UCLA Wrap-Up

The last-second, 20-17 Notre Dame victory over UCLA on Saturday made for a lot of happy people in the Irish locker room. Head coach Charlie Weis was grateful for the win but knew there were areas where his team was less than perfect. At his weekly game after recap press conference, Weis had visual evidence of the deficiencies.

"I've watched the tape, so I'm not good in a good mood anymore," Weis said on Sunday.

If not for a Brady Quinn to Jeff Samardzija 45-yard touchdown pass with 27 seconds remaining, the mood would have been a lot different. The victory, though, moves Notre Dame to 6-1 on the season but did little to impress the voters. The Irish slipped to No. 11 in the Associated Press poll and 10th in the USA Today/Coaches rankings. It didn't help Notre Dame's case that their only win over a top-25 opponent, Georgia Tech, got blown out last night at Clemson. Weis appeared a bit confused about what the voters are impressed by: a comfortable 31-10 win over Stanford or a last-second dramatic score to beat UCLA.

"I think that when you win a game the way we did yesterday, that's a positive, not a negative," Weis said. "Look at the flip side of this one. I think it's almost humorous, if you go win a game by three touchdowns and then no one makes a big deal out of it, you didn't win by enough. But if you win a game on the last play of the game, what a great win.

"I don't know which is the better, but any time we go into a game, we're trying to play as best we can. We didn't come into the game intending to throw a touchdown at the end of the game to win. But the way it worked out in this instance, we were very fortunate to win the game at all, let alone decide how many points we're going to win the game by. Just the fact we won and how we won I think sent a very positive message."

The final drive was stunning not only in the result but how quickly it happened. It took Quinn only 35 seconds to march Notre Dame 80 yards for the winning score. Three plays, three completions, one giant win for the senior quarterback who now on the season has 18 touchdowns to four interceptions. Quinn has not thrown a pickoff in over 14 quarters of play. The ability to come-from-behind all starts with No. 10.

"I've been on teams where the team didn't have as much faith in the quarterback as they do with this guy," Weis said. "Our guys believe that if you give Quinn a chance, somehow he'll make the play to win the game. Now obviously he's not making the catch, but you need that guy. You have to have confidence in your quarterback and I think Brady has earned the confidence of our entire team."

Weis's biggest complaint: the offense. If it wasn't the 4-for-19 on third down conversions, it might have been the offensive line getting completely outplayed by the Bruins defensive line. Notre Dame totaled just 42 yards on the ground for the day. On the season now, the Irish rank 99th in rushing offense.

"If I had the answer to that, I would have solved it before we played," Weis said about his team's rushing woes. "I think that their defensive line got the best of our offensive line in a game. It's not like you go into a game saying their defensive line is going to win today. Just as we had said, their defensive ends were quick and disruptive, and they were, and their defensive tackles played pretty strong as well. It wasn't like it was any great scheme that we had or they had. I think just physically they won the battle yesterday. If I knew what happened beforehand, I would have solved it before the game started."

The defense did do their part. Notre Dame held UCLA to 243 total yards and 17 points. In the second half, the resistance was even stiffer, limiting the Bruins to three points and 75 total yards in the final 30 minutes of play. With Patrick Cowan starting just the second game of his career, Weis and defensive coordinator Rick Minter came in with the plan to blitz like crazy to rattle him. Weis liked the aggressive nature of the calls.

"Personally, a lot of time that is my philosophy, but I lean on Rick and Bill (Lewis) and Jappy (Oliver)," Weis said about whether to blitz or not. "When they go through a game plan and decide what's best for that game, I interject only a couple of things and it's all personnel related or mentality related. Like I might say, ‘Hey, they can't pick up pressure.' This was not about them not being able to pick it up. This is about putting pressure on an inexperienced quarterback. That's what this game was all about."

Two big plays were allowed by the defense. Cowan hit touchdowns from 36 and 54 yards out to help give UCLA a 14-7 second quarter advantage. It was the one negative in an otherwise solid performance. Anytime a big play occurs, flashes of last season, especially the Fiesta Bowl, race through minds. But it's on the scoreboard where Weis was the most happy with his defensive bunch.

"Let me tell you something," Weis said. "If we hold them to 17 points, I'm expecting to win every game we hold them to 17 points. And that's what the defense did. The defense should be commended."

Saturday's contest was also the first time that fans got to see a new linebacker group in place. Maurice Crum, Jr., Travis Thomas and Joe Brockington occupied the three spots in the base 4-3 defense. Brockington filled in for Thomas at the weak side position in the Purdue and Stanford games. With Thomas back, the coaching staff decided to move him over to the Sam position while Brockington would stay at the Will spot. It paid off as these two tied for the second most tackles with seven apiece while Crum led all defenders with eight stops.

"Because Joe had settled in nicely at that position, there were some things we were going to do with that position that fit what Travis does better than fits what Joe does," Weis said about the move. "That's why Rick decided to go in that direction because what we were going to do in the game plan, that position fit Travis better than it fit Joe."


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