Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Clip Show | by Jay

Top 10 Plays of the year? Roll 'em.

10. This Isn’t Last Year’s Offense
Darius Walker rambles for a fifty-plus yard touchdown against Pittsburgh.
Perhaps this makes the top of the list because it was first, but this play seems, in retrospect, to have set the tone for the 2005 season. After a drive that ended in a way that felt too eerily similar to the meeting at Notre Dame versus Pitt just ten months before, with F-word spewing Tyler Palko beating the Irish secondary with a long pass to Greg Lee, Fighting Irish fans were quickly assured that the first game of the Charlie Weis era would not end with the same fate as the 2004 game. Sophomore running back Darius Walker brought in a screen pass from quarterback Brady Quinn, followed a convoy of blockers, and found the end zone -- with that convoy still leading the way -- 51 yards later. And just like that…the game was tied. Walker’s 51-yd touchdown reception in the first quarter was the longest reception of his young career and the first touchdown reception of his career. The underdog Irish continued the offensive onslaught, won 42-21, and garnered Weis his first win as Notre Dame head football coach.
Play #10

9. Zero Flood Fact 58 D Slant

Mooney to O'Hara against Syracuse
In mop-up time against Syracuse, Charlie Weis cleared the bench for Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium. On third and seven late in the fourth quarter, in order to simply maintain possession and run out the clock, Weis called a pass play: "Zero Flood Fact 58 D Slant." Marty Mooney, a senior walk-on quarterback from St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, dropped back and threw a perfect strike to Michael O’Hara, a senior walk-on wide receiver from Bellevue, Washington, for sixteen yards and a first down. Given the way the Senior Day game ended last year -- a 41-38 loss to Pitt -- it was a pleasure to watch as lots of players entered the game action, some for the very first time. Weis, in his post-game comments, stated, “"My favorite play of the game was Marty Mooney to [Michael] O'Hara, I'll tell you that right now." The Irish faithful were witness to numerous examples of alum/coach Charlie Weis fitting the Notre Dame paradigm of “getting it.” Mooney-to-O’Hara was a prime case in point.
Play #9

8. A Thing of Beauty is a Joy for Ever
Quinn to Stovall against BYU
Against BYU, the Fighting Irish offense came out and picked on the Cougars’ 3-3-5 defense and their small defensive backs. By means of short slants and quick outs, the Irish ignored their ground game, scored two early touchdowns, and moved the ball with relative ease through the air. With Notre Dame leading 14-10 late in the second quarter, Brady Quinn and Maurice Stovall toyed with the undersized BYU secondary. Quinn faked the quick out to Stovall, Maurice stood up as if the ball was coming, the cornerback bit on the fake and came up to make a play, Stovall ran by him, and Quinn and his receiver had an easy pitch-and-catch for a 15 yard touchdown. In his press conference, Coach Weis called that play “a thing of beauty...that's exactly what it is, you pump fake because they know you've been doing it all game...the first time you do it, you can count on it being a touchdown. I would have liked to have seen what would have happened if we had called it again.”
Play #8

7. Oh, the Shark Bites
Samardzija makes a leaping grab against Pittsburgh
In a catch that was a harbinger of the great, acrobatic catches the receiver would make all year long, future-consensus-All-America Jeff Samardzija made a spectacular grab in the back of the end zone against Pitt. The catch was so amazing that it forced the Big 10 replay official to stop play to watch it several times. ABC-TV analyst Dan Fouts remarked that Samardzija’s catch was of the kind made on Sundays: “You won’t see a better catch than that.” The 19 yard diving reception for a touchdown -- giving the Fighting Irish a 28-10 second quarter lead -- followed a forced fumble by Casey Cullen on a kickoff and helped blow the Pitt game wide open.
Play #7

6. Quinn for the (Almost) Win
Brady scores the go-ahead against Southern Cal
This touchdown would most definitely sit amid the pantheon of legendary Notre Dame scores had the next drive by the University of Southern California ended differently. The touchdown, with 2:04 to go, capped a dramatic eight play, 87 yard drive against the #1 team. Bedecked in a green jersey and under the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus, the Fighting Irish player from Dublin (Ohio), former boyhood model, Brady Quinn, found the end zone on a 5 yard quarterback draw to give Notre Dame a 31-28 lead. Unfortunately, the run was later overshadowed by a fourth and nine pass, a crazy fumble play, and a push. Yet, in retrospect, will we look back at this the play as the one that jumpstarted Quinn’s run for the 2006 Heisman Trophy?
Play #6

5. The Hustler
Wooden saves the game against Michigan
Unfortunately, with the big plays by the Buckeyes most recently in our mind, some of the good play by the defense in 2005 has been overshadowed. However, a couple of times this year, Ambrose Wooden, arguably the most-improved player on the Irish defense, ran down opposing players from behind and saved touchdowns on otherwise big plays. None was more important than his hustling play in the game at Ann Arbor. With Notre Dame nursing a 17-3 lead early in the fourth quarter against Michigan, Chad Henne (on fourth and 4 from the Michigan 45) hit Jason Avant for a 54-yard catch-and-run. Moving and hurrying the entire time, Wooden forced Avant out-of-bounds at the Irish 1 yard line. Following an Irish penalty, then-#3 Michigan turned the ball over -- Henne fumbled on a quarterback sneak, Irish safety Chinedum Ndukwe alertly recovered the ball in the end zone, and the Wolverine scoring chance evaporated…helping the then-#20 Irish win 17-10.
Play #5

4. In the Clearing Stands a Boxer
Zibby returns one against Tennessee
With a 14-3 lead in the middle of the second quarter, the Notre Dame defense forced two negative plays by the Volunteers. One of those plays was a Tom Zbikowski sack of Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge. On fourth and 21 from the Volunteers 35, punter Britton Colquitt sent a 43 yard kick right down the middle of the field. Zbikowski fielded the punt, quickly dodged tacklers, and burst up the middle for 78 yards, a touchdown, and a 21-3 Irish lead. For his overall performance against the Volunteers, the junior from Arlington Heights, Illinois became the first-ever defensive player to win the Cingular Wireless/ABC Sports All-American Player of the Week honor. Charlie Weis, commenting after the game about Zbikowski’s show, stated, “The more he's out there, the more you want him out there because chances are something good is going to happen."
Play #4

3. The $14 Million Dollar Man
Walker scores the game-winner against Stanford
Underdog Stanford, benefiting from gaffes by the Notre Dame special teams unit and two uncharacteristic interceptions by Brady Quinn, took a 31-30 lead with 1:46 remaining in the game. With eligibility for a BCS bowl game on the line for Notre Dame, Darius Walker’s hard-nosed, 6 yard touchdown run was the final element of a 51 second, 80 yard drive in waning seconds of the game against Stanford. Walker would finish the game against the Cardinal with a career-best 186 yards rushing and a 1,106 yard regular season total for rushing. "We went back and forth the whole game," Coach Weis said. "But I think the great thing about this football team is, earlier this year, before I got here, I didn't know if they understood how to win games like this." The Irish earned a Fiesta Bowl berth and the full paycheck that accompanied the trip to Tempe.
Play #3

2. Volunteering for Duty
Stovall springs Fasano (and more) against Tennessee
Although featured on this list of the Top 10 plays, this entry is really three separate plays during the Tennessee game. And none of the plays shows up in the official statistics for Fighting Irish wide receiver Maurice Stovall. Tight end Anthony Fasano’s 43-yard catch-and-run touchdown to open the scoring in the first quarter featured a great downfield block by Stovall. Late in the third quarter, on third and 10 from the Notre Dame 25, with the score tied at 21, Quinn hit Samardzija on a short crossing route. Thanks to a block by Stovall, who provided an obstacle for three Tennessee defenders, the Shark ran down the sidelines before being tackled at the Volunteer 2 yard line. The catch set up Samardzija’s four yard touchdown reception, with Stovall again clearing the way, just a few plays later on third and goal. The Irish led the Volunteers for good at 28-21. Those blocks, combined with his great leaping touchdown grab in the first quarter, allowed Coach Weis to single out Stovall in the press conference: “…a lot of times we look at stats and sit there and say, Jeff [Samardzija] had a big day statistically, which he did…But the guy I was pleased with the most was actually Maurice Stovall. He only had a couple catches on the game and one for a touchdown, but he made several critical blocks in this game and ended up leading us to having production.”
Play #2

1. ...With His Teeth, Babe
Samardzija with an impossible catch against Purdue
On Notre Dame’s second offensive possession of the Purdue game, with the score tied at 0-0, and second and 3 at the Boilermaker 42, Brady Quinn heaved a pass deep down the middle of the field. Jeff Samardzija somehow made a diving, one-handed catch and fell at the Purdue 1. On the next play, Rashon Powers-Neal ran in the ball for the 7-0 Irish lead and the beating of the Boilermakers was on.
Play #1

And a play that transcends any ranking...

Pass Right
Unless you pulled a Rip van Winkle for 2005, you certainly heard about this play. I re-reference Tom Coyne’s Associated Press article via our post back in September.
Watch "Pass Right"

Honorable Mentions: Safety Tom Zbikowski’s goal-line interception of a Chad Henne pass on Michigan’s opening drive of the second half; safety Chinedum Ndukwe’s hit on Washington’s Craig Chambers on the Huskies’ opening drive, and Ndukwe’s subsequent fumble recovery, setting up “Pass Right”; wide receiver Jeff Samardzija’s 55 yard catch-and-run, breaking tackles and “pinballing” his way through the Purdue secondary to give the Fighting Irish a 35-7 third-quarter lead over the Boilermakers; running back Travis Thomas’s 16 yard run to cap a 5:47, thirteen play, 80 yard drive in answer to a Reggie Bush hurdling run, tying the score in the Southern California game at 7; Zbikowski’s 60 yard, tackle-breaking punt return for a touchdown to give the Irish a 21-14 second quarter lead on Southern California; [and so many other plays against USC that might have figured differently had the game just finished with an Irish victory;] Zbikowski’s 89 yard interception return for a touchdown to blow open the BYU game at 49-23; Zbikowski (again) returns an Erik Ainge pass 33 yards for a touchdown to seal the win over Tennessee, 41-21; wide receiver Maurice Stovall’s ridiculous, one-handed leaping catch for a 31 yard touchdown to open the scoring against Navy (the catch even earned “Top Play” for the weekend from notorious Notre Dame-hater and ESPN “commentator” Mark May); cornerback Leo Ferrine’s opportunistic interception, returned for a 16 yard touchdown, to jumpstart a 20-0 second half stretch against Syracuse; Darius Walker’s touchdown runs in the Fiesta Bowl; and Zbikoswki’s “incompletion” return for a heartbreaking touchdown-that-wasn’t against Ohio State.

(Special thanks to contributor Paul for writing and compiling our list and video guru Nevin for pulling the clips.)