One chance. The final drive in yesterday's game was only the latest in a series of masterful 4th quarter drives produced by the Weis-Quinn combination. Since Weis arrived, Quinn has engineered a late touchdown drive in every game in which the Irish have been within a score in the final minutes - MSU '05 (down 38-31), USC '05 (down 28-24), Stanford '05 (down 31-30), and UCLA '06 (down 17-13). Quinn's numbers on these drives are staggering - 13/14 for 236 yards, with 2 passing TDs and 1 rushing TD.
Made you look. A frustrated UCLA fan took the time to take some screencaps of the final touchdown. These caps reveal Quinn's moxie, demonstrating his recognition of UCLA's defense and what it would take to clear UCLA defender Eric McNeal out of Samardzija's path. As you can see, the pump fake draws McNeal (#2) to the center of the field and Samardzija streaks right by him.
Time out. The final 2:20 of the game bore the unmistakeable stamp of Charlie Weis. That 2:20 saw the game management and confidence whose absence was so galling during the eight years in the desert. Even with the new clock rules calling for the clock to start on changes of possession, the Irish were able to force UCLA to give up the ball with over a minute left because they still had all their timeouts at that point in the game. Throughout the Weis era, the offensive play calls have gotten in very quickly. Consequently, Quinn does not have to waste timeouts because the offense can't get the play off in time. It wasn't simply luck that the Irish had all their timeouts at that point in the game. And although all the timeouts had been used by the time the Irish offense retook the field, the Irish offense came out with a confidence that belied the urgency of the situation. Opposing fanbases whine endlessly about Weis's arrogance, but it's that very attitude that instills confidence in his players in such situations.
Trying to find a balance. Though pigmentation inevitable leads to Samardzija being saddled with the "possession receiver" label, Samardzija's 45-yard game-winning touchdown was the fifth touchdown reception of 40-plus yards in his career. One of the reasons for that impressive number is that Samardzija is simply faster than many believe. Another reason is Samardzija's exceptional balance, balance that is truly incredible for someone with his lanky frame. Samardzija has repeatedly left smaller, supposedly more nimble, defenders stumbling to the ground while cutting upfield following a reception. The touchdown that left a confused heap of Purdue defenders on the sideline last year is another classic example.
The way we get bye. Heading into Saturday's game, I was eager to see if any personnel shakeups would emerge from the player evaluations that reportedly took place during the bye week. In particular, I was interested to see if any changes would be made to the offensive line. Against UCLA, the Irish employed the same lineup as in the first half of the season. This suggests that (barring injury) the same line will be used for the remainder of the season. Unfortunately, the line continued to have many of the problems that have plagued it all season long. On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame used a new trio of starting linebackers. After his promising performances filling in for the injured Travis Thomas, Joe Brockington retained a starting spot upon Thomas's return. The result was Notre Dame's most impressive performance against the run all season, holding UCLA to 26 yards on 28 attempts.
Prove yourself. While much of the game was frustrating to watch, a few Irish players impressed in their increased roles. Joe Brockington recorded a career-high 7 tackles. David Grimes quietly recorded a career-best 8 catches for 79 yards, including a 14-yard reception on the final drive. Terrail Lambert continued his improvement, grabbing his third interception of the season during the first half.