Brady Quinn found it tough going against the Ohio State defense and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time season ending his Notre Dame record streak of 16 straight games with a touchdown pass. For the first time this season he also had trouble with the deep ball missing Jeff Samardjiza on the first play of the game and then missing an open Maurice Stovall in the 2nd quarter.
When the Irish went to the short passing game Quinn was much more accurate and lead the Irish to scoring drives in the 3rd and 4th quarters. He was unable to avoid the blitz as head earlier this season including a 4th and two deep in Ohio State territory in the first quarter. Ohio State got to Quinn 5 times. Anytime Quinn completes 64% of his passes for 286 yards without an interception, it usually means and Irish win.
Darius Walker was the Irish offense in the first quarter and ran for all three of Notre Dame’s touchdowns. Walker had 90 yards on 16 carries for a 5.6 yards per carry average. Had the Irish not been forced to pass after falling behind, Walker might have been able to have a greater impact. Walker also caught 7 passes for 37 yards and picked up the blitz well when he stayed in the backfield.
Freshman Asaph Schwapp was used in short yardage and was effective, converting two third downs. At times this season Schwapp had been stopped in similar situations, but he played well today. Schwapp is going to be a hell of a fullback in the offense next year.
Jeff Samardjiza dropped an uncharacteristically high number of passes in the Fiesta Bowl. Samardjiza had caught every thing thrown his way this year, but dropped multiple passes and had just 59 yards. Maurice Stovall had a better game with 9 catches for 126 yards including a big fourth down conversion on Notre Dame’s 3rd touchdown drive.
Matt Shelton stepped up when Notre Dame really needed someone to step in the 3rd quarter and ended his career with a 5 catch and 52 yard performance. The Irish receivers were not able to use their height in jump ball situations as they all year against Ohio State and they found it tough going at times.
Early on the offensive line pushed Ohio State around enough for the ABC commentators to note that the Irish line handled the Ohio State front better than anyone else they had seen this year. The Irish could not maintain that dominance though and Ohio State had success blitzing Quinn. Part was due to empty backfield formations, but other times the line just got beat.
Still, the line played pretty well considering the defense the Irish were facing. With Dan Stevenson and Mark LeVoir running out of eligibility, the Irish will need to find some replacements for these two mainstays on the offensive line.
The front four got very little pressure on Troy Smith, and when they actually got pressure on him they could not contain him. Smith converted multiple 3rd downs because he simply was given too much time. When the game was on the line the defense had a chance to stop Ohio State and Smith but they failed to tackle him. Smith eluded the pressure and converted a 3rd and 11, after he converted a 3rd and 9 because the rush could not get to him.
The Irish were extremely thin along the defensive line this year which is part of the reason why the line has not been effective — the rotation is barely a rotation. The Irish will return all starters and should get Travis Lietko and Chris Frome back as well as the additions of Kallen Wade and John Ryan in recruiting. Gerald McCoy is another recruit who is still on the board who could come in and play immediately next year.
Brandon Hoyte and Corey Mays both played their final games for the Irish in the Fiesta Bowl, leaving their careers ending on a sour note. Overall the linebackers were not effective. There was no containing Troy Smith when he scrambled. Maurice Crum had a costly personal foul penalty and missed a few tackles.
I’ve already written enough about the defensive backs in the previous two articles to get into it much again, but… The secondary was exposed big time. The safeties’ aggressiveness was taken advantage of on deep plays. There was no one in the Notre Dame secondary who could cover Tedd Ginn or Santonio Holmes. Bill Lewis made some strides with these defensive backs, but there is still A LOT of work left to be done.
First the bad — DJ Fitzpatrick missed another extra point after missing one against Stanford in the regular season finale. Was Fitzpatrick not 100% or did he just miss? After making 61 straight extra points before missing against Stanford, it seems likely that he might not have been 100%, but none the less it was a missed extra point.
Now the good — Notre Dame blocked 2 field goals which kept the Irish within as little as 7 points in the 4th quarter.
Unfortunately the Notre Dame return game was a non factor since Ohio State punted just once and put most of the kickoffs out of the end zone.
Weis and staff were outcoached this week for just the second time this year (the first being Michigan State). Weis’ offensive gameplan struggled at times to move the ball and managed just 349 yards of total offense. Defensively, the gameplan was terrible. There was no one spying Smith which allowed him to run untested at times. Ohio State sliced up the Notre Dame defense with touchdown plays of 60, 56, 68, and 85 yards.