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Irish flex offensive muscle at Pitt

Matt Puglisi | Monday, September 5, 2005

PITTSBURGH – An offensive outburst that saw Notre Dame find the end zone on six of its first seven drives en route to a 42-21 thumping of Pittsburgh Saturday shocked many people.

Irish running back Darius Walker wasn’t one of them.

“I think we worked towards that [performance].” Walker said. “A lot of the offense is returning. The chemistry is up, we gel, we know how each other plays, so moving the ball was something kind of simple for us.”

Along with quarterback Brady Quinn, Walker spearheaded an Irish attack that dissected the Panthers with surgical precision.

Punching holes in an inexperienced, injured Panthers defensive line, the Irish took advantage of the gross mismatch, using a veteran offensive line to open gaping holes for Walker, Travis Thomas and Rashon Powers-Neal.

The Irish finished the contest with four rushing touchdowns. Walker found the end zone on a two-yard run around left end, including a juke that nearly toppled cornerback Josh Lay, and Powers-Neal reached paydirt on runs of two, four and nine yards.

The three rushing scores matched Powers-Neal’s career total heading into the contest.

Mixing inside runs with screens and downfield passes, head coach Charlie Weis’ play calling and Quinn’s efficient passing kept the Panthers off-balance all night.

Weis’ genius showed through on the opening drive of the 2005 campaign when he called for rare back-to-back screens.

Walker slipped through the offensive line, caught a quick Quinn screen pass and scampered 51 yards down the right sideline to knot the game at 7-7.

“With the coverage that their team was playing, as I told all along, I was going to make adjustments based on who’s defense they were playing,” Weis said. “They were playing [Pittsburgh coach] Dave [Wannstedt’s] defense, and [his] defense is basically play four across. That screen was designed to go against a team playing four across, and fortunately we got a couple blocks and Darius made a nice run.”

In picking apart the Pittsburgh defense – Quinn completed 15 of his first 17 passes en route to 227 passing yards and a pair of touchdown passes – the only offensive bump in the road during the first half came on a Quinn interception four plays into the second Irish drive.

“That [interception], he got caught in that gray area where he was reading that corner, and that corner kind of middled him, and he got caught in between on whether he should throw the ball short for the first down or deeper,” Weis said. “I basically said, ‘You know it’s third-and-six, I mean let’s be a smart football player. It’s third-and-six, you had a guy standing at seven yards, why don’t we throw it to him?'”

Quinn refused to dwell on the interception, bouncing back to lead the Irish on a pair of back-to-back nine-play, 65-yard touchdown drives, before hitting receiver Jeff Samardzija for the third of four second-quarter Irish touchdowns.

Lining up with Powers-Neal and freshman Asaph Schwapp in the backfield and Samardzija wide left, Quinn faked a hand-off before finding a streaking Samardzija, who extended parallel to the ground to make the highlight film-caliber 19-yard touchdown reception.

For Samardzija, Quinn’s dominant performance was nothing new.

“Brady has been showing us a lot ever since this summer.” Samardzija said. “We see it every day, it’s just unfortunate that everyone doesn’t get to see that, obviously for different reasons, but Brady is a good football player. He’s got a good arm, a good head on his shoulders. The offense is just going to circle around him, and the team whole team too, and if he goes out and plays the way he did [Saturday], plenty of good things are going to happen.”

Quinn found seven different receivers on the night, hitting receivers Maurice Stovall, Rhema McKnight and Samardzija, two tight ends in Anthony Fasano and John Carlson, and tailbacks Walker and Powers-Neal.

With weapons at every position and Weis masterminding the attack, Pittsburgh may have only scratched the surface of Notre Dame’s offensive potential.