Reporters left Quinn, Darius Walker and Jeff Samardzija, finding Carlson as easy as Quinn did in No. 4 Notre Dame's 41-17 victory over No. 19 Penn State. Quinn hit Carlson in the middle of the field to the tune of six receptions for a team-high 98 yards, including two nasty over the shoulder catches in traffic that went for 29 and 32 yards. The receptions and yards were career highs for the senior out of Litchfield, Minn.
"It's always nice to catch the ball," Carlson said. "There are a lot of things I feel I still need to work on. I didn't feel like I blocked that well in the game, but it was nice to catch the ball."
Carlson, who had never been mobbed like this for an interview, had the same amount of receptions as All-American receiver Jeff Samardzija, and one more than Rhema McKnight.
"Looking at our team, we have Rhema and Samardzija, I would tend to cover those guys more than me," Carlson stated. "That's just what I would do, that's part of it."
After watching the Nittany Lions on film, Carlson knew he had a chance to have a career day.
"We knew that the middle would be open this week and we just exploited that," he said.
The Irish put points up on each drive Carlson had a long reception. The 29-yard gain was the key play on Notre Dame's game-opening drive that resulted in three points. The 32-yard catch set up the Irish's first touchdown, putting the Irish up 13-0 with 3:58 remaining in the first half.
"Well John made some big plays, especially that one seam ball that went for about 30 yards and changed field position," head coach Charlie Weis said. "Those 30 yard receptions sometimes don't go noticed. Everyone remembers those 50 and 60 yarders, but those 30 yarders change field position, put you in scoring zone."
*Controlling the game
The Irish offense controlled the time of possession throughout the game, holding onto the football for 33:11, compared to Penn State's 26:49.
Notre Dame really dominated in the first half, holding onto the football for 18:58, in building a 20-0 halftime advantage. The Irish opened and closed with the no-huddle, the latter being the two-minute drill. The drives in between, the unit took its' time dissecting the Penn State defense, as Quinn threw for 229 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. The Heisman candidate finished 25-of-36 for 287 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
"What I really liked was the first half was meticulous," Weis explained. "That wasn't just offense, that's offense and defense playing well. I didn't like having to settle for three the first couple scoring opportunities. You want to put the ball in the end zone, but I wanted to get our points on the board and I wanted to build Carl's (Gioia) confidence up. I just thought we had some nice change of paces in the first half when we went back-and-forth with the tempo of the game between methodical, try to just slug it out, they were pretty good at that, and spread it out and try to up-tempo the game as well."
Being on the field so long in the first half took a toll on the Nittany Lions' defense. The Irish ended the second quarter with a seven-play 69-yard drive capped off by McKnight's nine-yard touchdown reception with seven seconds remaining. The drive took just 1:17.
"Obviously there is a certain point in time at the end of the half, I think you noticed we were going to run the two-minute offense because of the situation of the game, and you could see them get tired more, the closer and closer we got to the end zone," Quinn explained.
On the game's first possession, the ND offense held the ball for 5:20, 12 plays going for 63 yards ending with Gioia's 35-yard field goal.
"Opening drives are a big part of the game and I think we went out there and held onto the ball for awhile," said Samardzija, who caught six passes for 56 yards. "That first drive as long as you can hold onto the ball and get a feel for what they're doing it helps out."
It really helped out, as Notre Dame accumulated 397 yards of total offense.
Sophomore David Grimes was available if necessary, but Weis was able to hold out the nicked up receiver.
"I didn't use him because I didn't think I had to," Weis said. "He was ready to play as our third wide receiver, we were flip-floppin him and Chase (Anastasio) in practice this week because he was a little banged up. And when it got to a point where I could have used him more, I didn't think it would be smart for me to do that. I figured by that point it would be better off just to hold out.
The senior Anastasio played more downs Saturday than any other time in his career. He almost had a reception, but couldn't corral the ball as the defender arrived at the same time with a bang.
Fullback Asaph Schwapp had his knee lock up on him near the end of the third quarter. The sophomore did not return for precautionary reasons.
"The same thing happened to him in practice the other day," Weis said. "The knee just locked up on him and it locked up on him again. So when he came to the sideline after he was ready to go, I wasn't putting him back in the game. You have to be smart when you are a coach and you are in that situation, you don't put a guy back in the game there when you have Michigan next week. Lets worry about having him ready for Michigan."
It seems like you can always count on Darius Walker gaining 100 yards for the game some how. The junior tailback contributed significantly with 56 yards rushing, 72 yards receiving on a team-high seven receptions, and a 15 yard touchdown catch.
Quarterback Evan Sharpley made his collegiate debut, entering the game with 5:51 remaining. The sophomore rushed for two yards and didn't attempt a pass.
Freshman running back Munir Prince carried the ball twice for minus-two yards, the first two attempts of his career.
Freshman Will Yeatman played when the Irish loaded up with three tight ends.
Freshman Eric Olsen and senior Dan Chervanick saw action on the offensive line.
Samardzija's seven-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter was the 16th of his career. Before completing that pass, Quinn hadn't thrown a touchdown pass in 10 quarters dating back to last year's Stanford game.
Senior Ashley McConnell carried the ball for two yards in place of the injured Schwapp. It was just the second carry of the senior's career.
Saturday's ticket was the most requested in Notre Dame's history. There were almost 67,000 ticket requests placed during the ticket lottery.
Tradition of Notre Dame home openers, all former Irish players were invited back to campus for the game, and form a ceremonial tunnel on the field as the 2006 team takes the field before kickoff. Joe Montana and Chris Zorich were spotted on the sideline during the game.