Key Plays to 2005 Season: Part II

The second part of our series on key plays to the season saw the Irish rip off five straight wins before losing to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. The Irish showed exactly how explosive the offense could be in a number of these games, but they also sputtered at times as well. Still, it had been awhile since the Irish dominated the end of the regular season…something Notre Dame fans longed to see.

Brigham Young 49-23

Situation:
Notre Dame and BYU exchanged scores early, with BYU leading 10-7 after the first quarter. Notre Dame then went on a run to take a 28-10 lead after scoring a touchdown on their first possession of the second half. BYU responded by scoring two straight touchdowns to make it 23-28.

Key Play:
Not really one play, but five plays. That's all the plays it took for Notre Dame to score their next two touchdowns on drives of 68 and 54 yards. Quinn was four-for-four with two touchdowns on these drives, completing passes of 25, 33, 35, and 37 yards. For those of you wondering, the fifth play of the series was a three-yard rushing loss by Travis Thomas. There was also a false start.

Follow up:
There would be no more offensive scores in this game, as only a Tom Zbikowski interception return for a touchdown would add to the final margin.

Minor play of the game:
After the two quick Irish scores, BYU was again on the march driving down into Irish territory on their ensuing possession as the game was just entering the forth quarter. On a fourth-and-four from the Irish 34, the defense held as a John Beck pass fell incomplete. On the next BYU possession, the Cougars again drove into Irish territory, this time inside the 20 before Zbikowski returned his interception for an 83 yard score.

Tennessee 41-21

Situation:
The Tennessee football program was in a tough spot. Ranked in the top five in most preseason polls, they now had three wins against four losses heading into South Bend, along with a quarterback controversy, significant running back injuries, and a demotion of the offensive coordinator the week prior. This was a very talented team in turmoil. Many believed that if the Irish could take a lead with a few early scores, Tennessee might simply roll over for the rest of the game. This is not what happened. Notre Dame did get out to an early lead, 21-3 after Zbikowski returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown midway through the second quarter. Before the end of the third quarter, however, Tennessee had fought back to tie the game at 21 and had all the momentum. Tennessee had scored points on their last two possessions, and after scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions of the game, Notre Dame's next eight offensive possessions went: punt, punt, fumble, fumble, punt, punt, downs, punt…not exactly great productivity. After tying the score at 21, Tennessee kicked off and Notre Dame started from their 24 in desperate need of a drive that would put points on the board and stem the Tennessee momentum. However, the first two plays of the drive would be incomplete passes, setting up a crucial third-and-ten for the Irish.

Key Play:
On this important third-and-ten, Quinn went back to pass and hit Jeff Samardzija on a crossing route. A great sealing block by Maurice Stovall enabled Jeff to turn up the field for a big gain. He eventually was hauled down at the Tennessee two-yard line, but not before gaining 74 yards.

Follow up:
The Irish would punch the ball in for a Touchdown and end up scoring 20 unanswered points to end the game at the final 41-21 margin. Zbikowski would score again on an interception return with 3:35 left in the game.

Minor play of the game:
After the key play of the game the Irish had first-and-goal at the two. Scoring the touchdown was not as easy as it could have been. On first down Travis Thomas was dropped for a three-yard loss. On the next play, Quinn fumbled the ball, but fortunately Dan Stevenson recovered the ball. On third-and-goal, however, the Irish finally punched it in as Quinn threw a quick pass wide to Samardzija who out-muscled a defensive back for the score.

Navy 42-21

Situation:
This was a game that the Irish knew they should not lose. However, Navy is a solid team and runs a ball-control offense that can be hard to stop. Navy, however, would probably not be able to stop the Notre Dame offense many times. If the Irish could get a lead of a few scores and then avoid big mistakes, like turnovers, the game should be very manageable. This was especially important as in this game the Irish would get fewer possessions then normal. Navy's opening possession was a 16-play 68-yard drive for a touchdown taking 7:39 off the clock.

Key Play:
On Navy's second possession they were again driving and in Irish territory but got stopped on a forth-and-four attempt, giving Notre Dame an important stop in the low possession game.

Follow up:,br> Notre Dame would take the ball and score a touchdown to take the lead for good. On Navy's next offensive possession the offense was again driving into Notre Dame territory but lost the ball on a bad pitch, and Notre Dame turned the turnover into another seven points. That gave Notre Dame the cushion they needed to comfortably control the rest of the game.

Minor play of the game:
After the game Charlie Weis took the entire team over to the Navy sideline to take part in the Navy post game tradition of standing at attention as the Navy band played ‘Navy Blue and Gold,' their alma mater. This was yet another touching moment in the first year of Coach Charlie Weis, showing that he is a great person, in addition to being a great coach. It is also worth noting that without the ball control offense exhibited by both teams that caused the game to end so early, NBC would not have stayed with the cameras on the field, and millions would have been denied seeing this great, and unfortunately rare, show of unabashed patriotism and sportsmanship.

Syracuse 34-10

Situation:
On their first three possessions, Notre Dame had zero points and two missed field goals. Early in the second quarter and trailing by three to a Syracuse team with only one win the entire season, most Irish fans were still confident in the outcome of the game, but were disturbed by the slow start.

Key Play:
Not a play at all: early in the second quarter Coach Weis called his offense to the sidelines and the players braced for the verbal lashing they assumed would be forthcoming. However, Weis simply told them to ‘Relax, just gain your composure.'

Follow up:
Five offensive plays later, the Irish offense had scored two touchdowns. People often make a big deal about Charlie Weis' tough, Jersey guy attitude. Even more important, however, is that he knows when to turn it off if necessary.

Minor play of the game:
While attempting to run the clock out at the end of games, Weis has stated that he will not throw a pass unless he needs to get a first down to keep the clock rolling. So at the end to the game on Senior Day, senior walk-on quarterback Marty Mooney got into the game for what looked like a lot of hand-offs. However, with a third-and-seven he was allowed to attempt a pass and completed it to another senior walk on Michael O'Hara for a gain of 16 yards. Weis called this his favorite play of the game. Another fun side note from this game was this line from the AP game summary: ‘The West Coast offense that Syracuse ran was reminiscent of the offense the Irish ran the past three seasons: ineffective and riddled with mistakes.' Ouch.

Stanford 38-31

Situation:
Stanford had just scored to take their first lead of the game at 31-30 with 1:50 left in the game. Brady Quinn and the Irish offense faced a classic two minute drill scenario, with the Irish not wanting to take a chance on kicking a field goal. The kickoff goes for a touchback.

Key Play:
On the first play of the drive Quinn hit Jeff Samardzija across the middle for a 30-yard gain. This was not a play that scored any points, but it showed that the Irish would be able to handle the pressure of a drive for BCS eligibility. At this point many Irish fans started to worry about scoring too quickly.

Follow up:
It took 46 seconds for Notre Dame to score a touchdown and convert for two points. In fact, the Irish probably did score too quickly, leaving Stanford 50 seconds (more time than Notre Dame needed) to respond. However, worry was unnecessary, as Derek Landri and Victor Abiamiri were too much for the Stanford offensive line, even in a three-man rush, and Abiamiri came up with a sack on forth down to seal the game.

Minor play of the game:
After a 76-yard pass completion late in the forth quarter, Stanford had first-and-goal at the four-yard line with 1:59 left in the game. Despite color man Dan Fouts' protests, Charlie Weis correctly decided to use his timeouts while on defense. This ensured that if Stanford scored, Notre Dame would have as much time as possible to respond. The strategy paid off as Stanford scored on second down and left Notre Dame with 1:46 to score. Plenty of time.

Ohio State 20-34

Situation:
With a little over five minutes left in the game, Notre Dame scored a touchdown to draw within one score of Ohio State. Although the Buckeyes had outplayed the Irish for most of the game, momentum was starting to shift toward the Irish, as Notre Dame had scored touchdowns on long drives on two of their last three possessions, and the defense had kept Ohio State out of the end zone in the second half. The Irish kicked off with 5:22 left in the game needing a defensive stop to get the ball back.

Key Play:
Two plays, actually. On the first set of downs, Ohio State was backed into third-and-nine, but quarterback Troy Smith scrambled to the right and passed for the first. On the next set of downs, a Landri sack forced a third-and-eleven. On almost the same play as the last third down, Smith rolled right, and passed for the first.

Follow up:
While running out the clock on the next play, running back Antonio Pittman broke free for a 60-yard touchdown, adding insult to injury, and causing people nationwide that did not watch to game to look at the score and comment on how Notre Dame got ‘killed.'

Minor play of the game:
Ignoring instant replays reversals, which are not really plays, the minor play of the game occurred with just a few minutes left in the first quarter and the scored tied 7-7, Troy Smith fumbled giving Notre Dame the ball at the Buckeye 15. After gaining eight yards on first down, Notre Dame gained only one yard on second and third down, setting up a forth-and-one. Weis chose to go for the first, but Quinn was sacked. The Buckeyes would dominate the rest of the first half.

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