In South Bend, it was another week and another Notre Dame win over an inferior opponent. The only difference was this time it was in the green uniforms and not the normal home blue. Darius Walker ran for 162 yards and two touchdowns while the defense held Army to just 150 total yards as the Irish rolled past the Black Knights 41-9. In front of a sellout crowd, the seniors were sent out in style behind a dominating defensive showing and a balanced offensive attack. After the contest, they took a lap around the stadium to give thanks and receive appreciation for their hard work.
"A fifth year guy has been through a whole bunch of coaches now and a whole bunch of assistant coaches," head coach Charlie Weis said after the game. "They have had highs and lows. These emotional roller coasters are not necessarily a good thing.
"But more than anything else, more than me liking these guys, which I do; I like these guys. I'm really happy for them. Usually you're proud of them first. I'm actually happy for them. I'm just happy that they get to end their college experience like this on a high."
The No. 5 Irish up their mark to 10-1 on the season, including winners of eight in a row. Now comes the biggie: a trip out to Los Angeles to face No. 3 USC. The contest has been circled on Notre Dame fans' calendars since last year's epic 34-31 home loss to the Trojans. First, the Irish had to take care of business against Army. Mission accomplished. The preparation for the USC contest has already been in the works. Weis said that two thirds of this week's practice time was spent on the Trojans.
"I've watched every game, every play, offense, defense, special teams no, I have not watched every play on special teams," Weis said about USC. "But I've watched every play on offense and defense. That, I can tell you."
Credit to Army: they did hold a 3-0 lead after the first quarter. This was the result of Brady Quinn's first interception in 226 attempts, which was the longest in Notre Dame history. But it took only three plays into the second quarter for the Irish to take the lead and take control of the contest. Walker's 10-yard touchdown run gave Notre Dame a 7-3 advantage. On the drive, the junior halfback accounted for all 65 yards. Walker's 162 yard total was a season high and his second best performance on the ground ever in an Irish uniform. He added a second touchdown early in the fourth quarter to give Notre Dame a 41-3 lead.
Walker did have one mistake. He fumbled a yard short of the end zone in the third quarter but was bailed out when David Grimes recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown. Army was taking away the big play on defense. So Weis and the Irish offense, whose biggest gain from scrimmage was 24 yards, moved patiently down the field.
"The general tendency for an offense is to press," Weis said. "They want to score in a hurry. That's not the way the coverage was being dictated. What I told them after the two drives is, ‘Relax, it's 3-0; you're not down 100-3.' Let's just get things under control and realize I'm going to run the ball and throw short intermediate routes, which is what I told them we were going to do and what we did most of the rest of the game. I just wanted them to know it was a change of game plan.
"I've always told you the type of person that doesn't wait long to change the game plan. Well, we changed it after two drives because we had a bunch of downfield throws designed to go in there and they were not going to work. And we got out of it after the third drive and we got it on the third drive, and that was pretty much it the rest of the game. We could pretty much control the ball the rest of the game."
The Notre Dame defense only needed a little offense to back up their strong effort. Weis inserted the second stringers and seniors early in the fourth quarter. In the first 45 minutes of play, the Irish gave up 55 total yards of offense, held Army to 1-for-9 on third down and allowed just one pass completion. Derek Landri had 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Cornerback Mike Richardson nabbed two interceptions. Granted, the Black Knights unit is not a high powered attack, ranking 109th nationally in total offense. Even when they drove the length of the field in the fourth quarter, Army fumbled the ball in the end zone for a turnover.
Besides the interception, Quinn was on point. The senior finished the contest 22-of-30 for 218 yards and three scores. For his career, Quinn now has 90 touchdown passes, which is tops in the Notre Dame record book. He found Jeff Samardzija over the middle for a 16-yard scoring strike in the second quarter to push the Irish advantage to 13-3. Quinn added another right before halftime, finding Rhema McKnight for a eight-yard score to make it 20-3 at intermission. Another hookup between the two in the third quarter from 24 yards out pumped the lead to 34-3. The touchdowns for McKnight are his 12th and 13th of the season and two short of tying Samardzija's single season record of 15 set in 2005. The win ties Quinn for the most wins ever by a Notre Dame quarterback.
"Obviously he's got a cannon of an arm," Army head coach Bobby Ross said. "Many, many years ago when I first went into pro coaching as an assistant I saw a great arm in a guy named Burt Jones. He had strength to his arm and I believe Brady Quinn's arm reminds me of that. That's the first thing that comes to focus. He can put that ball down to 35 yards on a line and that's very difficult. I mean, he's got to have a very strong arm to do that.
"The other facet to it is he can run. There were times our coverage was pretty good but he scrambled and made the necessary yardage. He's certainly very, very high in my mind as far as the Heisman Trophy winner."