Offensive Surge Carries Irish

SOUTH BEND- At times, Notre Dame looked dominant on Saturday versus North Carolina. Quarterback Brady Quinn easily dissected the Tar Heel secondary en route to a four touchdown performance. On others, the Irish gave up big plays on defense and special teams and could not find the killer instinct against a team without a Division 1A victory. But once again, Notre Dame continues to win.

Quinn tossed for 346 yards and Jeff Samardzija broke Derrick Mayes's career scoring mark for a wide receiver as the Irish outlasted a game North Carolina bunch 45-26. In front of another sellout crowd at Notre Dame Stadium, the No. 9 Irish moved their record to 8-1 on the season. The offense, struggling to find their consistency a few weeks back, once again provided a dominant effort, almost all of it on the right arm of Quinn, who still hasn't thrown a pickoff in over 22 quarters.

"I thought he had a pretty good day," head coach Charlie Weis said. "I think that he was pretty accurate with our game plan and we decided we were going to go into the game and make sure we didn't come out flat. I said all week that I was trying to control the tempo of the game and we came out of the no huddle and he executed very well. Those four touchdown passes, no interceptions, that's usually a pretty good day at the office."

There were negatives: a 90-yard kickoff return allowed for a touchdown and North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks setting a new Tar Heel freshman record with 171 receiving yards. Total yard wise, the Irish allowed 244 yards but 72 of them were on Nicks's second touchdown and 35 on a run by Ronnie McGill.

"They had one 21 yard completion the first half and that was the biggest play they had the whole first half, with the exception of the kickoff return for a touchdown," Weis said. "Obviously you can't blame the defense for the big play there.

"In the third quarter, they hit a couple and one we just fell down on. We scored one when they feel down, too. Sometimes it's a little bit of a fluke."

Notre Dame appeared ready to shut the door on North Carolina in the second half. The Irish led 31-13 entering the third quarter, a 15-minute period where Notre Dame had only allowed 15 total points on the season. The Irish had only surrendered 62 total yards in the first half, including -14 after the first Tar Heel touchdown drive of the game. But North Carolina quarterback Joe Dailey found Nicks on a fade pattern for a 13-yard touchdown to cut the Notre Dame advantage to 31-19. Coming into the contest, Dailey had two passing touchdowns. The junior threw three scores in the game, all of them on the Irish's Terrail Lambert.

Notre Dame countered with a quick three-play drive culminated when Quinn found a streaking Samardzija for a 42-yard touchdown to make it 38-19 Irish. The score gave the senior wideout 23 touchdowns in his Irish career, all of them coming in the past two seasons under Weis. It broke Derrick Mayes's record of 22. Samardzija had his best day of the year, catching six balls for 177 yards.

"I think it's pretty amazing that he accomplished it really in a year and a half," Weis said. "He really just played last year and this year. If you want to give me these guys (Samardzija and Rhema McKnight) for two more years, I'll take them and see what numbers they can really throw up, because they really threw these numbers up in the last two years."

Dailey and Nicks quickly struck back to keep North Carolina in the game. On the ensuing drive, they connected on a 72-yard touchdown pass that cut the deficit to 38-26. On the play, Nicks and Lambert got tangled up, giving the freshman wide receiver separation as he broke the tackle of the Irish cornerback.

"Sometimes these guys do fall down," Weis said. "They are not perfect. I'm concerned any time we give up long ones. It's something that we keep on working on. It has not been that way every week. It's actually been better this year. But we gave up a couple of them today."

The nail in the coffin drive occurred in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame marched down the field and was aided by two North Carolina personal foul calls on a late hit on Quinn. The drive ended when Walker punched it in from a yard out to give the Irish a comfortable 45-26 lead. Notre Dame's offense was too much for the Tar Heels defense as they amassed 452 total yards and a season-high 45 points. The game plan early was clear: let Quinn and the air attack beat North Carolina.

"Our deal today was we were going to come out and we were going to throw it a lot the first half," Weis said. "And when we got control of the game, we were going to come back and run it a lot.

"And statistically, I think when it comes right down, we were always about close to 50/50 in the game, which it didn't really make a difference to me when we end up calling them. I like to get some balance. But earlier in the game, we knew we were going to be in no huddle. When I call 18 plays in a row and I stick in three runs, it's going to be off balance when you are in no huddle mode and you're just sticking in a couple of draws."

North Carolina (1-8) head coach Jim Bunting, who will be fired effective at the end of the season, was encouraged by his players' crack at an upset bid.

"I think we gave a great effort," Bunting said. "I applaud the efforts of many of the players that came here and competed extremely well. And I told them so in the locker room. Always disappointed to lose. I hate losing. And I'm looking forward to the three games that are left on this schedule, see if we can get these kids a win."

The first half was all Quinn. The senior signal caller went 17-of-27 for 266 yards and three touchdowns in the first 30 minutes of the game to help give Notre Dame a 31-13 lead at halftime. Quinn hit McKnight twice for scores and found John Carlson from 11 yards out. The senior tight end caught a career high eight balls for 91 yards while McKnight increased his team-high touchdown lead to 11. Special teams got into the act when Tommy Zbikowski finally busted out and returned a punt 52 yards for a score. Zbikowski now has seven career touchdowns. Special teams gave one back though when North Carolina's Brandon Tate broke numerous tackles and raced down the right sideline for a 90-yard kickoff return.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories