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Football: Running wild

Sam Werner | Monday, April 20, 2009

The offense took advantage of a unique, and somewhat complex, scoring system to beat the defense 68-33 Saturday in the 80th edition of the annual Blue-Gold game.

Even though the offense, designated as the Blue team, won decisively, it was freshman cornerback Robert Blanton who stole the show, picking off a Jimmy Clausen pass early in the first half and returning it all the way for a touchdown.

“Coach [Corwin] Brown made a great call,” Blanton, who was named defensive MVP, said. “[Jimmy Clausen] just threw the ball right to me. It wasn’t too hard. Jimmy told me to thank him later. I had some great blocking from the defensive line and safeties.”

Clausen finished the day 8-of-17 for 70 yards and the interception, while freshman Dayne Crist, who sat out last season as a redshirt, finished 4-of-10 for 40 yards. Crist and Clausen alternated drives, with Clausen getting slightly more snaps.

“He is doing a much better job at running the operation,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said of Clausen. “The [evolution] from calling plays to running plays to running the offense is really a three-step deal. First, just call the play, then you run the plays, then you run the offense, and that is where he has gotten. He has gotten to the point where he is running the offense and once you get to that point, the sky is the limit.”

In terms of pure statistics, the most effective quarterback was freshman walk-on Nate Montana, son of former Irish quarterback Joe Montana. The younger Montana played sparingly, but finished 2-of-2 for 51 yards.

“It was nice for Nate to get a couple of completions,” Weis said. “I think it was good for him to get those under his belt. There’s a lot of pressure on him, being a legacy, especially now that you’re out there playing in front of over 30,000 people instead of just in practice.”

The key to the offense’s victory was new-found success in the running game. Sophomore running back Armando Allen was named offensive MVP, gaining 70 yards on 12 carries. Fellow sophomore Robert Hughes also put up impressive numbers, gaining 93 yards on 21 carries with two touchdowns. Freshman Jonas Gray, who saw limited playing time last year, rounded out the trio with 89 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. In all, the Irish averaged 4.2 yards per carry Saturday, a clear improvement over last year’s average of 3.3 yards per carry.

On the other side of the ball, Weis said he was pleased with the performance of the defensive line, which sacked Clausen twice and Crist once.

“These guys are hungry and they gave a lot of effort,” honorary coach and former Irish defensive lineman Justin Tuck said. “These guys are young, and the sky could be the limit for them. They are in a good place. I told these guys that just because it was the spring game doesn’t mean that they have to stop working. We need guys to step up on this football team, and Ethan [Johnson] can definitely be one of those guys.”

After the game, Weis agreed that the defensive line, while inexperienced, could be a major force this season.

“I thought we ran the ball with power inside and our defense was good to the edge and put a lot of heat on the quarterback,” Weis said. “Against our defense, opponents are going to spend a lot of time scheming to get their quarterback extra time because they are very athletic. You only saw about a tenth of what they have dialed up.”

Freshman early-enrollee Zeke Motta also stood out on defense, leading the team with seven tackles.

“He might have some work to do mentally,” Weis said of Motta. “But he’s a very physically gifted athlete.”


-While this year’s scoring system gave points for “explosive plays,” next year’s may have include points for most creative celebration. The defense started with a game of “duck, duck, goose” after Blanton’s touchdown.

“I don’t know whose idea that was, but it was probably the tightest celebration I’ve ever seen,” Blanton said. “I was running down the field and Kyle McCarthy was yelling ‘duck, duck, goose.’ Somebody had planned the celebration out before. I didn’t worry about looking stupid because you only live once so you have to have some fun.”

The offense fought back with a grenade explosion celebration after one of Robert Hughes’ touchdowns. Weis said he told the game’s officials to not call personal foul penalties, so his players could have some fun.

“I just hope they got it on video so I can see how stupid they really were,” Weis joked.