Sunday, May 01, 2005

Spring has Sprung | by Jay

And before we plunge ahead with further discussion of the BCS, a possible 12th game on the schedule, recruiting updates, and more, let's bask for a bit in the revelry of last weekend. Some sights & sounds from the Blue & Gold game...

the Game

The Blue Team defeated the Gold Team 28-6 in the 76th Annual Blue-Gold Football Game at Notre Dame Stadium on an unseasonably cold spring day in Northern Indiana. Led by Offensive MVP sophomore Brady Quinn, the Blue Team scored on two of its first three possessions.

• The Blue Team, which featured most of the projected Notre Dame 'two-deep' depth chart for next fall, scored on its first possession when Quinn rolled to his left and hit tight end Anthony Fasano with a 19-yard touchdown pass.

• Quinn finished the game completing eight of his 12 passing attempts for 120 yards and two touchdowns, leading his team to 290 total yards on 34 plays. The junior-to-be quarterback also earned his second consecutive Blue-Gold Game offensive MVP award, as he also earned the plaque in the spring game last season.

• With the game progressing quickly due a running clock, the Blue Team only received two more possessions in the first half. A three and out series was followed by a quick touchdown drive in the second quarter led by Quinn again, who hit tight end John Carlson for a 39-yard pass on first down, then found Rhema McKnight on a crossing pattern in the end zone for a 12 yard scoring toss.

• Rashon Powers-Neal scored two more touchdowns for the Blue Team in the second half on two power runs, taking it in from seven yards out in the third quarter and three yards away in the fourth.

• The Blue Team defense controlled the line of scrimmage against the Gold Team, as defensive MVP Trevor Laws (four tackles, three for a loss, one sack) led his group to seven sacks in the game. The Gold Team offense was eventually held to just 42 total yards.

the Fans

The size of Saturday's crowd, while not the throngs new coaches at Florida (Urban Meyer) and South Carolina (Steve Spurrier) stirred this spring, was still larger than any of the three Tyrone Willingham-coached Notre Dame spring games.

The VIP tickets in the press box sold out in an hour. All 1,000 seats for a brunch with the Irish players sold out in 3 1/2 hours. 27,000 fans showed up, even though it was sub-freezing at game time.

the Weather

I thought it was beautiful out there today," Weis said. "I thought it was absolutely wonderful."

• Despite the weather, the game featured a spike of roughly 5,000 more fans than the 2004 game, which was played on a balmy, 64-degree afternoon.

• "It was [bleeping] cold," said BGS writer Jay.

the Legacies

Quinn: "I called some of my buddies who play at other schools and I told them 'I just got off the phone with Joe.' They said 'Joe who?' And I go 'Montana, you know.' "

Zorich on Weis: "He's really bringing the attitude from the professional ranks here," said Zorich, a nose guard on the 1988 national championship team. "He's giving the kids their freedom, but at the same time he is reeling them in to adhere to what he wants them to do.

Players as far back as the 60s were back on campus over the weekend, taking part in the Alumni flag football game, and taking in the Blue & Gold match. All of them are loving Weis right now. "I think Charlie Weis is going to be a great coach," said [former QB Blair] Kiel, who threw two interceptions in the alumni game. "I think he is old-school football, and I think he is going to bring that back to Notre Dame." (per the South Bend Trib.)

"I am thrilled about (Charlie)," [former player Pat] Steenberge said, who called the signals for the Irish during the 1970 and 1971 seasons. "I live in Texas where we are always fighting against the UT stuff, and there is excitement in Texas among people who don't even follow Notre Dame football. There is such a buzz about it.

"I'm extremely excited that (Weis) is here," [former RB] Lee Becton said. "I've watched him on Sundays take teams to the NFL Championship. We are going to get the opportunity to see this program get back to where it used to be."

• More from the honorary coaches, Montana and Zorich, and Theismann and Brown. (If you haven't yet, take a look at these videos from the post-game presser. I guarantee nothing will get your blood pumping more than hearing these Irish greats talk about the resurgence of Notre Dame football.)

the Players

• Weis on the team's progress: "I am encouraged that some players are beginning to play themselves into the mix and we can start to establish some depth. I feel we are moving in the right direction and this is going to end up being a very competitive group."

• Weis on Quinn and the offense...“I have been very pleased with the progress of the offense as far as mentally picking it up. Starting with Brady and his leadership, his poise, him being able to handle the installation of this offense, it gives me hope. But never give an A. I’m the wrong guy to ask for an A."

• Weis on Darius Walker: "He has all the qualities to be as front-line a player as you can possibly have. He has great vision and is not small. He is built very well and has a world of talent. The sky is the limit for him."

• Tim Brown, on the receivers:

I think with this offense that Charlie's bringing in, it sort of works hand in hand with the schemes that they have here right now. Obviously, I know that the goal is to get more explosive type guys in here, but I think with Maurice [Stovall], Rhema [McKnight] and [Jeff Samardzija] everything is working hand in hand. When you looked at the Patriots over the years we always said, `Oh, we can shut that offense down.' But it was Charlie's ability to make calls and the guys' abilities to make plays that always put them over the top, and I think it will be the same situation here. I think Charlie came here to put these guys into optimum situations where they can go out and perform and it won't be the kind of stressful situation where one guy has to make a play. I think with those three guys running around out there, this offense is really going to benefit them."

• Zbikowski, on toughness...“We’ve got a chip on our shoulder right now. We’re going to keep that on our shoulder until we get where we want to be.”

• Laws, on being named the Defensive MVP...

"I was flattered - it was pretty neat. It was a nice little accolade to get. A lot of our other guys could have been awarded it, so I was pretty excited to get it. Being awarded the MVP by Chris Zorich was really awesome. Everyone calls me 'Little Zorich' so I've got to live up to that. It was great having him here - he's my mentor."

• Montana on his impressions of Brady Quinn...

"I've always been excited about him and his capabilities. It is still a learning process for him on the leadership part but I feel he is doing a tremendous job. He has all the tools."

the Coach

• Zorich helped as an honorary coach during the Blue-Gold game. Getting a chance to be around Weis, he noticed a few similarities with his former coach, Lou Holtz. "He is like Holtz in the regard, you are getting somebody with attitude," Zorich said. "Somebody who wants the guys to get into fights now and then. That is something unfortunately that has been gone from this place since Holtz left."

• "I'll be honest, when I heard that Notre Dame had fired Coach (Tyrone) Willingham, I was P.O.'d," Zorich said. "Then I got a call from Coach Weis, and he started about getting these nasty, inspired players, and I started to get excited. I wished I could suit up again."

• "He says the same kinds of thing that Coach (Lou) Holtz used to say," Montana said. "He talks about heart and desire, the things that made Notre Dame so special in the past."

• "He's old school, and unfortunately I found out in a couple of Super Bowls how much he knows about football," Brown said. "There aren't many coaches around with the experience and success he's had."

• "He's the right guy," Theisman said. "He's the right guy because he's good at those X's and O's, but also because he understands the culture of Notre Dame. He knows how important football is to this school."

• Weis: "My biggest concern is that I will not be hands-on until August. I am used to having my players year-round but in this case, it is time for them to return to being college students. I feel good about our team right now. The concern is based on the level of retention come August."

• Weis will hit the road himself during the spring evaluation period for high school juniors, something almost unheard of for a head coach to do.

"I think I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't," he said. "If I told you how important recruiting is and that you have to go pound the pavement and have to get out there, how can I say that and not be there? They just don't go together."

• While Weis is gone intermittently until the end of May, he and his staff will evaluate the tape from the Blue-Gold Game, put together scouting reports on all 11 opponents, and identify on paper his own team's strengths and weaknesses.

the Future

• "[Charlie Weis] has all the tools," Brown said. "He's obviously won at the highest level of football several times. He's a guy who knows how to get it done. So what I tried to expound on these guys today is, you have to pay attention to this guy. You have to believe in what he says because he can take you to where you want to go. It may not be this year, it may not happen next year. But certainly in the future you can see him getting this program to the very, very top, where everyone wants to be."

• I told [the players] this is a special place and it's up to you to make it special," Montana said Saturday. "It hasn't lived up to what outsiders believe it should be and if they wanted to make it special as a football experience, they need to take it upon themselves to try to make that path."

• "I don't just want to be a part of the Irish tradition," said defensive tackle Trevor Laws. "I want to add to it."