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Football: Golden on the ground

Ken Fowler | Monday, April 23, 2007

On the day Notre Dame’s four inexperienced signal callers were supposed to have their coming-out parties in front of more than 50,000 fans, David Bruton and Junior Jabbie had other ideas.

Bruton, a reserve free safety in 2005 and 2006, and Jabbie – Notre Dame’s fourth-string tailback the last two years – stole the show from the four young Irish quarterbacks in front of a record-setting crowd at Notre Dame Stadium for Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game.

Dedicated to running the ball, Irish coach Charlie Weis kept quarterbacks Jimmy Clausen, Demetrius Jones, Zach Frazer and Evan Sharpley in check.

Jabbie took full advantage of this ground-oriented play calling. The rising senior had 52 yards on seven carries in the first half before finishing with 87 yards on 13 attempts.

“That’s what we’ve seen out of Junior the whole spring,” Weis said of Jabbie. “He’s definitely played himself into … deserving to be in contention.”

And while Jabbie failed to find the end zone on any of his runs, Bruton had better luck from his position in the secondary.

The rising junior on the Gold team put the first points of the game on the board with his 35-yard pick-six off a wobbly and errant pass from Jones. Bruton grabbed the ball in mid-air, cut left and found a seam to the end zone, where he flipped over the goal line before leaping into the crowd in the southeast corner of the stadium.

“I got a good break, and then I ended up over-breaking it, so I had to step back and catch it and take off running,” Bruton said of the return. “I was just going to stick the ball out, then I just decided to throw the flip in and do the Lambeau leap. I had always wanted to do that and took advantage of the situation.”

Bruton’s interception and the play of the entire Irish secondary impressed Gold team honorary coach Lou Holtz.

“I think defensively, you have to be impressed,” Holtz said. “The secondary moved well. Very well coached. I did not expect to see a defense that was as physical and played as well as they did in the spring game.”

The four quarterbacks finished just 11-of-24 with two interceptions and a lone touchdown. Wide receivers caught just three passes, with every other completion going to either a running back or a tight end.

Though Jones finished with the only touchdown pass, only Clausen escaped the afternoon unscathed. Rising senior defensive lineman Justin Brown forced Sharpley to fumble late in the first quarter, though the quarterback recovered the loose ball. Jones had a fumble – recovered by fifth-year senior tight end John Carlson – to go along with his seven-point interception, and Frazer threw a woefully inaccurate ball picked off by rising junior Ray Herring of the Gold team and returned to Blue’s 23-yard line.

Of the rising sophomores, Frazer finished 0-of-4 with the interception, while Jones was 3-of-6 for 23 yards and a pick but scrambled for 31 yards on one play to convert a third-and-19.

Clausen finished 3-of-7 for 23 yards, including two balls thrown out of bounds to avoid sacks, and Sharpley was 5-of-7 for 31 yards.

Clausen had a chance to be the hero for the Blue squad with two minutes left, but a dropped pass and offensive pass interference call by John Carlson stymied the drive. Starting at its own 35, rising senior Travis Thomas rushed four yards on a delay on first down. Next, Carlson dropped a pass that could have gone for a first down, and then Clausen had to throw the ball away under pressure on third down. On fourth-and-six, he hit Carlson on the right side, but the veteran was flagged for the 15-yard penalty. Clausen’s desperation attempt to the left side on fourth-and-21 was short, and the chance for heroics was gone.

Such was the game, which featured slow, consistent play more than anything else. The most noteworthy solid action may have been from the defensive back-four.

The secondary’s performance marked a distinct contrast to the last time Bruton and starting strong safety Tom Zbikowski, also on the Gold team Saturday, played most of a game side-by-side. Southern California quarterback John David Booty completed 17-of-28 passed for 265 yards and two scores last Nov. 25, when Bruton filled in much of the game for former Irish safety Chinedum Ndukwe.

“I’ve tried to get better day by day,” Bruton said. “Right now is just a chance to get better and work on the things we weren’t sharp on in the spring.”

The Blue team responded to Bruton’s score halfway through the second quarter with a scoring pass from Jones to rising sophomore Robby Parris.

Hit on the arm, Jones’ throw came out short, but Parris adjusted to catch the ball at the two and scurried in for the touchdown.

After fifth-year senior cornerback Ambrose Wooden illegally blocked the point-after attempt (Blue-Gold Game rules prohibit rushes on extra points), walk-on kicker Nate Whitaker missed the second try wide left, giving Gold a 7-6 lead it held through halftime.

Rising sophomore kicker Ryan Burkhart finished the scoring with a 29-yard field goal capped a 59-yard drive for Gold that ended at the Blue 6-yard line.