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Quinn, Weis not satisfied with Irish performance

ATLANTA -- The best thing you can say about Notre Dame's game against Georgia Tech is that it's over. And if the Fighting Irish don't figure how to play more like the No. 2-ranked team in the country rather than something from the Also Receiving Votes agate, then they can pucker up and kiss the Holy Trinity of college football goodbye.

We're speaking, of course, of the national championship, the Heisman Trophy, and Lee Corso wearing your mascot's headgear near Cardinals Stadium come Jan. 8. Notre Dame remains in the team picture for all three, but only because ND's 14-10 victory came in the first week of the season, not the last.

No one said beating Georgia Tech would be easy. The spread -- if you believe the Vegas wiseguys -- was 6½ points. Factoring in the road game, opening-season jitters and Tech's defense, you figured on something a little closer. But nobody, at least nobody outside the Land of a Thousand Peachtree Streets, figured on this sort of Notre Dame performance.

There's no nice way to say it: for the first 30 minutes of this game, Tech turned ND into a bumblin' wreck. The Yellow Jackets left bee stings all over the Fighting Irish's ranking, quarterback Brady Quinn's Heisman hype, and coach Charlie Weis' reputation as an offensive mastermind.

Tech led, 10-7, and had a first-half shutout until Quinn scored on a quarterback draw with 11 seconds remaining and no timeouts left. It was the lowest first-half point total during Weis' 13-game tenure and it produced the usual panic from visiting Golden Domers. Part of the nervousness was because of Jon Tenuta's defensive scheme and his Tech players' pedal-to-the-metal mentality. And part of it was because the Fighting Irish were suffering from casual-itis.

"I almost felt like we were too relaxed at that time," said Quinn.

Interesting. Weis read his team's body language the other way. He interpreted the Irish's play as a bit too tight, perhaps even forced at times. The Irish couldn't run the ball. Quinn didn't look anything like your preseason Heisman front-runner. And Tech's defense kept putting ND in make-a-wish third-down situations. It was a mess.

So Weis walked into the locker room at halftime and offered a counseling session. The only thing missing was a calming chorus of "Kumbaya."

"Hey, fellas," he told his players, "it's 10-7. You're not down by three scores. It's a three-point game. Fellas, relax. Relax. It's OK."

OK is the proper word to describe Notre Dame's night at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Irish won, which is never a bad thing, but don't look for too many highlights of this one on the 2006 team DVD. Yeah, the numbers were respectable (Notre Dame had more first downs, more rushing yards, more passing yards, more total yards, more pass completions, more return yardage, more time of possession, more third-down conversions and, the biggie -- more points), but the victory felt a little on the shaky side.

"There is no such thing as a bad W," said Weis.

True, but Weis was the first to mention that "we didn't have our best showing."

The offense was the main offender. The Irish's balance (40 runs, 38 passes) was a postgame stat that Weis loved, as well as Darius Walker's 99 rushing yards, Rema McKnight's 108 receiving yards and Quinn's call on the QB draw near the end of the first half. But Quinn wasn't in the mood for back pats.

"We're [in] no way pleased with our performance, especially myself," said Quinn, who finished with respectable totals (23 of 38 for 246 yards and that one rushing TD).
Weis said Quinn was under duress by Tech's blitzes in the early going. Quinn, as usual, said he was to blame. Asked if he could have envisioned a scenario where it took the Irish 29 minutes and 49 seconds to reach the end zone, Quinn shook his head.

"I would have thought you were crazy," he said. "I didn't think it would take us that long to score. I'm sure tomorrow is going to be a tough film session."

Not for the Notre Dame defense, it won't. A little more than nine months ago, the Irish were busy giving up 617 yards and 34 points in a lopsided loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Weis and the Irish couldn't swing a leprechaun without hitting somebody who wanted to discuss those 617 yards.

Friday evening, at the team hotel, Weis addressed the Irish and reminded them there was a reason why they were ranked second in the country. It wasn't because Associated Press voters loved blue and gold. It was because Notre Dame was damn good, and that included the ND defense.

Quinn knew it. A season ago the first-team Irish offense usually moved the ball against the first-team Irish defense. But in the weeks leading up to Saturday's opener at Tech, Quinn and the offense struggled to score against the Irish D.

"Man, what's going on?" Quinn said to himself during fall camp. "Is it us?"

Nope. "It was them getting that much better," said Quinn of the ND defense.

Notre Dame held the Yellow Jackets to those 10 points and 259 total yards. The amazing Calvin Johnson caught seven passes for 111 yards and a touchdown, but that was about it for Tech offensive highlights.

"Six hundred and 17 yards," said Weis. "If I hear that one more time I'm going to vomit."

No ralph bags were needed here Saturday evening, but that doesn't mean there isn't work to be done. Penn State arrives in South Bend this week, followed by Michigan the following week. Then comes a trip to Michigan State. Fun.

"Tomorrow I'll be a constructive-criticism machine," said Weis.

That makes sense. After all, Notre Dame was good enough to win, and inconsistent enough to create doubt. For now, we'll give them a pass. But just for now.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.