Rhema McKnight, Jeff Samardzija Chasing Each Other

(UHND.com) – On Saturday afternoon fifth year senior Rhema McKnight caught his 158th career pass at Notre Dame, breaking Tom Gatewood’s previous record of 157. McKnight will have to fight off teammate Jeff Samardzija who finished the Air Force game with 156 career grabs, just two behind McKnight.

McKnight broke Gatewood’s record in the first quarter on a 24 yard touchdown pass from Brady Quinn. McKnight shook a defender to stroll into the end-zone with his 12th touchdown of the season and the record. The 12 touchdowns puts McKnight just three short of Jeff Samardzija’s team record of 15 set last year.

McKnight has scored in every game except the Georgia Tech and UCLA games this year and has notched four multiple touchdown games – most notably against Michigan State when he scored two fourth quarter touchdowns in Notre Dame’s dramatic comeback.

Coming into this season, McKnight, one of Notre Dame’s most accomplished receivers during the Willingham Era, had reached the end zone just seven times in a little over two full years as a starter. This season the California native eclipsed that mark by sixth game of the season against Stanford. With 19 career touchdowns, McKnight will have a tough time passing his teammate Samardzija who has 24 career scores, but he does have a pretty good chance to finish his career second if he can reach 23 by the end of the year.

Speaking of Samardzija, he currently is tied with McKnight with 55 receptions for the team lead this season after a six catch, 106 yard performance that included a 51 yard touchdown on Notre Dame’s opening drive this past weekend – his ninth of the season and 24th of his career.

Samardzija started off this season slow after his record breaking from 2005. Six games into his 2006 season, Samardzija had just one 100 yard game and reached the endzone just five times after scoring 15 times a year ago. Since then, however, the senior wide receiver has added 423 yards and another four touchdowns over the last four games including three 100 yard games highlighted by a season high 177 yards against North Carolina.

With two games left, both Notre Dame receivers will be in a position to really put their marks in the Notre Dame history books. Prior to last season, there had only been two 1,000 yard receiving seasons in the history of Notre Dame football and Jeff Samardzija has the chance to achieve the feat twice in two seasons.

Samardzija currently sits third all time in receiving yards on the Notre Dame all time list with 2,368 yards – 125 behind Tim Brown and 144 behind Derrick Mayes. A big game this weekend against Army and Samardzija could find himself first all time in receptions, touchdowns, and receiving yards in Notre Dame history.

To attain the receptions record, however, Samardzija would need a bigger game than McKnight who himself has a chance to climb up the record books over these final few games. McKnight came into this season 206 yards behind Samardzija for career receiving yards making it unlikely he challenges the Mayes record barring some really monster games, but he only 187 yards behind Tom Gatewood for fourth all time.

Regardless of what records these two do or not break over the final three games of the season, one thing is clear – they will be remembered as two of the best receivers in Notre Dame history. Some might argue they are a product of Weis’s system, but with the numbers they have put up this season (and last season in Samardzija’s case) go beyond just being in a good offensive system.

As with Brady Quinn, Notre Dame fans should enjoy watching numbers 83 and 5 over final three games of the season. With Weis in charge it’s very likely the records these two have set this year and in their careers will be broken by some talented receivers who start for three or four years, but that won’t change the fact that both are two of the finest wide receivers to line up ever line up for the Irish.

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