Saturday, April 28, 2007

Everything is Illuminated | by Jay

The alpha. From the SBT, September 28, 2003. Remember when...?

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Grass-stained but not as green as when he arrived, Brady Quinn walked off the field at Ross-Ade Stadium wiser for the experience. What exactly he learned in a 23-10 loss to Purdue will emerge over time.

"A lot of things," Quinn said. "Probably too many to even pinpoint right now."

Notre Dame learned a lot about Quinn too, most notably that he belongs in the position he assumed Saturday under forbidding circumstances. A freshman starting his first game at quarterback for Notre Dame, he acted his age at times and played beyond his years at others. Against a Boilermaker defense committed to denying the run and a hostile crowd feeding on every Irish failure, Quinn persevered...

He passed, and passed, and passed. Fifty-nine attempts, to be exact, the second most in Irish history to Terry Hanratty's 63 in 1967. Completing 29 passes for 297 yards and a touchdown, Quinn proved he reads defenses above grade-level.

Four interceptions served as a reminder that he's not immune to an aggressive pass rush and the inevitable head rush a freshman feels. Everything still happens too fast to process it all.

"I feel like it's progressively getting slower," Quinn said, "but obviously it's not at the pace I'd like it to be."

How quickly Quinn learns will determine Notre Dame's offensive direction. Any forward progress evident against Purdue can be credited to him because the redundant problems of a poor offensive line and a running game still learning to walk continued.

Quinn finished as Notre Dame's leading rusher with 25 yards on eight carries, a statistic that maligns the line and the backs more than it extols the quarterback. It's more evidence of how much responsibility he accepted.

Through freshman mistakes that threatened his confidence, through errors beyond his control that tested his composure, he displayed characteristics of leadership the offense otherwise lacks. It's in his demeanor, in the way he interacts with older teammates and in the way they respond to him. As much as his strong arm and proficient football mind, that prompted his promotion over Carlyle Holiday...

Even when he failed Saturday, that feeling never faded. Quinn contributed to the loss as much as anyone else with turnovers and errant throws that prevented potential gains, but he also provided more reason for optimism, if only in his resilience...

Barring injury, Quinn should be playing from first snap to last for the foreseeable future.

A brief apprenticeship was the prudent course for a freshman, but after three losses, it's next season at Notre Dame for all intents and purposes. In his development, Quinn's already well on his way there.

"He just really knows the game, physically and mentally," offensive tackle Dan Stevenson said. "He's got a great arm and he's got great awareness. That's huge as a quarterback."

Those attributes meant nothing to Quinn in the aftermath of a loss. Only the errors replayed in his mind, plenty of them to occupy his time for two long weeks before Notre Dame's next game. Interceptions. Inconsistency. His objective, like 30 of his passes, incomplete.

"I'm disappointed in myself," Quinn said, "because I really feel like I let the team down today."

In truth, he provided a lift that lightened the letdown of another loss.

For a freshman quarterback, it's a start.

And the omega. Two years of spectacular highlights in seven minutes:

And today, the cycle begins again: not just for Brady Quinn, who ascends to the next level, but also for Notre Dame football, and the fledgling signal caller who will be starting his very first game come this Fall...