Holy Crap What a Play!
So that happened. The Irish faithful stand anxiously as Brady Quinn drops back into the shotgun for our last-chance desperation drive. A day of frustrating ineffectiveness has left the Irish trailing by four points with no timeouts and less than a minute to go. Quinn drops back, scrambles around a little bit, and then, all of the sudden, there is massive pandemonium. Samardzija has the ball! And he's running! Before anyone can fully digest what's happening, I am leaping into the arms of complete strangers around me and celebrating like a madman. Mother of mercy, miracle of miracles, it actually happened.
Since it was only the third time in Irish history that we've scored a gamewinning touchdown with less than thirty seconds, it is fair to guess that this play will endure in the immortality of Notre Dame lore. In light of the significance of this play, I've decided to fire up the Tivo and document, as best I can, as much detail about what transpired as you can tolerate. Brendan Loy's video, while very Zipprouder-esque, was very useful in finding out what was going on on the opposite side of the field, which we never got a shot of on the NBC cameras. A big hat tip to him is in order.
- Seven men are blocking for Brady Quinn. As you can see, RB Darius Walker (3) and TE John Carlson (89) stayed back to block, meaning there were only three receivers running routes. With our line getting abused the entire game, it makes sense that Weis made sure they did everything to protect Brady from a sack, which would have effectively ended the game as the Irish had no timeouts remaining.
- Shark is in the slot. Jeff Samardzija (83) is lined up in the slot and runs a drag route directly across the center of the field, trying to find a hole in the zone. Rhema (5) runs a deep post to stretch out the defense and draw the strong safety into coverage. David Grimes (11) runs a quick out route to the sideline, most likely as a safety valve if Quinn needs to get a quick completion and stop the clock.
- UCLA comes out in a nickel package. Four down linemen, two linebackers (2 and 33) and five defensive backs. Due to the circumstances of the game, they are playing somewhat conservatively, but it's clearly not a "prevent" defense. The general idea seems to be to force the plays to the middle of the field, negating the opportunity for the Irish to attack the sidelines for quick, clock-stopping strikes.
- The strongside corners are guarding the sidelines. The two CB's on the strong side (3 and 23) lined up against Shark and Rhema are guarding the outside shoulders of their receivers, backing up and pointing their hips toward the center of the field. The strong safety (11) is bracketing coverage over the top, ready to switch onto a receiver that runs a go route or a deep post.
- The other corner (1) is covering the flat. 1 is in press coverage against David Grimes. His responsibility is to jam Grimes at the line, then release him to the free safety (14) and cover the flat should Darius Walker come out on a screen route.
- The linebackers are playing middle zone. Both linebackers are more or less holding down the center of the field, ready to make a tackle or break up a pass that gets forced to the center.
- The right side of the D-line is stunting. While on the other end, 44 sets up wide and attempts to speed rush Quinn off the right tackle.
- Seven blockers take care of four rushers. Not surprisingly, the max protect works well, as each defensive lineman has two bodies square him off. Darius does a good job of standing up the speed-rushing end, and RT Sam Young quickly comes back to help out, effectively clearing the end out of the play. This is important, because with the stunt on the left side, the entire right side of the pocket is free for Quinn to move around.
- Quinn makes his reads. He eyes Shark, checks over to Rhema, then looks down Shark again. At this point, Samardzija is directly in the middle of three defenders guarding the zone in the center of the field.
- Quinn pump fakes, causing a linebacker to make a play for the ball. In addition to fooling the NBC cameras, Quinn's pump fake made the linebacker (2) break his contain and jump to make a play on the ball. By the time he realizes the ball isn't coming, he has effectively eliminated himself from the play.
- Samardzija sprints past the frozen linebackers. With a full head of steam, Samardzija blows past the reacting linebackers and finds himself in a clearing on the right side of the field. Sensing that the right side is clear, Quinn scrambles to the right and lays a pass into Samardzija's numbers, hitting him nicely in stride.
- The strong safety overpursues. Switching off onto Rhema's deep post, the safety (11) is racing horizontally across the field to try to catch Samardzija. After catching the ball, Samardzija stops on a dime and reverses direction toward the center of the field. Unable to slow down, the safety falls over and is gingerly swept away by Rhema McKnight.
- The footrace is on. Samardzija gallops down the field, stumbling slightly after being tripped up on his turn, and it's nothing but open field. Numbers 23 and 14 make chase, trying to run down the Shark from opposite sides. As the three converge near the goal line, Shark leaps and stretches out the ball, catapulting across the goal line.
...and the rest, they say, is history.