Irish on Offense
Quarterback - #10 Brady Quinn
A true freshman in 2003, Brady Quinn stepped into the quarterback role to try and revive a stagnant Irish passing attack. He managed close to 2,000 yards and nine touchdowns while dealing with a run-first offense and the pressure of lining up behind center for the Irish. Quinn also had his share of the freshman jitters that led to 15 interceptions and another sub-par Notre Dame season. In 2004, Quinn is at the helm of the Notre Dame offense again. Through ten games Quinn has passed for 2,267 yards and 14 touchdowns against nine interceptions. Quinn has completed over 50% of his passes (53.9) and leads an offense averaging 357 yards per game. He has shown exceptional growth as a college quarterback this year and, after taking a beating in 2003, will be looking to make a statement against the Trojans.
Running Back - #4 Ryan Grant, #3 Darius Walker
Ryan Grant and Darius Walker make up the ground attack for the Irish offense. Grant, a senior, has been a major force in the Irish attack for a number of years while Walker, a true freshman, has burst onto the scene in South Bend. With the emergence of Walker and a few games missed due to injury, Ryan Grant has seen his carries diminish, but not his importance to the offense. On the year, he's scored five touchdowns while carrying the ball 98 times for 402 yards, an average of 4.1 yards per carry. While he's only averaging 57 yards per game and his longest run from scrimmage is 19 yards, Grant fills the role of a power running back exceptionally well. He has only lost 15 yards while carrying the ball and constantly moves the pile forward. Darius Walker has stepped into the Notre Dame backfield this year and hasn't disappointed. He's leading the team in most rushing categories, carrying the ball 161 times for 679 yards. Walker has added six touchdowns and his 75 yards per game have been a boon to the Irish attack. He's a shifty running back with amazing quickness and speed. He'll be tested, however, against this tenacious Trojan defense.
Wide Receiver - #21 Maurice Stovall, #5 Rhema McKnight, #82 Matt Shelton
Notre Dame receivers of the past few years have had little to no impact on most games due to both the style of the Irish offense as well as the ability of the quarterbacks. That trend has continued in 2004 as both starting receivers possess game-changing ability, but have been offered little chance to show it. McKnight is a speedster who leads the team with 37 receptions for 511 yards and 51.1 yards per game. His 54-yard receptions in the longest play from scrimmage for the Irish this year, but he's only managed to find the endzone twice. Maurice Stovall lines up on the opposite side of McKnight and can make his presence felt all over the field. Standing 6'5", Stovall is a nightmare for any defensive back forced to cover him one-on-one. With all of these advantages however, Stovall has hauled in just 20 receptions for 296 yards and just one touchdown. Opposing teams must be concentrating so hard on these two wideouts during film sessions that they forget to take note of Matt Shelton. Shelton ranks fourth on the team with 17 catches, but he's turned those touches into 505 yards, for a 29.7 yard average. Of those 17 receptions, six have gone for touchdowns.
Tight End – #88 Anthony Fasano
A talented tight end, Anthony Fasano has pulled down 24 balls this season for 329 yards and three touchdowns. This Trojan defense has seemingly put a stop to getting burned by opposing tight ends so it will be interesting to see if they can continue that trend against the Irish and Fasano.
Offensive Line - #68 Ryan Harris, #76 Bob Morton, #78 John Sullivan, #74 Dan Stevenson, #73 Mark LeVoir
The Irish offensive line has a good balance of youth and experience with two sophomores, a junior and two seniors. The seniors are Stevenson and LeVoir, who make up the right side of the line and will look to make holes against the Trojan defensive front. The line has given up 26 sacks on the year, totaling 121 yards. The Trojan defensive line will look to add to those numbers.
Irish on Defense
Defensive Line - #44 Justin Tuck, #77 Greg Pauly, #66 Derek Landri, #92 Kyle Budinscak
The Irish defensive line is led by Justin Tuck, their outstanding defensive end. He leads the line with 42 tackles, 13 of those coming behind the line of scrimmage and six of them with the quarterback as his victim. He is a constant presence around the ball and the Trojan offensive line will be tested for 60 minutes by #44. Greg Pauly, Derek Landri and Kyle Budinscak benefit from playing alongside Tuckas most of the offensive plays are directed toward them. Landri has turned in 37 tackles with half a sack. Pauly has 35 and a full sack, while Budinscak has 18 tackles and two sacks.
Linebackers - #39 Brandon Hoyte, #41 Mike Goolsby, #49 Derek Curry
Mike Goolsby is the man in the middle for the Notre Dame defense. His 89 tackles leads the team and he's tied for the team lead with two interceptions. He'll stick his nose in the opponent backfield also, as his 6.5 tackles for loss and three quarterback sacks will attest to. Brandon Hoyte is right behind him with 66 tackles, eight for loss and three sacks. Derek Curry is another linebacking force for the Irish as he's racked up 57 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and two interceptions.
Cornerbacks – #24 Dwight Ellick, #15 Preston Jackson
Dwight Ellick and Preston Jackson are the Irish cornerbacks and haven't exactly turned in the types of seasons needed for a team that relies so heavily on its defensive play. Ellick has 38 tackles on the season with two interceptions, which he's returned for 20 yards. Jackson has 34 tackles on the year with one interception. Overall, Ellick and Jackson are major contributors to a pass defense that has only help its opposition under 200 yards through the air in two games this season (one of which was Navy). They've given up over 300 yards on three separate occasions, including 413 to Kyle Orton and Purdue. Both cornerbacks stand under six feet tall and the Trojan receivers should have their way with one-on-one coverage.
Safeties – #8 Quentin Burrell, #9 Tom Zbikowski
Quentin Burrell and Tom Zbikowski have been constant playmakers for the Irish this season. They rank three and four on the team in tackles, with 65 and 58, respectively. Zbikowski is still a budding talent for the Irish defense. Only a sophomore, he can make plays all over the field. He has one interception this season but the play most will remember is his play against Michigan State where, in one motion, he stole the ball from a running back, spun away from him and returned it for a touchdown. Burrell and Zbikowski will be tested by the Trojan running backs and tight ends all day Saturday.
Irish on Special Teams
Kicker/Punter – #19 D.J. Fitzpatrick
D.J. Fitzpatrick handles both kicking and punting duties for the Irish. He's been very consistent this year, connecting on 30 of 31 extra points and ten of 13 field goals. He's averaging 42.3 yards per punt with a long of 67. Keeping the ball away from Reggie Bush will be constantly on his mind.
With the national spotlight of Gameday shining brightly on the Coliseum for the second time this year, the Trojans will have to prove once again that they deserve their number one ranking. After a week off, the Trojans should come into this meeting rested and ready. They've beaten the Irish by 31 points in each of the last two meetings and will look to make it three straight on Saturday. The Trojans have had so much to be thankful for this season; it'd be a shame to waste it with a post-Thanksgiving letdown.
Erik McKinney is a senior majoring in creative writing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org