Rambling thoughts from the holler on yesterday's game...
40 points to freedom. In three years under Tyrone Willingham, Notre Dame topped 40 points just twice - against Rutgers in 2002 and against Stanford in 2003. Willingham's last squad failed to reach 40 points even once. Eight games into the Weis Age, the Irish have topped 40 five times - against Pitt, Michigan State, Purdue, BYU and Tennessee.
Gonna never have to die. Following the BYU game, I wrote about the ability of this year's version of the Irish to take a punch from the opposition, collect themselves, and take control of the game. We saw this yet again against Tennessee. After Tennessee tied the game at 21-21, the Irish offense found themselves in 3rd and 10 from their own 25. The best defensive line Notre Dame will face all year were free to focus exclusively on rushing the passer. Things did not look good for the Irish. Yet Quinn calmly hit a crossing Jeff Samardzija in stride, and 73 yards later the Irish had a 1st and goal from the Tennessee 2-yard-line. At this point, few can deny how thoroughly Weis's confidence and swagger have permeated the team, as he promised they would in his first press conference. For further evidence of the team embracing Weis's "hard-working, intelligent, nasty" attitude, look no further than the words of Ambrose Wooden in today's South Bend Tribune:
As did Wooden's courage to play with a banged-up hip.This season has provided Irish fans with no shortage of choice quotes, but Wooden may just have uttered my favorite.
"That's one thing coach Weis brought is a sense of toughness," Wooden said. "If you get hurt, you go on that sideline and you look at him, you get that feeling, 'You know I'm fine. I can go out and do anything.' He's my inspiration. He's what keeps me going.
"It starts with the seniors and the coaches and trickles down. There's a sense of toughness. You never give up."
You spin me round. With his fourth quarter touchdown reception, Jeff Samardzija grabbed sole possession of the Notre Dame single-seaon touchdown receptions record. Samardzija's twelfth touchdown of the season placed him one ahead of Derrick Mayes' previous record of eleven with four games still to play. Samardzija also extended his school-record streak of consecutive games with a touchdown reception to eight - every game this season. His 73-yard reception in the third quarter bested his previous long by 18 yards. Maurice Stovall moved into fifth place on the Notre Dame career touchdown receptions list when he caught his thirteenth career TD in the first quarter. With four games remaining, he may pass Ken MacAfee (15) and Jim Seymour (16). (Derrick Mayes is first with 22, while Tom Gatewood is second with 19).
Bloc party. The downfield blocking yesterday was a thing of beauty. Or at least it appeared to be in those rare instances where NBC deigned to provide a replay of a critical block, or even give us a wide-angle shot where viewers could look for it on their own. Fasano's touchdown began with a fantastic Darius Walker block that sent a blitzing Volunteer flying. This gave Quinn the time to find Fasano, whose route to the endzone was cleared by a Stovall block. Similarly, on Samardzija's "surprisingly fast" 73-yard gallop, Stovall delivered a crushing block at the 50 that sprung Samardzija. If only NBC realized how many of their viewers appreciate these aspects of the game. I guess the royalties on the Yngwie Malmsteen riff really eat into the production budget.
Cover me. The defensive backfield continued to display improvement at playing the ball in the air. Ambrose Wooden had a key interception and Chinedum Ndukwe had a nice deflection of an Ainge pass in the fourth quarter. Leo Ferrine appeared to have solid coverage in his opportunities. Additionally, if you have an ESPN Insider account, be sure to check out Joe Schad's piece on Zbikowski's interception. Since the article is premium content, we can't reproduce Zbikowski's quotes. However, if you thought it looked like Zbikowski was sitting on that route, it's because he was, as he had been instructed to do.
Gallows Pole. After putting the final nail in BYU's coffin with his interception return last game, Zbikowski once again killed the opponent's hope. We could try and recount Zbikowski's accomplishments ourselves, but given their number, we might lose track. Instead, we'll just rely on UND.com's notes:
Junior safety Tom Zbikowski has posted at least one touchdown return in Notre Dame's last three games played. He returned a punt 60 yards against USC, an interception 83 yards against BYU, a punt 78 yards and an interception 33 yards today (63.5 yards per play). Zbikowski becomes the first Notre Dame defensive player to post four touchdown returns in a span of three games.November reign. In the last 20 years, Tennessee has a record of 75-6 in the month of November. However, half of those losses have come against Notre Dame. A couple more examples of Notre Dame accomplishing what Tennessee's other opponents could not: In their first seven games, the Volunteers surrendered a total of three passing touchdowns. Notre Dame equaled that number in one game. In their first seven games, Tennessee had not allowed more than 27 points. The two teams that had scored 27 - Georgia and LSU - are both ranked in the top ten. Notre Dame, of course, notched 41.
Zbikowski joins UCLA's Maurice Drew (three) and Wisconsin's Brandon Williams (two) as the only players in the nation to have multiple punt returns for a touchdown this season (entering today's action).
Zbikowski also becomes the first Notre Dame player to return a punt for a touchdown twice in a season since Allen Rossum (1994-97) accomplished that feat three times in 1996. Rossum returned a punt 57 yards against Air Force, then returned two against Pittsburgh (55 and 83 yards).
Zbikowski piled up 118 punt return yards this afternoon, becoming the first Notre Dame player to post 100-plus punt return yards since Carlyle Holiday had 103 against Pittsburgh last season.
Zbikowski's sack in the second quarter (for a loss of 10) was the first of his career.
Mahalo. Tennessee defensive tackle (and preseason All-American) Jesse Mahelona offered this analysis after the game:
"I'd say Quinn is probably playing better than any quarterback in the nation right now."I wouldn't tell him he's wrong.