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Irish Update: Clean Living

Chris Hine | Saturday, October 21, 2006

Brady Quinn pumped once, rolled right, and threw to his favorite receiver. In that moment, Notre Dame once again showed its flair for the dramatic.

Quinn’s 45-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Samardzija with 27 seconds remaining lifted the Irish (6-1) to a 20-17 comeback victory over UCLA (4-3, 2-2 Pac 10) and kept Notre Dame’s slim national title hopes alive.

“I was about ready to throw when I saw a defender coming that way, so I kind of gave a pump and tried to move them around,” Quinn said. “I moved out of the pocket, and I found a window to Jeff, and he did the rest.”

Samardzija caught Quinn’s pass and evaded UCLA safety Dennis Keyes’ attempt to bring him down on the 20 yard-line on his way to the end zone.

“You can’t have any doubts [about staying on your feet] or else they’ll go down,” Samardzija said.

The touchdown capped a three-play, 80-yard drive for Notre Dame that began with 62 seconds remaining in the game and Notre Dame trailing 17-13 without any timeouts.

On first down from the UCLA 20, Quinn found Samardzija along the right sideline for a gain of 21 yards. The senior quarterback with nearly a half-dozen fourth-quarter comebacks in his career then found Irish sophomore David Grimes on the same side of the field for 14 more yards at the UCLA 45. A play later, the comeback was complete.

“Unfortunately for us, we had a chance to win it, we were there all the way to the final minute and didn’t find a way to finish,” UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said. That’s what it comes down to. Didn’t find a way to finish.”

But Notre Dame’s final drive wasn’t the first chance the Irish got at taking the lead.

With 3:49 remaining in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame had the ball on its own 28. After getting two first downs, the Irish faced a third-and-10 from the UCLA 44. Quinn hit Grimes along the sideline, but the receiver went out of bounds a yard short of the marker.

Irish coach Charlie Weis called a quarterback sneak – Notre Dame’s fifth fourth-down attempt of the day – but the Bruins defensive line stuffed Quinn a foot and a half short with 2:20 left in the game.

“Honestly, I thought I got far enough,” Quinn said. “I thought we had it, but apparently we didn’t.”

After the failed fourth down, Notre Dame called a timeout to stop the clock after the change of possession because of a recent NCAA rule chance. After runs by UCLA tailback Chris Markey gained a total of 3 yards on the first two plays of the series, Notre Dame used its last two timeouts with 2:09 remaining.

Facing third and seven, UCLA elected to run the ball again. Notre Dame’s defense held as Travis Thomas brought down Markey for a loss of two, setting up fourth down. After alternating delay of game and defensive holding penalties, Bruin punter Aaron Perez sailed a 59-yard punt into the end zone for a touchback with 1:02 remaining.

The Irish had their chance.

“We had to execute better today,” said Bruins running back Chris Markey, who rushed for 32 yards on 19 carries. “The game is 60 minutes long and we played for just over 59 minutes. And that’s not good enough.”

Notre Dame took an initial 7-0 lead on a two-yard touchdown pass from Quinn to Samardzija that finished off a seven-play, 44-yard drive. The key play of the series was when Quinn found tight end John Carlson for a 26-yard gain on a play-action pass on fourth-and-one from the Bruin 35.

“Sometimes you get right on the fringe – right on the fringe where you sit there and you tell your team and say, ‘Hey, fellas, we can go ahead and make this play,'” Weis said.

UCLA struck for their first points of the game early in the second quarter. Bruins wide receiver Marcus Everett’s hauled in a 54-yad touchdown reception from Cowan to tie the score at 7. On that drive, UCLA converted three third downs as they marched 87 yards on 10 plays to tie the score at seven.

The teams once again alternated possessions, and the Bruins front seven stifled Walker and pressured Quinn. Led by defensive ends Justin Hickman (three sacks) and Bruce Davis (two sacks), UCLA held Notre Dame to just 131 yards of total offense in the first half.

After Geoff Price’s wobbling 22-yard punt, UCLA took over with 8:19 in the half on the Irish 39.

Three plays later, Cowan found William Snead – a defensive end turned tight end – for his first career reception – and first touchdown. Snead broke tackle attempts by Irish defensive backs Chinedum Ndukwe and Ray Herring on his way to a 36-yard touchdown reception. The Bruins led 14-7 with 7:18 left in the half.

Notre Dame ate up the remaining time on their next possession, going 77 yards on 19 plays. The Irish converted two fourth downs on the drive to give them a first and goal on the five. Walker ran it to the four on first down, but Quinn fumbled the snap on second down resulting in a loss of two. Following timeouts by the Irish and the Bruins, Notre Dame lined up with five wide receivers on third-and-goal from the six. Quinn called and audible and tried to sneak it into the end zone, but was stopped short of the goal line by Kevin Brown. Carl Gioia drilled a 20-yard field goal, but Notre Dame entered the locker room trailing 14-10.

“I said, ‘Look, fellas, it’s 14 10, we haven’t played our best football,'” Weis said. “The offense, you’re kind of out there going through it, but you’re down four points.”

After the half, both teams went three-and-out on their first possession. Notre Dame was poised to score after Irish defensive tackle Trevor Laws recovered Cowan’s fumbled snap on the Bruin 29, but Gioia’s ensuing 48-yard field goal attempt went wide right and the score remained 14-10.

After holding the Bruins to another three-and out, Notre Dame drove the ball down inside the five, but Davis’s sack of Quinn on second and goal from the six forced third-and-long for the Irish. Quinn then overthrew Samardzija in the corner of the end zone and the Irish settled for a Gioia 33-yard field goal to cut the Bruin lead to one, 14-13, with 1:50 remaining in the third quarter.

Over the next 13 minutes, UCLA’s defense held Notre Dame to just 13 total yards in two offensive possessions. During that span, UCLA extended their lead to 17-13 on a 29-yard field goal by Medlock. The teams traded possessions until Samardzija’s touchdown with 27 seconds left.

Notre Dame began the game sluggish on offense and vulnerable on defense.

Instead of the UCLA offense trying to match Notre Dame score for score in the first half, it was the Irish trying to match the No. 9 ranked Bruin defense stop for stop.

On the second play of the game, Irish junior tailback Darius Walker fumbled – his first in 405 touches – and Bruin linebacker Aaron Whittington recovered on the Irish 38. Six plays later, UCLA kicker Justin Medlock came on for a 42-yard field goal. Medlock’s kick split the uprights, but UCLA had jumped the snap. Medlock’s 47-yard attempt after the penalty sailed wide right, a play that would loom large later in the game.