SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Brady Quinn is at his best when Notre Dame is down. Want proof? The Notre Dame quarterback threw five touchdown passes to rally the Fighting Irish from 17 points down in a 40-37 victory at Michigan State on Sept. 23. Against UCLA, with the Irish offense struggling mightily, Quinn completed three straight passes for 80 yards in the final 62 seconds to give Notre Dame a 20-17 victory.
"We know in pressure situations he's the guy," offensive tackle Ryan Harris said. "He's the best guy in the country. He's not going to let it fluster him. He is the man you want behind you."
Those two come-from-behind victories came after Quinn, who entered the season as a Heisman Trophy favorite, had his worst outing of the season against Michigan. Quinn was intercepted three times by the Wolverines and fumbled the ball away once, completing just 50 percent of his passes.
Since then, though, Quinn - who rewrote the Notre Dame record book last season - has played probably the best five-game streak of his career. His Heisman candidacy is alive and well.
He has completed 121-of-181 passes, a 67 completion rate, for 1,466 yards with 15 touchdowns and one interception. He has thrown a school-record 169 passes without an interception, breaking his own record of 130 set last season.
Quinn's pass-efficiency rating has risen from 123.1 after the Michigan game to 145.8. He had an efficiency rating of 161.1 during the last five games. He had a similar streak in the final five games last season, completing 120-of-180 passes for 1,748 yards with 18 touchdowns and three interceptions.
But the five-game streak of last season lacked the dramatics of this season. Only one of those games, the season finale against Stanford, was ever in doubt. Without Quinn's play this season, the 11th-ranked Irish (7-1) would be gunning for a Gator Bowl berth instead of a possible second straight appearance in the Bowl Championship Series.
Quinn says most of the credit belongs to an improving offense. But he put up good numbers in games where the offense struggled. The Irish couldn't run the ball against Michigan State or UCLA, and the offensive line played miserably against the Bruins.
Coach Charlie Weis, who describes Quinn as "can't-miss in the NFL," said they key to Quinn's success is that his teammates believe in him.
"It all starts with the team having faith in the quarterback. I've been on teams where the team didn't have as much faith in the quarterback as they do with this guy," Weis said. "Our team believes that if you give Quinn a chance, somehow he'll make the play to win the game."
Weis said Quinn has "it," although he can't describe exactly what "it" is.
"When he goes in the huddle, there's a calmness, that special something about him, the 'it' I always talk about. It exists. I think that it keeps everyone else under control and they always knows something good could happen," Weis said.
Irish players say no matter the situation, Quinn is always the same: intense.
"On the sideline he'll get everybody fired up. 'Let's go! Last drive!"' guard Dan Santucci said. "But in the huddle it's all business. He brings a confidence and poise that everyone would love to have in the huddle."
The one time Quinn appeared flustered this season was when a reporter told the quarterback he had talked to Quinn's mother, Robin, and that she'd said her son was anal retentive, just like her.
"Wow, I've really got to thank her for that one," Quinn said, laughing nervously. "I'm sure she's pretty uptight like that. But this experience has really taught me to relax more, be loose and just take things in stride."
Quinn said there are times he wants his teammates to know he's excited. More often, though, he tries to show a calmness.
"I think, being a quarterback, you've got to have a confidence about you, because when the game is on the line and everyone else is all excited and maybe tight, you've got to be the one who calms everyone, who everyone looks to to find a sense of focus," he said.
Quinn's focus is not on the Heisman or his NFL prospects. He simply wants to continue winning.
"I still have tons of goals and aspirations for this season and what we've got going on here. Hopefully things will got way we'd like them to go this season and I'll worry about that type of stuff after," he said.