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Quinn-essential weekend

Andrew Soukup | Monday, April 26, 2004

Brady Quinn dropped back from center, fired a pass and suddenly found himself lying flat on his back – the victim of a shove from a defender who had temporarily violated the no-hitting-the-quarterback rule.On the sidelines, Tyrone Willingham figuratively covered his eyes.”The only thing I prayed for and winced about every time somebody got hit or moved was that they get up and move about at the end of the day,” the Irish coach wryly said. “That was the biggest thing you were concerned about.Willingham ended the day relieved, because none of his players got injured. Quinn ended the day as the Offensive MVP, having thrown for 263 yards and one touchdown on 17-of-22 passing. And the Blue team, composed mainly of first-stringers, ended the day victorious, having soundly walloped the Gold team 35-7 Saturday in Notre Dame’s final spring practice performance.In a departure from normal Blue-Gold game routine, the Irish coaches kept most of the first-team players together – a move Willingham said came because injuries prevented that unit from practicing significantly during earlier spring practices.That suited Quinn fine. Although he lit up a defensive secondary that, due to injuries, was heavily composed of third-string defensive backs, Quinn looked far different from the freshman quarterback who showed flashes of greatness in his rookie season despite throwing more interceptions than touchdowns.”It was a year of learning, growing and sometimes painful learning,” Irish offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said. “Sometimes you learn best with the mistakes you make. You have an opportunity in the offseason to assess what you did right, what you did wrong, and what you can do to work on the things you did wrong and get better at that.”That’s what Quinn – and the rest of the Irish offense – appears to have done. Coaches praised the leadership he demonstrated by working with the receiver corps over the winter, and Willingham said that the soon-to-be sophomore quarterback’s performance Saturday was indicative of how he improved the entire spring.The Irish quarterback efficiently spread the ball around, completing passes to eight different receivers. He also looked confident in the pocket, rapidly progressed through his reads and showed solid decision-making when it came to knowing when to throw a pass.His most impressive drive of the day came on the Blue team’s final possession of the first half, when Quinn led the Irish on a 98-yard touchdown drive that culminated in a four-yard Rashon-Powers Neal touchdown run with 19 seconds left in the half. In that drive, Quinn completed all four of his passes for 60 yards.Quinn’s lone touchdown pass came on a short pass to Powers-Neal, who made a nifty move to elude a defender and scampered 59 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter. The Irish quarterback may have had two more completions had Maurice Stovall not dropped two passes.”There wasn’t any mistakes in terms of not being on the same page or missing blocking assignments,” Quinn said. “I think our team did a good job meshing well and taking away from a good opportunity.”Meanwhile, Ryan Grant carried the ball three times for 30 yards. But he scored two touchdowns, including a 16-yard run in the first half when he made a spectacular cut to break into the open field and score.The Gold team’s lone touchdown came when Jeff Samardzija caught a 24-yard pass from Pat Dillingham near the sideline, spun away from Dwight Ellick and scampered into the end zone untouched.The defensive MVP was Blue safety Tom Zbikowski, who picked off Dillingham on the final play of the first half and would have added another interception if the Blue team was penalized for being offsides.”Everyone did a great job today,” Quinn said. “You get a lot of confidence from this, and that’s something this team needs to get its swagger back.”