Oct. 20, 2006
By Tim Connor
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish return to action this weekend after a well-deserved bye week this week against the UCLA Bruins.
The Irish start the season’s second half with a 5-1 record, the first time they’ve had that mark after six games since going 6-0 to start the 2002 campaign. The week off allowed the Irish football squad to rest, heal injuries and take time to deal with the academic side of being a student-athlete – taking mid-term tests.
It’s been 42 years since Notre Dame and UCLA have met on the college gridiron and the two teams have met just twice in the all-time series. The first contest came in 1963 with the Irish winning, 27-12 and then continued the following year in South Bend with 24-0 win for Notre Dame against the Bruins. The win in 1963 was one of just two Irish wins in a 2-7 season while the 1964 team went 9-1.
While Notre Dame comes into this afternoon’s game with a 5-1 mark, UCLA is 4-2 on the year and 2-2 in the Pac-10 dropping a 30-20 decision last Saturday to the No. 18-ranked Oregon Ducks.
The Bruins went into that game leading the Pac-10 in rushing defense, giving up 50 yards per game, but surrendered 256 yards on the ground to the Ducks.
UCLA also was without the services of top quarterback Ben Olson who injured a knee the previous week in a win over Arizona and is expected to miss up to six weeks of action. In his place, sophomore Patrick Cowan made the start and was 16-of-31 for 112 yards and one interception. Oregon led 20-3 at the half and built a 30-13 lead before the Bruins scored the final touchdown of the game.
After starting the season by playing five straight games versus undefeated teams, UCLA is the second team the Irish have faced with two or more losses on the year.
Notre Dame will face the Bruins away from Notre Dame Stadium on Oct. 6, 2007 when the two teams meet for the first time at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis has seen his team put together back-to-back outstanding performances in wins versus Purdue and Stanford on the way to the 5-1 record at the mid-way point of the season. Versus Stanford, the Irish ran for 202 yards and threw for 232 more yards for 436 yards in total offense. Over those last two games, Weis’ offense has accumulated 340 yards on the ground and 548 through the air for an average of 445 total yards per game. After surrendering 490 yards to Purdue, Notre Dame’s defense slammed the door on Stanford, giving up just 226 total yards, including just 72 yards on the ground. In his second season guiding the Irish, Weis owns a 14-4 (.778) record and will look for his team to put together its second consecutive complete game on both sides of the ball versus the visiting Bruins.
Karl Dorrell is in his fourth season directing UCLA and comes into this afternoon’s game with a 26-17 (.605) career mark. A 1987 graduate of UCLA, Dorrell was one of the top receivers in UCLA history as he finished his career with 108 catches and 1,517 yards receiving to rank 11th and 15th in each category. He played on three UCLA teams that won Rose Bowls during his career. As a coach at UCLA, his first two teams turned in 6-7 and 6-6 campaigns before going 10-2 in 2005 with a win in the Sun Bowl against Northwestern. The 10-win season was only the seventh in UCLA football history and earned Dorrell co-Pac-10 coach of the year honors. The Bruins finished the year ranked 13th in the nation, their highest ranking since 1998. He faces Notre Dame for the first time in his career this afternoon.
A Look At The Irish
With back-to-back complete offensive performances in Notre Dame’s last two games, the Irish offense is rounding into top form as the team heads into the second half of the season. The Irish offense features a talented one-two punch in quarterback Brady Quinn and running back Darius Walker. In his last outing versus Stanford, Quinn completed 27-of-37 passes for 232 yards and three touchdown passes. Walker ran for a season-high 153 yards and a touchdown as the Notre Dame passing and running attack fired on all cylinders in the 31-10 win against Stanford.
For the year, Quinn now has completed 148-of-233 passes for 1,634 yards and 16 touchdown passes. The senior signal caller comes into today’s game with UCLA needing just 30 yards passing to reach the 10,000-yard plateau for his career that will make him just the 32nd player in NCAA history to reach that level in his career.
Notre Dame’s offensive line has started coming together after a slow start as the Irish have rushed for 340 of their 641 rushing yards in the last two contests.
Walker has benefited from the strong blocking up front and has now rambled for 526 yards on 119 carries for a 4.4-yard average on the year. He has also become a major player in the Notre Dame passing attack as he leads the Irish with 38 catches for 258 yards. On the year, Walker has accounted for 784 of Notre Dame’s 2,282 yards (34.4%) this season.
The senior pass catching trio of Rhema McKnight, Jeff Samardzija and tight end John Carlson have combined for 99 catches and 1,261 yards plus 14 touchdowns this year. McKnight (37 catches) and Samardzija (34 catches) continue their assault on the Notre Dame record book. With six regular-season games left on the docket, McKnight ranks second all-time with 140 career catches while Samardzija is fifth with 135. Tom Gatewood ’72 holds the Irish career record with 157 catches. McKnight has 1,865 yards and 14 touchdowns in his career. Samardzija has gained 1,618 yards for his career and scored 21 touchdowns (20 via the pass) over his four seasons.
The Notre Dame defense came up with its best effort of the season in the win over Stanford. The Irish gave up one long drive early in the game that resulted in a Cardinal field goal and that was it until late in the game. They held Stanford to just 72 yards rushing and 226 in total offense.
For the year, Notre Dame has given up 134.8 yards on the ground and 212.8 through the air. The Irish have forced eight turnovers (five interceptions and three fumbles) on the year while getting 15 sacks for 109 yards in losses on the year.
Senior defensive back Chinedum Ndukwe (25 solo, 18 assists) and junior linebacker Maurice Crum, Jr. (24 solo, 19 assists) lead the team with 43 tackles each. Senior safety Tom Zbikowski is third with 34 stops (21 solo, 13 assists).
Ndukwe has been all over the field for the Irish defense with one sack, two interceptions and one fumble recovery.
On the defensive line, Trevor Laws, Derek Landri and Victor Abiamiri have put together a solid season as a unit. Laws has 31 tackles, including five for losses and 2.5 sacks. Landri has 24 stops with four for loss and 2.5 sacks while Abiamiri leads the team with nine tackles for loss and five sacks on the year. He also has been credited with nine quarterback hurries.
UCLA opened the season with a pair of wins versus Utah (31-10) and Rice (26-16) before dropping its Pac-10 opener on the road at Washington (29-19) on Sept. 23. The Bruins rebounded with back-to-back conference wins at home against Stanford (31-0) and Arizona (27-7) before falling last weekend at Oregon, 30-20.
Through the first six games of the season, UCLA has averaged 25.7 points-per-game while surrendering just 15.3 per game. The Bruins’ offense has featured a well-balanced attack, averaging 143.7 yards on the ground and 189.8 yards through the air for an average of 333.5 yards per game. Defensively, UCLA has given up 252 total yards per game, with 84.3 coming on the ground and 167.7 through the air.
The Bruins offense took a major blow in the win over Arizona on Oct. 7 when sophomore quarterback Ben Olson went down with a knee injury that will sideline him for up to six weeks. Olson had completed 79-of-124 passes (63.7%) for 822 yards and five touchdowns while throwing five interceptions. Fellow sophomore Patrick Cowan has played in five games for UCLA and has completed 37-of-63 (58.7%) for 317 yards and a pair of touchdown strikes.
The Bruins spread their catches around as seven players have 11 or more catches and five have touchdown catches to their credit. Junior receiver Brandon Breazell leads all UCLA receivers with 17 catches for 211 yards and one touchdown. Senior receiver Junior Taylor follows with 15 grabs and 140 years while senior Matt Willis has 14 catches for 104 and two TD’s. Sophomore tight end Logan Paulsen has been a big-play threat has he is averaging a team-high 14.2 yards per catch, making 12 grabs for 170 yards.
Junior tailback Chris Markey leads the running game with 589 yards on 100 carries for a 5.9-yard per run average. Sophomore tailback Kahlil Bell comes off the bench and is second with 230 yards on 58 carries for a 4.0 average and a pair of touchdowns.
Adding to the UCLA offense is premier kicker, senior Justin Medlock, who has converted 14-of-15 field goal attempts (93.3%) with a 51-yarder for his top kick. He leads the team in scoring with 58 points as he also has made all 16 point after touchdown chances.
Defensively, the Bruins feature an aggressive defense that has forced 16 turnovers with eight interceptions and eight fumbles on the year. Junior strong safety Chris Horton leads the team with 35 tackles (24 solo, 11 assists) and has picked off two passes. Junior linebacker Christian Taylor is second with 32 tackles (15 solos, 17 assists). Senior defensive end Justin Hickman leads the team with 11 tackles for losses and has 7.5 sacks for 52 yards in losses. Junior defensive end Bruce Davis is second with 4.5 sacks as the Bruins have 18 for 153 yards in losses in their first six games. Freshman cornerback Al Verner and junior cornerback Trey Brown join Horton with two interceptions each.