Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Odds & Sods - Sam Raimi Edition | by Mike

"I must break you"
Atonement. After missing both attempts against Georgia Tech, Carl Gioia was successful on both of his field goal attempts against Penn State. While it's easy to overlook a pair of field goals during a game that at one point was 41-3, Gioia's field goals helped set the tone early. Because the Irish were able to come away with points on the early drives, subsequent events became backbreakers. With Notre Dame already holding a two-possession lead, the beautiful drive to close the first half and then Zbikowski's touchdown broke Penn State's spirit. Contrast this with the momentum-killing impact of Penn State's field goal bungle (although Trevor Laws appeared to be in great position to block the kick even if Penn State had not had problems with the hold). In addition to their impact on the Penn State game, Gioia's field goals were a welcome development with Michigan on the horizon.

Take it there. Notre Dame's drive at the close of the first half was a thing of beauty. With 1:24 remaining in the half, the drive started at the Notre Dame 31. Seven plays, 69 yards, and 1:17 later, the drive ended with the touchdown that put Notre Dame up 20-0. Quinn hit Carlson, Walker twice, and McKnight twice on the drive and had an eleven-yard scramble of his own. The drive illustrated once again how deadly the Weis-Quinn combo is at the close of a half. Many may have been reminded of the final drive of the first half against Georgia Tech, but the drive was also reminiscent of the final drives against Southern Cal and Stanford last year in that Notre Dame never even faced a third down.

Clampdown. Penn State's speed on the perimeter was negated by the Notre Dame defense, in part due to excellent open-field tackling. For all the talk about his speed and elusiveness, Derrick Williams was a statistical no-show in the box score. Despite the many ways Penn State tried to put the ball in Williams's hands, he had a combined 10 yards rushing and passing. The Irish also bottled up Penn State's speed guys in the return game. Penn State's best field position following an Irish kickoff was the 30-yard-line, and this came on the squib kick that ended the first half.

Minnesoter. Though John Carlson did not appear to be quite at Anthony Fasano's level as a blocker against Georgia Tech, the Minnesota native had the best receiving game yet for a tight end during the Weis era. Carlson had six receptions for 98 yards. Carlson's second catch of the game went for 29 yards, a career high that would be bested when Carlson hauled in a 32-yard pass on his fourth catch of the game. The block fellow Minnesota tight end Marcus Freeman put on Derrick Williams during the fake punt is also worth mentioning.

Hot nickels. Once again, a strong performance by Notre Dame's nickel defense carried the day. Between the second half of the Georgia Tech game and the first half of the Penn State game, Notre Dame played four consecutive quarters of shutout football. Whether Notre Dame can maintain this defensive performance when game situations require a base 4-3 defense remains to be seen. One of the keys for the Michigan game will be how often Notre Dame is forced to play a 4-3 defense.

Come out and play. Last week, we saw twelve freshmen get on the field against the Yellowjackets (Brown, Gaines, Jackson, McNeil, Prince, Richardson, Ryan, Smith, Walls, West, Yeatman, and Young). This week, freshmen Eric Olsen, Robby Parris, and Konrad Reuland also saw the field. The passel of highly touted recruits visiting Notre Dame this weekend surely appreciated Weis's willingness to let players contribute early in their collegiate careers.

Leaders of men. After time expired, a group of three players led the team over to the corner of the stadium to salute the student section. The three were Ambrose Wooden, Bob Morton and Travis Leitko. Given the adversity the latter two have recently faced, the emotion on their faces as they approached their peers was one of the highlights of the day.