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Quinn shines; is the Holiday over?

Andrew Soukup | Monday, September 22, 2003

If there wasn’t a bona-fide quarterback controversy before Notre Dame lost 22-16 to Michigan State, there is now.

There is after Carlyle Holiday completed just 10-of-25 passes for 99 yards, including two interceptions (one of which was returned 40 yards by Greg Taplin for a touchdown), and got yanked not once, but twice.

There is after his backup, true freshman Brady Quinn, completed 7-of-17 passes for 103 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown pass to Rhema McKnight.

There is after Irish head coach issued his least definite defense of Holiday to date – “We’ll make that decision later in the week” and “No, I don’t” know who the starter is now – and offense coordinator Bill Diedrick said the pair would split reps equally in practice this week.

So what did Holiday have to say about T-shirts on campus that read, “The Holiday is over – Quinn to win”?

“That’s the first time I heard that,” he said, a smile tugging on the corners of his mouth. “That’s cool, though. I probably won’t wear one.”

But Holiday and the Irish coaches know the current state of the Irish quarterback position is no laughing matter. Diedrick, normally one of the most quotable Irish coaches, was uncharacteristically reserved after Saturday’s loss, saying he’d prefer not to comment on the nation’s 116th-ranked offense until he’d seen game tape.

“There’s a lot of thoughts I have right now,” the coach said, “and not a lot are pleasant.”

After all, Notre Dame’s offense hasn’t scored a touchdown in 10 of 12 quarters this season and struggled again to move the ball Saturday.

But the quarterback situation is in complete turmoil after the coaches shuffled Holiday and Quinn in and out of the game for different series Saturday. Holiday left the field in the first half to a cascade of boos from the stands, a move the coaches said they made because wanted Holiday to watch the game from the sidelines before he went back in the game.

So Holiday marched back onto the field at the start of the second half, and the Irish began to move the ball with some efficiency. But on Notre Dame’s first drive of the second half, a 12-play, 49-yard effort, ended in a Marcus Wilson fumble. Three drives later, with the Irish trailing 16-9, Holiday threw his second interception of the game and was benched.

Then Quinn came in and led the Irish on a nine-play, 85-yard drive that culminated in the freshman’s first collegiate touchdown pass.

After the game, Quinn defended Holiday and ripped the T-shirts touting the freshman as the starter, saying, “I don’t think a lot of people know what it feels like and how it all works. Only a quarterback knows what all goes on, and I think [the criticism] is really unfair.”

But Quinn also said that while he didn’t have Holiday’s game experience, he was confident he could start if the coaches wanted him to. And teammates – including Holiday – have been impressed with the freshman’s poise and early grasp of Diedrick’s complicated offense.

While the coaches remained relatively silent after the game, Diedrick praised Quinn while only saying Holiday “struggled.” Both Diedrick and Willingham refused to speculate on who would start Saturday at Purdue, insisting that a decision would be made after analyzing game film and seeing how the players performed in practice.

“The quarterback situation, that’s not a big concern to me,” Holiday said. “I think the main thing is losing the game. It hurt a lot. Just when you look over and see some of the players on the team and they’re crying, that’s what really hurts.

“It was a really painful game.”