Notre Dame Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Posted Aug 7, 2006

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Preview 2006 - Further Analysis

1st and Ten –“All you’ll ever be is a Heisman candidate after I’m done with you” – The story was oft repeated last year during the first year of the Charlie Weis regime - the head coach telling Brady Quinn that all he’ll ever be is a 50% passer last spring with his decision making.  How far has Quinn come since his coach threatened him with that edict?  Well, let’s just say that the Mighty Quinn turned himself into a 65% passer who threw for 32 touchdowns on only 7 interceptions.  Although he was probably due a trip to New York along with Reggie, Vince and Matt, it should make him hungry to replicate his 2005 performance as a senior.  If he can continue to build off of that success, he might put up the best single season as a QB in Notre Dame history…for the second year in a row.  Before Quinn’s performance last year, no QB in history had thrown for over 3,000 yards in a season.  He threw for over 3,900.  No one had ever thrown for over 20 touchdowns in a season.  He hit 32.  No one had ever thrown for more than 4 touchdowns in a game.  He threw for 5 against Michigan State and 6 against BYU.  Quite simply, Quinn had the greatest passing campaign of all-time at Notre Dame.  And, the man didn’t even get a sniff for the Heisman.  Regardless, he’s got to be one of the top three leading candidates to take home the Trophy, the first Irish Trophy since Tim Brown’s in 1987.  Weis’s arrival and consistent prodding/coaching forced Quinn to ditch trying to hit the home run on every ball, but what he also did was give him an intermediate ‘game’ that he could use at any time.  For example, in the Purdue game, Weis called a quarters-buster route out of a twins formation.  The outside receiver ran a post or clear out route, while the inside receiver ran a deep 20 yard out (the quarter playing CB has to respect the clear out route).  Quinn hit the out, underneath the deep ¼ playing CB, and WR Jeff Samardzija turned it into a huge play.  Ultimately, Quinn realized that he didn’t have to go deep to be effective (and he eventually was able to attack deep as well), and that the intermediate areas would be open consistently throughout a game.  That change, with another year under Weis, could be what precipitates the first 4,000 yard/40 TD season in Notre Dame history.

2nd and Seven – Hey, wait up – Two images epitomized the season for the Irish defense last year – one was the 4th and 9 (and if you have to ask which one that was, stop reading and go pick up your Us magazine) against USC and the other was watching Ted Ginn Jr. and Santonio Holmes run past anyone in a blue jersey in the Fiesta Bowl.  In both of those situations, the speed of the corners, or lack thereof in comparison to the Buckeye ‘jets’ and Dwayne Jarrett, was terribly apparent.  What most people fail to remember is that the corners had actually played decent for the most part up to that point in the USC game.  On the flip side, Ohio State found that chink in the armor early and then preyed on it the rest of the game.  So, the postgame rhetoric surrounded Notre Dame’s lack of speed in the secondary and how 2006 would be no different if that didn’t change.  Well, Ginn and Holmes ran past a lot of people, so it’s not as glaring as it first appeared.  However, the corners, Ambrose Wooden and Mike Richardson, are going to have teams attack them until the Irish duo can consistently stop them. 

3rd and Three – Rhema’s Return – Although Maurice Stovall stepped up into the #2 receiver spot last season, it’s somewhat hard to imagine that Brady Quinn had the season that he did without 2004 and 2003’s leading receiver Rhema McKnight.  The Shark – Samardzija – was Quinn’s go-to guy, but Stovall had a tremendous season opposite #83.  But, McKnight returns this year and should provide that #2 option, opposite the Shark, if he’s fully healthy.  Weis’s offenses have never had a superstar receiver in the fold, mostly because his QBs spread the wealth.  Consequently, that often makes the #2 receiver in this offense as valuable as the #1 guy.  That was evident with Stovall last year, and should be the same this upon Rhema’s return this year.

4th and One – DL on the DL – Safety Tom Zbikowski is arguably the heart and soul of the defense.  Defensive end Victor Abiamiri is the most athletically gifted of the defensive linemen.  But, one guy that often gets overshadowed by the aforementioned defensive duo, Derek Landri, defensive tackle, is an underrated menace in the middle.  He’s not a 300+ pound banger, but he does his work from guard to guard with quickness and technique.  After having played for Bob Ladouceur at fabled DeLaSalle High School, Landri knows how to use his lack of size, quickness and speed to his advantage.  He’s typically the first lineman off the ball and often can beat the double team with his quick feet.  Landri is a guy that most offensive linemen hate to see each and every Saturday, and by the end of the year, most people should be discussing him in the same breath as Zbikowski and Abiamiri.

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