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Zbikowski glad for chance at returning

Mike Gilloon | Monday, September 5, 2005

PITTSBURGH – Tom Zbikowski stood his ground, waiting for his chance.

He received the punt and shot upfield, breaking several Pittsburgh tackles before being brought down at the Irish 35 yard line.

Not since he was a high school standout in Buffalo Grove, Ill. had the Irish safety been given the opportunity to return a punt.

But the hard-nosed running style and quick feet he displayed Saturday showed why special teams coach Bill Polian and the rest of the Irish staff decided to use Zbikowski in that capacity against Pittsburgh.

“It feels good [to return a punt], I tried to do the best I could with it,” Zbikowski said. “I think just having trust in the punt team, that they’re going to block for me, I’ve just got to find a seam and hit it as hard as I can.”

Zbikowski was not listed before the game anywhere on the depth chart for punt returner.

Freshman David Grimes held the title of No. 1 punt returner going into the Pittsburgh game while Brandon Harris and Justin Hoskins were the backups. But Zbikowski was the only Irish player to return a punt.

One noticeable special teams player missing was Chase Anastasio.

Listed as the No. 1 kick returner along with Harris, Anastasio never was sent back to return a kick.

Harris and Hoskins returned kickoffs for 11 and 24 yards respectively.

Notes:

Charlie Weis is the first Irish coach since Ara Parseghian to open his career on the road.

Parseghian led Notre Dame to a 31-7 win over Wisconsin in 1964. Parseghian went on to lead the Irish to national titles in 1966 and 1973.

Notre Dame is now 2-2 in its last four season openers played at night – all coming on the road.

Along with the win over Pittsburgh, the Irish defeated Maryland 19-0 in the 2002 Kickoff Classic. The team dropped its opening game 27-10 at Nebraska in 2001 and last season at BYU 20-17.

Jeff Samardzija made an incredible, full-extension 19-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter against the Panthers. But even a stellar play couldn’t earn him a reprieve from a Charlie Weis tongue-lashing. Weis scolded the Irish receiver later in the period when he forgot to line up as the holder on the extra point after Rashon Powers-Neal’s touchdown to put Notre Dame ahead 35-13. Weis was forced to call the second timeout of the half.

Defensive end Ronald Talley joined Samardzija in Weis’ doghouse late in the third quarter. He drew a 15-yard personal foul after hitting Tyler Palko when the Panthers quarterback was at least four yards out of bounds. ABC TV cameras focused on Weis as he yelled at Talley for committing one of 10 Irish penalties totaling 94 yards.