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Shelton, Samardzija come to play

Anne Loughery | Monday, September 20, 2004

EAST LANSING, Mich. – They used to be Notre Dame’s best-kept secrets.

Wide receivers Matt Shelton and Jeff Samardzija have always been reliable players capable of moving the ball down the field. They were the ones making significant but subtle plays on the field.

But their talent isn’t a secret anymore.

In Saturday’s 31-24 victory over Michigan State, the two proved they were legitimate threats to opposing defenses.

Shelton cruised into the end zone after catching a 35-yard pass from quarterback Brady Quinn. The senior also caught a career-high three passes, good for a career-high 123 yards.

He has become the official deep threat on a team that was lacking one.

“Given the opportunity, I think I can just go out there and do it,” Shelton said. “Brady’s putting the ball in places where I can make a play. And I’m coming up with the play.”

Give him the ball, and he’s just about unstoppable.

Shelton evaded the Spartan secondary to catch a 53-yard pass from Quinn – the longest pass of the game – for a first down in the second quarter. When asked about his ability to make the big plays, Shelton shrugged his shoulders, saying that he is thankful for opportunities to help the team.

“God blessed me with some speed and hands to catch the ball every once in a while, and I do what I can,” Shelton said.

While Shelton struck early with two of his catches in the first half, Samardzija sparked the offense late in the game, catching all four of his passes for 65 yards in the fourth quarter.

Quinn scanned the field, searching for the open Samardzija on several occasions, especially on third down. He found Samardzija three times to convert on third-and-long, extending the Irish drive each time. Samardzija says he thrives on these down-to-the-wire situations.

“I like being in that situation when the pressure is on, and if anybody’s going to make a catch, it’s going to be me,” Samardzija said. “If they’re going to want to put me out there on 3-and-5 or 3-and-6, that’s great. That’s just what I need to do for the team.”

In just the fourth quarter, Samardzija was able to break loose from the Michigan State defense, hauling in a 31-yard reception on third-and-four, putting the Irish in field goal range.

“It’s very exciting to know that at any time, you can be the one getting a chance to make the play,” Samardzija said. “When you see Brady open up like that [and make long passes], you only get big eyes and get excited knowing that you’re going to make a play.”

Even after such a successful weekend at Michigan State, both Shelton and Samardzija have already set their sights on the Washington game. Shelton said that, while individual efforts are important, the team as a whole must focus on execution.

“Execution is the biggest thing we’ve been working on,” Shelton said. “During BYU week, we didn’t execute like we know we can and we should. The past two weeks, we’ve done much better, but we still haven’t executed like we know we can.”

And going into next week, Shelton said he will be ready for whatever comes his way.

“I’ll take any plays I can get,” he said.