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Irish Insider: Escape from the Jackets’ nest

Mike Gilloon | Monday, September 4, 2006

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ATLANTA – Brady Quinn didn’t want to waste any more time getting out of Atlanta.

The Notre Dame quarterback bulled over Georgia Tech’s 46 yard line with just over a minute remaining Saturday night for the game-icing fourth-and-one conversion as the Irish held off Georgia Tech for a 14-10 win.

“We only had half a yard to go,” said Irish coach Charlie Weis, when asked why he decided to go for it on fourth down. “I wanted the players to know you have confidence in them to get a half a yard when the game is on the line.”

The play was a fitting ending to a contest in which the Irish held Tech to just one touchdown, but never broke away from the pesky Yellow Jackets.

In fact, it was the oft-criticized defense that Weis credited for enabling No. 2 Notre Dame (1-0) to escape Bobby Dodd Stadium with a victory.

“I’ve challenged the defense every day,” Weis said. “[The defense is] the reason why we won the game.”

The Irish shutout Tech (0-1) in the second half and held Tech All-America receiver Calvin Johnson to one touchdown reception, while only three other Yellow Jackets caught passes.

In his first career start at linebacker, part-time running back Travis Thomas tallied four tackles – two of them for a loss – and Maurice Crum forced a crucial punt when he sacked Tech quarterback Reggie Ball for a 14-yard-loss on third-and-long with just over six minutes left in the game.

The Yellow Jackets never got the ball back.

Thomas and Darius Walker – who finished with 99 yards on 22 carries – pounded out seven carries before Quinn’s sneak sealed the win.

Quinn finished 23-for-38 for 246 yards and no touchdown passes on a night when he accomplished more with his feet – scoring Notre Dame’s first touchdown of the season on a quarterback draw just before halftime.

The senior signal caller took the snap at Georgia Tech’s five yard line with the Irish down by 10 and 11 seconds remaining in the half and hustled up the middle into the end zone.

It was the only touchdown he would tally on the night, with the other Irish score courtesy of Walker, who scampered 13 yards off left tackle midway through the third quarter to put Notre Dame ahead for good.

Many of Notre Dame’s problems were self-created, but Weis didn’t leave without giving Georgia Tech credit.

“We expected this … [the Yellow Jackets] didn’t surprise me with what they did,” he said. “We didn’t have our best showing, but I’m happy with the outcome of this game.”

“We knew it was going to be a dog fight going in,” Quinn added.

Several Notre Dame miscues – including 11 penalties and two missed field goals – kept the Yellow Jackets around longer than the approximately 15,000 Irish fans who got into the game would have preferred.

The Irish racked up 20 penalty yards in the first four minutes of the game – two false starts and a holding penalty on receiver Rhema McKnight that nullified a 22-yard reception by Jeff Samardzija from Quinn.

Tech quarterback Reggie Ball – known more for his running than his passing – actually had more yards through the air at halftime than Quinn. But the Irish secondary held him to just four completions for 23 yards after the break.

The Yellow Jackets stung the Irish early when All-America receiver Calvin Johnson leapt over Notre Dame cornerback Mike Richardson for a 4-yard touchdown reception. The gold-clad crowd of 56,680 – fired up after a pre-game fighter-jet flyover – roared, and a 30-yard Travis Bell field goal with 4:45 left in the first half gave the Yellow Jackets a 10-0 lead and hope for an upset.

But the second half didn’t turn out like the first for Tech.

“Everything that [Notre Dame] did on defense was the same that we practiced for,” said Tech running back Tashard Choice, who carried 14 times for 54 yards. “They just made the plays.”