Irish Defense Impresses in Blue-Gold Game

There were some breakdowns here and there, but the good outweighed the bad for the Notre Dame defense during the 77th annual Blue-Gold game, Saturday afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium. The Blue, which consisted basically of the first-team offense and second-team defense, defeated the Gold, 10-7, in front of a spring-game record 41,279 fans.

Putting pressure on the quarterback was a huge area of concern heading into the spring, but the Irish led by Trevor Laws' six tackles and two sacks, showed improvement, totaling five sacks and several near misses. For the most part, the safeties and linebackers did a nice job of keeping play in front of them and swarming to the football.

"All spring long, I've been talking about getting pressure up front without blitzing, and I thought there was good pressure applied especially by that first group on defense," Weis explained. "I mean if we didn't double team (Victor) Abiamiri, he would have been in the backfield all day. I thought the first line, obviously Trevor got the MVP because of the penetration he was creating a lot of havoc in there, which was very encouraging."

The first-team defense played well against the first-team offense, holding them to 252 yards, and just one big play. But when the unit needed a stop to give its team a chance to win, they couldn't get the job done. Brady Quinn and company went on a nine-play 76-yard drive that concluded with Carl Gioia's 20-yard game-winning field goal.

"I'm glad we kicked a field goal because I didn't know what I was going to do if we went to overtime," Weis joked.

All joking aside, Ambrose Wooden was called for a 16-yard pass interference penalty early in the drive. And on a third-and-six play from the 24-yard line, Darius Walker rushed for seven yards on a draw play to put the ball well within Gioia's range.

"We are going to have that situation in real time games and we are going to have to stop people," defensive captain Tom Zbikowski said.

Gioia's field goal meant a steak dinner for the winning Blue team, and hot dogs and beans for the Gold team.

Mitchell Thomas auditioned well with the first team, making six tackles out of his Mike position, tying him with Laws for the Gold high. He also broke up a pass.

"Mitchell always had athletic ability, but when we started the spring I had him over as an outside linebacker as a backup," Weis explained. "He worked his way in with the first group as an inside linebacker. I think that athletic ability has never been an issue. If he can get into a comfort zone and know what to do and turn it loose he can definitely be an asset for us."

The same holds true for almost everybody, and that was another focus this spring. The coaches simplified things for the defense during practice, giving the guys the opportunity to become more accustomed with their roles in the defense.

"I think it's been pretty obvious that one of the things we've done this spring is try to keep it relatively simple to make sure we can evaluate there athletic ability based off of them not having to think about what they have to do," Weis said. "Too many times when you start scheming on either offense or defense the players start thinking about what they are doing instead of just going out there and playing. I think that's a positive when you just relatively play base defense and be able to hold up pretty well. I think that once you get to that, then it becomes that fine line when you get into game plans about how much are you going to risk personnel mismatches by just lining up and playing. At least we are starting to find out that we can line up and play, and we are also starting to create some depth that we didn't have at this time last year."

Speaking of that depth, Ray Herring led the Blue defense with a game-high seven tackles. Scott Smith had four tackles including two for losses and a sack. Justin Brown and Derrell Hand also had a sack.

Another cause for concern coming in was giving up the big play. There were two on Saturday, one for each team. Travis Thomas made a nice cut back against the grain, and ran for an 83-yard touchdown. Jeff Samardzija hauled in a 35-yard touchdown pass.

"It will always be a concern but it's less of a concern," Weis said of the big play. "For example the touchdown pass was versus cover three. The concern then is not scheme. The concern is being a cover three (and) being run by when you already have a deep third."

Cornerback Terrail Lambert ended up being the guy Samardzija caught the touchdown over. Lambert was running with the first team with Mike Richardson being sidelined with injury. He had three tackles.

"He's done a nice job in the spring having a better understanding of the defense," Weis said. "Terrail's never had a problem athletically being able to play. Sometimes putting in a new defense takes someone a little longer to pick it up than others. I think he feels more comfortable in the defense this year than he did last year."

Zbikowski feels the same about everybody now that the spring is over.

"I think we made the strides where we needed to make the strides," he said. "Obviously there are still things we need to work on, but I think come fall we're going to be ready to contend for top defense in the country." Top Stories