Apologies for this going up this late in the week. Those of you who have been coming here for a while know we do one of these after every game and usually have it up by Sunday evening. Since I was up in the nose bleed section for the game I wanted to watch the tape of the game before posting this week’s though and I was unable to see a replay till tonight on ESPNU.
Brady Quinn took a big step in becoming the quarterback we have all been waiting for him to become since his freshman year. Quinn made 1 mistake all night and on that interception Quinn may have had a nice gain if the lobbed the ball over the defensive back instead of firing it in there. Other than that lapse in the 2nd quarter, Quinn was outstanding completing 18 of 27 passes for 227 yards and two (2) touchdowns to accompany the lone interception. Brady completed 11 straight passes at one point (3 off from tying Ron Powlus’ record of 14).
Brady also displayed a confidence that we have not yet seen in him. He has a great understanding of the new offense and was in command all night. He ran when he should have run, and got rid of it when he needed to. On 5 runs, Brady gained 48 yards and kept a couple drives alive using his legs. His performance was not perfect, as Weis clearly mentioned, but it was the best I have seen him play.
Darius Walker and Rashon Powers-Neal have to be loving the new offense after the two combined for 5 touchdowns in the first game of the season. Walker got the scoring started off with a 51 yard screen pass before adding a short 2 yard run for a score in the 2nd quarter. Walker displayed the vision and patience that led him to the freshman single season rushing record at Notre Dame a year ago. Walker waited for holes to open up and then burst through them. He was elusive and made people miss. During his 2 yard touchdown run he made on Pitt defender look extremely foolish with a little shake and bake. Darius finished with 100 yards on the ground and 52 through the air.
Powers-Neal doubled his career rushing touchdown total with a 3 touchdown performance against Pitt. Near the goal line, Powers Neal was unstoppable. He got some good lead blocks from freshman Asaph Schwapp. Schwapp, who sports Marc Edwards’ old #44, is going to be one heck of a fullback for the Irish. He is a load and punished some Pitt defenders on his blocks. Schwapp will see more playing time as the season progresses and should see more carries as well.
Jeff Samardjiza caught his first career touchdown in the 2nd quarter and what a touchdown it was. He was fully extended and made a great adjustment in the air to secure the ball. The ball was spread around well to the receivers with Mo catching 2 passes 27 yards, Rhema catching 3 for 51 yards, Samardjiza with 3 for 34, Fassano with 4 for 42, and Carlson with 2 catches for 3 yards.
Rhema looked great with the ball in his hands on the fake reverse. He needs to see the ball more next week on some short passes to get him in space. Big Mo had looked slimmed down as the preseason reports stated. He did have one drop that hit him square in the numbers though. Matt Shelton didn’t see much time, but luckily his deep threat wasn’t needed. He could see more time next week to help loosen up the Michigan defense. The best play for the receivers however came when none of them had the ball. All 3 receivers were part of the convoy that led Darius Walker to the endzone on his 51 yard first quarter touchdown.
I haven’t seen as dominant a performance by the offensive line at Notre Dame since the days of Joe Moore. The line simply dominated the Pitt defensive line and blew them off the ball creating all kinds of holes for Walker, et all. The line also gave Brady all kinds of time to pass the ball. John Latina did an excellent job with the line in the preseason. The entire line looked fit and trim and displayed excellent stamina. Coach Mendoza did wonders with the team and especially the line in terms of conditioning this offseason. During the 20 play drive to open the second half, the offensive line looked fresh and ready to go while the Pitt defense looked tired and ready to get off the field.
The line also completed their blocks and didn’t give up on any plays. Mark LeVoir’s unnecessary roughness penalty came on the play where he finished his block 3 yards out of bounds. It wasn’t a smart play but it shows the change in mentality among the offensive line. The line played nasty and punished people. Dan Stevenson, Dan Santucci, John Sullivan, Bob Morton, Ryan Harris, and LeVoir took it to Pitt all day and lead the way for 275 yards on the ground.
The D-line was not nearly as dominant as their offensive counterparts. The line played well, but didn’t get much pressure on Palko without the aid of the blitz. Chris Frome displayed some good quickness off the line with a 3rd quarter sack, the first of his career. Victor Abiamiri added a late sack, but didn’t have an over powering game.
In the middle of the line, Trevor Laws and Derek Landri were solid, but will need to provide more of a push up the middle against Michigan. A good note is a lot of the younger inexperienced guys saw playing time. Justin Brown looked like he has potential as does Ronald Talley despite his late hit. Weis gave it to him good and he knew he was wrong and looked pissed at himself after. Talley could be a steal from last year’s class.
Brandon Hoyte was all over the field and Corey Mays was pretty good in his first game as a full time starter. Maurice Crum looked more like a first time starter, which is to be expected from the redshirt freshman. Crum will be very good eventually, but he looked like he was still adjusting to the speed of the game in his first start. He will get better as the weeks move on and could be one of those players that sees the most improvement from week 1 to week 2.
Hoyte had 4.5 tackles for loss including 2 sacks of Tyler Palko. Mays also added a sack for a loss of 10 yards and had 1.5 tackles for loss in the game. Crum will be busy next week with Michigan tight end Tim Massaqoui to cover.
Ambrose Wooden took some heat on the Notre Dame message boards, but I was extremely pleased with his performance. He missed an early tackle, but still had 12 in the game and flew to the ball. Wooden is one of the fastest players on the field for the Irish and showed solid cover skills in his first start. Wooden missed practice time in the fall so he was a bit behind in camp, but played very well. Wooden does not need to be a big hitter at cornerback so if players don’t fly back 2 yards after he hits them, its ok. He came close to a couple picks and will turn some of those into interceptions with more time.
Mike Richard also looked improved. He bit on a Greg Lee fake on the early touchdown, but recovered and played fairly well the rest of the game. Tommy Zibkowski played a good game and delivered some hits. He was late on the Lee touchdown however after biting on the fake. N’dukwe played well in his first start as well. He brings a load when he hits and was solid in coverage. At his size he is going to be a weapon out there with his speed. He recovered the Marcus Furman kickoff on the 2nd quarter kickoff.
This unit was much maligned last year, but looks like the coaching of Bill Lewis is paying off. This unit will only get better and with 3 players being starters for the first time last week expect improvement next week.
Dj Fitzpatrick got a couple lucky bounces to help some subpar punts. He didn’t get a field goal opportunity but did hit all of his extra points. Kickoffs were a bit of an issue with none coming close to being touch backs and coverage was spotty. Casey Cullen caused a fumble on the one 2nd quarter kickoff, but Marcus Furman had some nice returns before that.
The Notre Dame return game did not do much other than Tommy Z’s nice punt return. I am hoping to see more from the return game next week in Michigan to give the offense good field position. Justin Hoskins and Brandon Harris have speed to burn and need to use it to break a couple returns. This is the one area I did not see much improvement in from last year.
Not much more can be said here that hasn’t been said already. This coaching staff is head and shoulders above the old regime. Weis called a beautiful game — Wannstedt had no idea what was coming. He used multiple formations, got everyone involved, and played to Pittsburgh weakness — the front 7 which netted 275 yards rushing and 502 overall.
Rick Minter’s defense adjust their coverage after Greg Lee’s touchdown and Lee said as much in post game interviews. There were some mix ups throughout the night which is to be expected from a staff working together for the first time. This is some staff though and will have the Irish in every game they play. They have a big test next week but our buddy Lloyd have a lot to prepare for with Weis calling the shots for the Irish.