Notre Dame's stunning 20-17 comeback win over UCLA in South Bend likely left a trail of dropped jaws back home in Westwood. And while some may be quick to fault the Bruins' defense, which allowed Jeff Samardzija's go-ahead 45-yard touchdown with just 27 seconds remaining, it's the defense that's been largely responsible for UCLA's 4-2 (now 4-3) start. The improvement from last year is staggering.
* -- Ranked 113th last year in I-A; ranked 9th this season entering Saturday
This great finish did more than just contribute another memory
to the lore of the Golden Domers, however. It also kept alive the
Bowl Championship Series hopes of the 10th-ranked Fighting Irish.
Quinn, under pressure all day by a relentless UCLA defense,
completed three straight passes in the final 62 seconds, capped by
a 45-yard TD pass to Samardzija, to lead the Irish to a 20-17
come-from-behind victory over the Bruins on Saturday.
"Good teams win games like that," Notre Dame coach Charlie
Weis said. "Good teams at the end of the game somehow, good teams
make a play at the end of the game to win."
The victory was just the third time the Irish (6-1) won with a
touchdown in the final 30 seconds. In 1992, Rick Mirer threw a
4-yard TD pass to Jerome Bettis and a 2-point conversion with 20
seconds left for a 17-16 victory over Penn State in snowy
In the 1979 Cotton Bowl, Joe Montana played with a virus in the
first half and sat out the third quarter because his body
temperature dipped well below normal. The Cougars led 34-12 with 7½
minutes to play when Montana, after eating a cup of chicken soup,
led Notre Dame to three touchdowns and a 35-34 win.
The weather wasn't bad Saturday, and Quinn wasn't ill, but the
Irish still had to overcome a UCLA defense that had shut them down
for most of the game. Notre Dame managed just 41 yards rushing and
had just 224 yards passing until the final drive.
It seemed Notre Dame had squandered its last chance to win when
Quinn was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 from the Notre Dame 35 with
2:25 left. But the Irish held UCLA (4-3) to three-and-out on three
straight runs to give Quinn one last chance.
Because the Irish (6-1) were able to stop the clock twice with
timeouts during the Bruins' short series, they got the ball back
with 62 seconds left.
"We would have loved to have finish the game on offense, no
question about that," UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said. "We made them
exhaust all their timeouts but we didn't finish with the first
down. We needed one first down to finish the game and we didn't do
Quinn hit Samardzija with a 21-yard pass and David Grimes with a
14-yard pass to move to the UCLA 45. He then threw the TD pass to
Samardzija, who cut inside safety Dennis Keyes at the 15-yard line.
Keyes managed to knock Samardzija off balance, but the Notre Dame
receiver kept his feet and made it to the end zone, keeping the
Irish's hopes for a berth in the BCS alive. Notre Dame likely would
have had no shot at a major bowl with two losses.
Quinn said he was just scrambling for time.
"I thought I saw a window, I was about to throw, then I saw a
defender coming that way so I kind of gave a pump and I tried to
move him around," he said. "When there's that many guys in
coverage, you've got to try to create something, so I moved out of
the pocket and found a window to Jeff and he did the rest."
Samardzija said he saw Quinn rolling so he stayed with his
"He saw me, got it to me, and there really was no thinking
involved -- you're just trained, it's like a little dog, you're just
trying to get to the end zone," he said. "We'll say there was no
doubt, but who knows."
Some of the Irish players had doubt.
"I looked up and Samardzija made that last move, I thought he
was going to fall down at the 10 or something like that," guard
Bob Morton said. "But he just does what Jeff does and he stayed on
his feet and found the end zone."
Dorrell said the Bruins didn't try to pressure Quinn as much on
the final series.
"We tried to play more coverage," Dorrell said. "Brady did a
nice job of staying alive -- staying alive in the pocket and moving
out of the pocket and rolling out and throwing on the run."
Quinn was 27-of-45 passing for 304 yards with two TD passes to
Samardzija, who tied the school record of 22 career touchdown
catches held by Derrick Mayes in 1995. Samardzija, who had a 2-yard
TD pass in the first quarter, finished with eight catches for 118
Patrick Cowan, making just his second start in place of injured
Ben Olson, was 16-of-32 passing for 217 yards and completed two of
the three longest passes for UCLA this season, both for touchdowns.
He completed passes of 54 yards to Marcus Everett and a 36-yarder
to tight end William Snead.
Despite the fact the Irish didn't play well until the end, Weis
"I'm not going to feel miserable about this win, I promise
you," Weis said. "You want to be miserable, fine. I'm going to be
happy. Any time you win a game like that -- we're very fortunate to
walk out of there with scoring a touchdown inside of 30 seconds to
go with no timeouts left. Sign me up."