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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Irish Complete Sweep of Pentagon

posted by Mike Coffey
Green-shirted Notre Dame stumbled around for one quarter before scoring 34 points over the next 20 minutes on the way to a 41-9 rout of Army. The win boosted the Irish to 10-1 on the season and served as a fitting home farewell to a group of seniors that have earned a special place in the hearts of Notre Dame fans. Brady Quinn and Darius Walker led the offense while Derek Landri and Mike Richardson were the defensive stalwarts.

Notre Dame’s habit of scoring on its first possession came to an abrupt end when a holding penalty was followed by a rare Quinn interception. Jeff Samardzija was bumped off his route by an Army linebacker, and free safety Jordan Murray was the only player around when the ball arrived.

The Knights converted a 27-yard field goal for a quick 3-0 lead, and began to dream of the impossible when David Grimes fumbled the ensuing kickoff. The Irish recovered after a mad scramble, and quickly moved in for a touchdown as the game moved into the second quarter. Walker capped the drive with a ten-yard burst and Notre Dame led 7-3.

The Irish forced a three and out with Landri leading the charge, and Quinn started to heat up his arm. The senior was perfect on the ensuing drive, and hit Samardzija on a slant for a 16-yard score. Carl Gioia botched the extra point, but it would not matter on this day.

Once again, Landri terrorized Army quarterback Carson Williams and forced a punt. The Irish offense produced yet another scoring drive in the final minutes of the half, as Quinn used both his arm and his legs to move the chains. Rhema McKnight caught a seven yard pass inn the back of the end zone to give Notre Dame a 20-3 halftime lead.

Notre Dame received the opening kickoff in the third quarter and turned to Walker. The junior passed the 1,000 yard mark for the season on his way to the end zone, but he needed help from Grimes to put six points on the board. Walker took a pitch and swept around right end from six yards out, but lost the ball just before crossing the goal line. Grimes pounced on it in the end zone and the Irish had a 27-3 lead less than two minutes into the second half.

Richardson picked off a pass by Williams on the next series, and Quinn wasted no time hitting McKnight for a 24-yard score. The interception was the first by the Irish secondary in four games, and Richardson enjoyed it so much that he grabbed another one later in the game to set up Notre Dame’s final touchdown. Walker scored at the 10:55 mark of the fourth quarter to stretch the lead to 41-3.

The final minutes of the game were marked by curtain calls for Irish seniors and Army’s dogged attempts to score. Landri blocked a field goal try, but he and the rest of the defensive starters were resting on the bench when the Knights scored on the last play of the game. The score did nothing to dampen Notre Dame’s post game celebration on the field, and the seniors basked in the glory of the moment.

Now that the Irish have completed a sweep of three weak opponents and recorded their seventh straight win, it is time to raise their level of play. USC’s talented athletes await in Los Angeles, and Notre Dame is going to have to tighten up several aspects of its game in order to have a chance.

The offensive line must protect Quinn and create space for Walker, while the defense must cover and tackle well enough to make the Trojans work for every yard. On special teams, kickoff coverage and the kicking game itself have been abysmal. Despite the challenges that lie ahead, Irish fans can be thankful this week for something they have not had in a very long time – a chance at the title.

John’s Top 20

1. Ohio State
2. Michigan
3. USC
4. Notre Dame
5. Florida
6. Arkansas
7. Texas
8. LSU
9. Wisconsin
10. Louisville
11. West Virginia
12. Oklahoma
13. Georgia Tech
14. Virginia Tech
15. Boise State
16. Rutgers
17. Nebraska
18. Boston College
19. Wake Forest
20. BYU

John’s Bottom Ten

1. Duke
2. (tie) Miami (Fla.) & Florida State
4. Temple
5. Utah State
6. San Diego State
7. Illinois
8. Stanford
9. Michigan State
10. Washington

Dishonorable mention: Colorado, The States of Mississippi and North Carolina
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