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Quinn holds his own in first start

Pat Leonard | Monday, September 29, 2003

Brady Quinn could look back at his first career start and see positive statistics overshadowed by disappointing ones.

Twenty-nine completions – less impressive next to the 59 passing attempts it took to get them. An 85-yard touchdown toss negated by four interceptions. Fifteen hits. Fourteen knockdowns.

Truth be told, Quinn did not perform the way he wanted to as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback in a 23-10 loss to Purdue.

Still, Quinn got the call on Saturday, and he answered it. The Irish did not win. They scored just one touchdown. But while Quinn made a few of the expected rookie mistakes, the true freshman dropping back in the pocket often appeared older than his years.

Quinn actually got the call Friday, according to coach Tyrone Willingham. The coach made the decision to start Quinn after watching the freshman split snaps in practice with former starter Carlyle Holiday.

“We decided he positioned the team best to win the football game,” Willingham said. “The quarterback position gives the team a great amount of leadership. I think that is part of the reason we chose him, and I think this young man can get things done.”

Both Willingham and offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick liked glimpses of what they saw out of Quinn against the Boilermakers.

And they saw a lot of him. Quinn was virtually the entire Notre Dame offense. He finished with a game-high 297 yards passing and a team-high 28 yards rushing on eight carries. The much-hyped Irish running game of Ryan Grant and Julius Jones was non-existent. Quinn was forced to throw out of four and five-wide receiver sets. He was flushed out of the pocket at times, but the freshman often held his ground and made his reads.

“Purdue has a very good defense, and he was able to maintain his poise in situations,” Holiday said. “I was very impressed with him.”

Quinn remained in the pocket and played like a West coast quarterback, throwing short and midrange passes to a slew of receivers – nine to be exact.

On two of his four interceptions, Quinn was hit as he released the ball, and these were just a couple of the times he had to deal with pressure during the long game. The other two, he admits, he would like to have back.

“They were definitely my fault,” Quinn said. “The defense had some great plays in some circumstances, but one [interception] was a bad read and another slipped out of my hand.”

Still, Quinn’s interceptions happened when the quarterback was trying to make plays. Later in the second quarter, one of those plays went Quinn’s way.

Approaching the line of scrimmage on 3rd and 15 deep in Irish territory, Quinn recognized a blitz.

“It was a blitz on the backside,” he said. “They brought both the low linebacker and the free safety. It was wide open.”

Wide receiver Maurice Stovall adjusted and ran a short slant. Quinn rifled the ball into the chest of Stovall’s 6-foot-5, 221-pound frame, and the receiver sprinted 85 yards for the touchdown.

“Brady did very well,” Stovall said. “He saw some playing time the last couple of games, and he came in here today. He looks like a pretty good quarterback.”

Stovall may be downplaying his excitement over Quinn, who found the sophomore receiver nine times for 171 yards and a touchdown over the course of the day.

Still, the Irish wanted a win, and due to the fault of whomever and whatever, they did not get it. As ineffective as the running game was Saturday, amassing 59 total yards on 25 carries, Quinn accepted responsibility for the offense’s mistakes.

“I feel like it’s my job to move the ball,” Quinn said. “If we’re not running the ball that particular day, I feel like I have to pick it up. I need to step up and do better.”

The last time the Irish started a freshman, Matt LoVecchio got the call against Stanford on Oct. 7, 2000. Quinn and Florida’s Chris Leak were the third and fourth freshmen this season to start for their respective teams.

Starting his first career game in an opposing team’s stadium for a struggling Notre Dame squad, Quinn had a lot on his shoulders.

“It’s a difficult situation for a young quarterback to be in,” Willingham admitted. “I think he did very well.”

Now, Quinn has two weeks to review game tape and correct mistakes before the Irish travel to face a fierce Pittsburgh Panthers squad – that is, if he starts.

And what did he learn?

“A lot of things,” he said. “Probably too many to even pinpoint right now.”

But an eagerness to improve and poise in the pocket is not a bad start.