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Passing game helps Irish offense soar

Justin Schuver | Monday, September 27, 2004

“Who are these guys?”That had to be the primary question going through the minds of the crowd of 80,795 at Notre Dame Stadium Saturday after watching Brady Quinn make his third touchdown pass of the first quarter – hitting tight end Anthony Fasano in the end zone as the time ran down on a first quarter that saw the Irish put up 147 yards passing.After Wash-ington’s first two games against Fresno State and UCLA – when the Huskies rushing defense gave up approximately the same amount of yards as was in their plane trip from Seattle to South Bend – nearly everyone in Notre Dame nation was expecting Darius Walker to have two rushing touchdowns by the time NBC ran its first TV timeout.It was mesmerizing then, how Walker could be held to just 14 yards on eight carries and a disappointing 1.8 average yards per carry in that same first quarter Saturday.On the other hand, after giving up 322 yards to UCLA’s Maurice Drew just one week earlier, the Huskies probably weren’t in the mood to watch a potential Drew II in Walker. Washington almost seemed to be daring the Irish to put the ball in the air, snuffing out nearly any play Notre Dame tried to run in its rushing attack.After all, Washington is a member of the Pac-10 – the same conference in which a member of Stanford’s band once tried to impede the progress of a California player – so it’s not too much of a surprise that the Huskies would put nearly their entire team (including five members of the Tuiasosopo family, at one point) in the box.”They did basically what we expected them to do,” Irish offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said. “So we basically knew we’d have to loosen their defense up a little and start throwing the ball a bit.”Quinn certainly helped loosen that defense, completing passes to seven different receivers, including even himself at one point. And even though the running game was being measured in inches, rather than yards, just the potential threat of the Irish rushing attack opened up holes in the Notre Dame passing game.On Quinn’s first touchdown pass to Matt Shelton, the sophomore quarterback ran a play-action fake and then threw in an additional pump fake to find Shelton wide open in the corner of the end zone.”If they think it’s a run and we can get that edge, it definitely helps,” Shelton said. “It’s a tremendous boost for a team to have people out there making plays and helping out the running game and doing their jobs.”For fans of a school built on the running game – Jerome Bettis was the “Bus,” not the “Plane” – the potency of the Irish aerial attack might have seemed especially surprising to the Notre Dame faithful. By the first half, Quinn had already tied the school record for most touchdowns thrown in a game by a Notre Dame quarterback.Yet, even the most jaded of Notre Dame subway alumni has to give credit to Tyrone Willingham and the rest of the Irish coaching staff. They showed Notre Dame is not a one-sided team on offense – a fact that could prove dividends further down the road this season.Perhaps the most terrifying thing to Notre Dame’s opponents is that the Irish feel their passing game can be even better.”I think we still have a lot more potential,” Quinn said about the team’s passing game. “I think we could have taken more advantage of things in the second half.”If Notre Dame can turn that potential into results, there’s no limit to how high this team can soar.The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Justin Schuver at jschuver@nd.edu.