Brady Quinn had another impressive game, but impressive games have become the norm for the junior signal caller. Quinn completed 20 of 33 passes for 295 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. His numbers would have been even better had he hit on a couple passes he let sail on him. After the Irish rattled off 14 quick points Quinn was high on a bunch of passes, but settled down in 2nd half to lead to Irish to a 20 point win.
Quinn ended the game only 106 yards behind Jarious Jackson for the single season passing record of 2,573 yards. He did extend two other records however with three more touchdown passes to add to his single season TD record which now stands at 23 and he extended his record streak to 13 games with a touchdown pass.
Darius Walker found it tough going against the Tennessee defense most of the day but did end up with 62 yards on 15 rushes to give him a decent stat line. Walker added 4 catches for 34 yards as Charlie Weis used a lot of screens early on against the Tennessee defense to slow the pass rush. Walker had a busy day blocking in the passing game as well. This was the 3rd straight game in which Walker didn’t go over the century mark, but with Navy on tap next week that could change.
Travis Thomas had a tough time running as well with just 15 yards on 8 carries while be used mainly in short yardage situations. Thomas has been having a very solid season and should keep seeing around 10 carries a game.
Jeff Samardjiza continued his magical season with 130 yards on 7 catches and his 12th touchdown of the season — giving him the single season record after tying it last week. Samardjiza now has 880 yards on the season with 12 touchdowns. He is playing himself into serious All American consideration and should see at least some 2nd Team mentions if he keeps his current pace.
Maurice Stovall didn’t have 4 touchdowns like he did against BYU, but he displayed some excellent blocking all game long. He is now a complete wide receiver who is looking like a 2nd round pick right now. Anthony Fassano continues to show why he is one of the nation’s top tight ends and had a 43 yard touchdown to start the game.
Tennessee was the best defensive line the Irish have faced this year and they played pretty well. Tennessee got the better of the Notre Dame offensive line at times, but they gave Quinn time to throw most of the day and created some lanes for Walker. The line did eliminate most of the false start type penalties that hurt them against BYU.
The front 4 of Notre Dame had trouble getting pressure on Eric Ainge most of the game. They did get to Ainge at times however and forced a couple of intentional groundings. Justin Brown and Ronald Talley really played pretty well against a good offensive line and look like they both have a lot of potential. Trevor Laws went down with an injury but came back and should be ok.
Corey Mays turned in turned in another good game with 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack against the Vols. Maurice Crum also had a good game and has been improving each game into one heck of a player. Crum had 3 tackles for loss against Tennessee and also broke up a pass. Crum has been very solid in coverage despite getting line up against wide receivers at times and is becoming a force. The linebackers as a group had trouble tackling Arian Foster and the other Vols running backs at times however and Eric Ainge was able to run for a couple of first downs.
Ambrose Wooden and Mike Richardson both played very well in coverage. Ambrose Wooden picked off his 2nd pass and returned it 41 yards to set up a field goal in the 4th quarter. Wooden has made some big plays for the Irish on defense this year and his interception was just another one. Richardson’s improvement this year can’t be understated. Bill Lewis has done a great job with the secondary as whole, but especially with Richardson.
Tommy Zbikowkski’s 4th quarter interception return for a touchdown put the final nail on the coffin as he and fellow safety Chinedum N’Dukwe both played pretty well. N’Dukwe has improved as a safety and made some nice plays in coverage against Tennessee. As a whole, the secondary limited Ainge to 13 of 32 passes for 187 yards. Leo Ferrine also made a few nice plays in coverage and looks to have some good talent at corner.
Tommy Z is becoming one of the best punt returners in the nation with his 2nd punt return for a touchdown this week. Zbikowski took a 2nd quarter punt 78 yards to the house for his 2nd punt return for a TD in 3 weeks. He averaged 39.3 yards per return this week. The Irish also forced a turnover in the return game on a 1st quarter kickoff when Mike Richardson knocked the ball loose which was recovered by Leo Ferrine.
In the kicking game, DJ Fitzpatrick connected on 2 fourth quarter field goals from 28 and 36 yards but didn’t have his best day punting. DJ shanked his first punt of the game and averaged just 34.6 yards a punt on Saturday.
Charlie Weis’ game plan called for a lot of screen passes early to slow down the Tennessee pass rush and it was effective early. The Irish offense moved the ball down the field from over 90 yards on their first drive and scored the firs two times they caught the ball. On defense, Rick Minter had a good gameplan this week which forced Ainge into 40% passing on the day. A lot of the Notre Dame blitzes are still developing slowly and not being completely effective.