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Scrimmage gives an early look at the Irish

Justin Schuver | Monday, August 30, 2004

Preparations for Provo proved promising.Like previous years, Notre Dame held its final preseason scrimmage shortly before its first game of the season. This season, however, the scrimmage was open to all members of the Notre Dame community – students, staff and faculty – who responded with an attendance of roughly 4,000 people to watch the intra-squad scrimmage and catch their first glimpse of the 2004 Irish.The White team, composed of nearly every first and second-string member, defeated the Blue team, composed of mostly freshmen and walk-ons, 23-10. More importantly, the team got a chance to practice in a game-like situation and had the opportunity to showcase some of the talented players that Willingham and his staff recently recruited.Freshmen running backs Justin Hoskins and Darius Walker had several good runs for the Blue team, and while neither scored in the scrimmage, both made an impression on their new coach.”I was very pleased with our freshmen, especially the running backs,” Willingham said. “Justin Hoskins and Darius Walker really did some neat things and showed some athletic ability.”That’s very encouraging, and with that kind of athleticism – maybe it will show up in some special teams play [during the season].” Freshman David Wolke played the entire game as quarterback for the Blue team, and performed well, completing a 23-yard touchdown pass to fellow freshman Chris Vaughn for Blue’s only touchdown of the scrimmage. He did not throw an interception, and neither did either of White’s quarterbacks, sophomore Brady Quinn and senior Pat Dillingham.The Irish showcased a passing attack that distributed the ball around the field to a variety of different receivers, including the tight ends and running backs in a performance that truly resembled Willingham’s much-ballyhooed West Coast offense.”Anytime you spread the ball around you’re going to keep everyone happy and at the same time you can really keep the defense playing honestly,” Quinn said. “The offense has a lot of emotions to get out of the way so we can start thinking about getting ready for BYU, and this scrimmage was really a nice way to work out some of those things.”Sophomore Chase Anastasio had a big play late in the game for the White team, collecting a 46-yard pass from Dillingham and taking it down the sideline before being pushed out about three yards from the goal line. Junior Jeff Jenkins took the ball into the endzone the rest of the way for the touchdown.Rhema McKnight, who led the team in receiving yards in 2003, collected a 20-yard pass from Quinn in the first half but did not score in the scrimmage. He commented on the increased depth in this year’s receiving corps. “It helps a lot [to have several good receivers],” McKnight said. “The defense can’t just key in on one guy, and they never know where the ball is going and never know who it’s coming to, which is a good thing.”If there was one aspect of Notre Dame’s play at the scrimmage that was somewhat suspect, it was the special teams. On several occasions, punt and kick returners bobbled the ball and there were also several long snaps that were either low or too high – including one that sailed over the punter’s head and resulted in a White field goal to end the first half.The kicking game was solid, however, as senior D.J. Fitzpatrick hit two 50-yard field goals with ease, and sophomore Carl Gioia booted a 25-yard kick for White and a 30-yarder for Blue.Senior running back Ryan Grant and senior linebacker Brandon Hoyte did not participate in the scrimmage, while senior defensive end Justin Tuck played sparingly. All three are nursing injuries and Willingham did not want to risk any additional injury before the BYU game.