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Irish Insider: Quinn has very nice bad game

Ken Fowler | Monday, September 4, 2006

ATLANTA – Notre Dame’s Heisman Trophy candidate didn’t make a great case for himself most of the day Saturday. Luckily for the Irish, even on his off nights, he’s still good enough to get the job done.

“We’re in no way pleased with our performance, especially myself,” quarterback Brady Quinn said after Notre Dame’s 14-10 win. “I felt like this game could have been a lot more wide open if I would have fulfilled my job better.”

Without throwing a touchdown, Quinn pulled himself together when it mattered most – like only the savvy veterans do.

As he marched the Irish downfield in the final 4:45 of the first half, the senior looked like the quarterback who directed a 21-point comeback against Michigan State a year ago.

Quinn’s performance was reminiscent of the Michigan State game in a lot of ways – except for one. A year older and a season smarter, Quinn didn’t put balls in bad places that could lead to turnovers or touchdowns.

He threw 38 passes. Only one was tipped.

Quinn didn’t fumble a single time, and the offensive captain scored a touchdown on a quarterback draw with 11 seconds left in the first half.

“He got the look that we were counting on,” Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said.

He always does.

Even if the showing was good enough to win the game, it won’t be good enough to win the Heisman Trophy – or Quinn’s own approval.

“We’ve been practicing for a while so there’s no excuse to make for [my performance],” Quinn said. “So I’ve got a lot of work to do on my own this week. We’re not even thinking about Penn State yet.”

Weis said he will dole out constructive criticism in heavy doses over the next few days.

That’s just what Irish fans want to hear – no matter how good Quinn is, there’s always room for improvement.

That statement is true, and it’s how Notre Dame will win ballgames. But the body of work he needs to improve upon is a testament to just how good Brady Quinn is.

He started the game completing most of his passes, but the majority were high-percentage quick outs behind the line of scrimmage that led to short gains.

“[Georgia Tech’s blitzes were] causing check-offs due to pressure,” Weis said. “Some of the [plays] worked, some of them didn’t.”

Late in the second quarter, his longest completion to a wide receiver was a 9-yard hookup with Rhema McKnight. He had just two completions of more than 10 yards – both dump-offs to tight end John Carlson.

So as Tech continued to key on the side passes, Weis adjusted and called several no-check plays to force Tech to honor the run. That worked, and Quinn improved as the game wore on.

Basically, it comes down to this: in big spots, Quinn delivers.

Darius Walker converted on a brilliant scamper to the left pylon that propelled Notre Dame to a 14-10 lead, and Quinn had the responsibility to save the win.

He did.

He directed an eight-play, 62-yard drive in the team’s first series after taking the lead. The series only stalled when Rhema McKnight dropped a ball that hit his number a tad too hard and Carl Gioia missed a short field goal.

In Notre Dame’s next – and penultimate – possession, Quinn hit Jeff Samardzija deep on the right sideline after Notre Dame started the series in its own red zone. The throw fell just over Samardzija’s left shoulder – where only one 6-foot-5 man could catch it.

It was the best throw of the night by a quarterback who has made many better throws. But he managed the game like a Heisman Trophy hopeful should, even if he missed open receivers more often than the winners usually do.

It wasn’t a great performance, or even a good one by Quinn’s own judgment.

But Irish fans should take solace in the fact that their team’s signal-caller can play “poorly” and yet complete 23-of-38 passes for 246 yards while also rushing for a touchdown and allowing no turnovers.

High standards certainly are nice.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Ken Fowler at kfowler1@nd.edu