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Stovall finally showing potential

Kate Gales | Monday, September 19, 2005

A loss always leaves a bad taste. But when individuals across the board have career performances, a loss is even harder to swallow.

Maurice Stovall found himself in this situation Saturday as the senior receiver caught eight passes for 176 yards and a touchdown in a draining defeat to Michigan State.

“It gets swept away real bad,” Stovall said of his satisfaction with his career performance. “It doesn’t really matter if I had a big game or not, if we came out with a loss … I don’t really think that individual statistics stand out when you have a loss.”

Stovall posted nine receptions for 171 yards against Purdue in 2003 in his previous best game.

Wide receiver Rhema McKnight stood on the sidelines Saturday in no pads with a leg injury, so the remaining Irish receivers were forced to step up as the running game struggled.

“We knew Rhema wasn’t going to play all week,” Stovall said. “At the beginning of the week I said, and we said as a team, ‘We have receivers on the depth chart that can step up and make plays’ … Whether Rhema was here or not, we didn’t use that as a factor.”

The offensive scheme against the Spartans called for receivers to make plays downfield and stretch the Michigan State defense. Quarterback Brady Quinn anticipated Stovall’s touches to increase significantly going into the game.

“We tried to get him the ball,” Quinn said. “Our offense had some big plays and, it was one of the things we wanted to do was get him involved in the game in a big way.”

Stovall was a favorite target for Quinn all afternoon, and his eight catches led the team.

Standing at 6-foot-5 with a proven leaping ability, Stovall is able to exploit smaller defensive backs, especially in one-on-one matchups. Unfortunately for the Irish, the aggressive receiver was called for pass interference that nullified a deep reception with the scored tied at 17 with 3:30 remaining in the first half. The Irish were forced to punt two plays later.

“It was a lot of physical hand fighting on the deep ball,” Stovall said. “I guess I did push off if the ref said that. [But] it was a big factor. It kind of made a big change in the game.”

Stovall was a highly-touted recruit coming out of Archbishop Carroll High School in Philadelphia, Pa. four years ago.

Before this season, he had made 11 starts. His first career start was also a home-opener that went to overtime, a three-catch, 24 yard performance against Washington State in 2003.

He was expected to be a main target of the Irish offense going into his junior season in 2004. But he only managed 313 yards on 21 catches, including one touchdown.

Even through the first two games of 2005, Stovall only had four catches for 44 yards and no touchdowns.

But he showed against the Spartans he has the ability to be one of the top players in a deep receiving unit. Jeff Samardzija had three touchdowns against the Spartans, and Matt Shelton is a proven downfield threat. But with McKnight’s status questionable, Stovall will need to maintain his high level of play.

Now, he looks forward to next week against Washington and getting a win along with his catches.

“I think it’s mostly leading by example, approaching the week as if we won,” he said. “[We’re] putting it behind us, focusing on Washington and not getting down about ourselves.”