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Football: Feeling Blue

Eric Retter | Monday, April 24, 2006

With only 17 total points, it was clear Saturday’s annual Blue-Gold game was a defensive battle. But the story of the game wasn’t either team’s defense – it was the leg of junior Carl Gioia that gave the blue team a 10-7 victory.

Gioia nailed a 20-yard field goal to break the 7-7 tie as time expired in the fourth quarter – in front of a record 41,279 fans. Gioia had missed a 34-yard field goal earlier in the first quarter and Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis was happy the junior ended the game when he did.

“I’m glad we kicked a field goal, because I didn’t know what I was going do with overtime,” Weis said. “I didn’t say too much during the game, but I did say center the ball and kick the field goal.”

Both Notre Dame defenses played well and limited the scoring opportunities of the opposing offenses. And for Notre Dame, who ranked 75th in total defense and 103rd in pass defense last season, getting pressure on the passer had been a focal point during spring practices.

“All spring long I’ve been talking about getting pressure up front without blitzing, I thought that there was good pressure applied, especially by that first group on defense,” head coach Charlie Weis said. “I thought that first line was creating a lot of havoc in there, which that was encouraging.”

The effort was led by junior defensive tackle Trevor Laws, whose two sacks earned him the Defensive MVP award. Laws had three total tackles in the game.

“Obviously, Trevor [Laws] got the MVP because of the penetration he was causing right there,” Weis said.

The blue team was led by the starting offense and the gold team was led by the starting defense. Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis pitted the first team units against each other and the second team units against each other in order to ensure parity.

His plan worked. The game was a scoreless tie for much of the first half, until junior wide receiver Jeff Samardzija caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Brady Quinn with 3:15 left in the second quarter.

An 83-yard touchdown run by junior running back Travis Thomas in the third quarter was the only other score until Gioia’s game-winner.

“I showed patience and something broke open for us,” Thomas said. “[Ferrine] was coming behind me and I was like ‘five more [yard], five more [yards]’ and I looked behind me and I was like ‘leap!’ and I got in there.”

The game’s first possession ended when Samardizija attempted a pass and was intercepted by cornerback Ambrose Wooden. The play was one of four trick plays drawn up by the two offensive honorary coaches, Raghib Ismail and Jerome Bettis, none of which had much success.

But while Ismail and Bettis used their permitted trick plays, the defensive coaches – Bob and Mike Golic – didn’t participate much in the on-field action.

“They gave us both headsets that didn’t work; we got incoming but there was no outgoing,” Bob Golic joked after the game. “I got that right away [that our headphones didn’t work], [my brother] Mike actually didn’t get that until the second quarter.”

On the next possession, Gold appeared poised to score, driving 60 yards in nine plays behind 4-of-5 passing from freshman quarterback Evan Sharpley, but the drive stalled and Gioia missed the 34-yard field goal.

After the game, Weis was pleased with the play of both defenses – especially since the Irish ran a base defense for much of the afternoon.

“I think that it’s been pretty obvious that one of the things we’ve done throughout the spring is try to keep it relatively simple to make sure that we can evaluate their athletic ability based off of them not having to think about what they have to do,” Weis said. “I think it’s a positive when you can turn ’em instead of playing base defense and be able to hold up pretty well.”