. Joe Brockington added 6 tackles and the team's lone sack. Travis Thomas, Mitchell Thomas, and Torrian Smith all rotated into the game at one point, but none recorded a single tackle.

Safety: In case you didn't notice, Chinedum Ndukwe had to leave the game at the end of the third quarter. Actually, he had been out since the beginning of the third quarter - and perhaps the end of the third. How many people were in the ESPN/ABC booth, and how many people didn't notice that? David Bruton came in for Ndukwe and promptly got burned on a hitch-and-go. Bruton did finish with 2 tackles. Tom Zbikowski finished with 5 tackles, although that number seems high. Zbikowski spent most of the night standing next to the downed ballcarrier with his hands on his hips, instead of actually trying to make a play on said ballcarrier while the ball was still in play. Come to think of it, I'm not sure Zbikowski's hands ever left his hips on defense.

Cornerback: Now is as good a time as any to mention this: Notre Dame and USC both finished with exactly 404 yards of total offense. Both offenses made five trips to the end zone. That shows you how football is a game of opportunity. SC converted 5 of 11 third downs, 2 of 2 fourth downs, and had 4 TDs and a field goal in the red zone (in addition to a 43-yard touchdown pass and a kick return touchdown). The Irish were 7 of 18 on third down, 2 of 6 on fourth down, and scored 3 touchdowns and a field goal in the red zone. Now, that doesn't all rest on the Irish corners' shoulders, but I had to mention it somewhere. That being said, I haven't seen the defense look that lost pre-snap since a certain color commentator was patrolling the Irish sidelines. Mike Richardson was everywhere for the Irish, tying for the team lead with 9 tackles and 1 interception. Terrail Lambert had 3 tackles.

Kicker: Carl Gioia converted a 27 yarder, and made all three PAT attempts. Early in the game, Charlie Weis decided to eschew a 47-yard field goal attempt. However, again, is it really walk-on Carl Gioia's fault that Ty Willingham didn't leave the team with any scholarship placekickers?

Punter: Perhaps the pressure got to Geoff Price. Price averaged 39 yards on 3 punts, with a long of 41. That's actually decent for a college punter, but it wasn't Price's best day out there.

Kick Returner: In a wise move, Coach Weis replaced fumble-prone freshman George West with veteran Tom Zbikowski on kickoffs. Zbikowski returned 5 kicks 107 yards, with a long of 28. David Grimes returned one kick 17 yards, and a second 18 yards.

Punt Returner: Not applicable. USC did punt 3 times. One was blocked, and the other two managed to stay away from Zbikowski.

Special Teams: On the plus side, reserve linebacker Steve Quinn blocked a punt that was recovered by Chase Anastasio. On the minus side, the Irish coverage teams allowed a 43-yard punt return, and their onside kick attempt was returned for a crushing touchdown.