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Samardzija thrives, plays some D

Heather VanHoegarden | Monday, September 26, 2005

One week after catching a career-high six passes for 96 yards, wide receiver Jeff Samardzija upped those numbers even more, catching eight balls for 164 yards and one touchdown in Notre Dame’s 36-17 win over Washington.

“It’s not so much the offense,” he said. “I’ve said this before. It’s just when anytime you can play the sport of football and just have confidence with the guys that you’re out on the field with.”

Samardzija’s touchdown was his sixth this season after coming into his junior year without a touchdown reception. He wasn’t even a starter at the beginning of the year, listed behind seniors Rhema McKnight and Maurice Stovall. But since McKnight was injured in the Irish’s 17-10 win at Michigan on Sept. 11, Samardzija has stepped into his starting role and excelled.

“He’s been the benefactor of plays called where he ends up being the guy,” Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. “We do not design plays that are going to one guy specifically. When we call a pass, it’s the quarterback’s job to get it to the right guy. It’s a combination of progression and coverage, and he’s been the benefactor. It’s just that he’s been it more than once this year.”

Weis eventually said the junior’s athleticism also helps him to make plays such as his 52-yard reception in the third quarter, the longest of his career.

“He has very good body control and he has very good hands and he’s very dependable,” Weis said. “[At the] beginning of the year, he wasn’t even starting in our two receiver sets. I think he’s stepping up and making the most of his opportunities.”

But on Saturday, Samardzija – also the holder on field goals and extra points – had problems with two snaps despite his career day at receiver. The first was a 42-yard field goal attempt with the game tied, 0-0, in the first quarter. The second was in the second quarter on an extra point.

“One was a bad snap, the other one just got behind me, but I should have got ahold of it,” he said. “It came down on my fingertips and just laid flat on me. I hustled a little too much; it was a P.A.T. I should have just took my time and put it on the ground for D.J. [Fitzpatrick].”

Samardzija also saw action at safety on Saturday for the first time in his career. He played free safety in high school, registering 40 tackles and three interceptions as a senior. Samardzija came into the game with seven seconds to play in the first half with Notre Dame up, 12-3.

Washington had the ball on the 50-yard line and quarterback Isaiah Stanback lofted the ball to Craig Chambers in the end zone, but Samardzija batted it down in the corner of the end zone to end the half.

“It just seems kind of obvious,” the 6-foot-5 Samardzija said of being put in that situation. “You know what they’re gonna do. They’re gonna run a bunch of guys down there and throw the ball up in the air, so why not put one of your taller players back there?”

On offense, where Samardzija has had the most success, he said the confidence present is key to his success this year.

“Maybe the offense is bringing that confidence, maybe it’s us guys, maybe it’s the coaches,” he said. “You can’t really pinpoint where it’s coming from. But when you’re out there playing with confidence and everyone’s just kind of feeding off each other, it’s just great whether you’re running the ball, throwing it or whatever.”