Unfortunately for the record 51,852 fans in attendance, Clausen couldn't even manage a first-down and David Bruton's 35-yard interception return for a touchdown was the difference in the Gold's 10-6 victory over the Blue on Saturday. On a gorgeous afternoon with temperatures in the mid-70's and honorary coaches Lou Holtz and Ara Parseghian back on the Notre Dame sidelines, the four quarterbacks vying to replace Brady Quinn were the main attraction. But it was a power running game, that accounted for 176 of the 253 yards in the contest, including offensive MVP Junior Jabbie's 87 yards on 13 carries, that was the most telling sign of the day. After two seasons of relying on the pass, next year's Notre Dame team will lean on the talented group of running backs.
"I kept the number of passes to a minimum because I wanted them to come out there and run the football," head coach Charlie Weis said. "I think one of the main things I wanted to come out here in the spring was establish a toughness on the offense that I think we've started to get away from a little bit. That's why I want to see a heavy dose of running."
Jabbie's performance was tops among the four backs. The senior running back, who switched from defensive back to running back at the beginning of last season, usually is the fourth back mentioned on the Notre Dame team. But on Saturday, Jabbie was the main dog. In four consecutive plays near the end of the first half, Jabbie ran the ball three times for 41 yards and even attempted a halfback pass.
"That's basically how he's been the entire spring," Weis said. "Everyone wants to talk about Travis (Thomas), James (Aldridge) and Armando (Allen) being the new guy. That's what we've seen out of Junior the entire spring. He's played himself into deserving to be in contention."
The Gold team jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on an athletic catch-and-run by safety David Bruton. The junior picked off an overthrown pass from Demetrius Jones and weaved his way through traffic for a 35-yard touchdown return. Bruton, in contention for the starting safety spot opposite Tom Zbikowski, made a lasting final impression on the coaching staff heading into the summer as he earned Defensive MVP honors.
"What he's done is he's grown into his body," Weis said. "I don't know if it's 20 or 25 pounds that he's put on since the day he's gotten here. But you look at him now, he's not that little skinny little kid that he was when he got here. Now he's about 210 and he still runs the way he ran when he first got here.
"So any time you're that big and now all of a sudden you put on some bulk and you run like you can, which is very good range, that puts yourself in position to get yourself on the field."
Bruton's play was one of several in a defensive-minded affair. The Gold team held the Blue squad to 116 yards of total offense. Toryan Smith, in contention for a starting spot at inside linebacker, led the Gold group with nine tackles. Smith's main competition, Joe Brockington, led the Blue with a game-high 11 stops. New defensive coordinator Corwin Brown's 3-4 personnel defense was on display for the first time on Saturday in front of the Notre Dame fans. In addition to Bruton's interception, Ray Herring added another pickoff and the defense as a whole totaled seven sacks by seven different players.
"There were very few guys that were out of position," Weis said. "That's one of my pet peeves when guys are out of position and very few guys were out of position. A lot of the runs made were cutback runs so we'll have to work on holding the back side. But on the front side, a lot of those plays were getting blown up. Other than pursuing hard on the backside, the guys knew what they were doing."
Herring's interception of Zach Frazer led to the only offensive touchdown of the day for either team. On 3rd-and-3 from the Gold's 15-yard line, Jones lofted a wounded duck to the right front of the end zone. Wide receiver Robby Parris adjusted to the ball and caught it, running it in the final yard to cut the Gold lead to 7-6. Once again, nothing is for sure when it comes to the Notre Dame kicking game and it showed. Nate Whitaker, in a battle with Ryan Burkhart for the place-kicking duties, pushed the extra point wide left.
And how did those quarterbacks, with so much attention and curiosity thrown their way, look on Saturday? Nobody really stood out but Weis made it a point last week to say the Blue-Gold game would count as evenly as the other 14 spring practices. No job would be won or lost on Saturday‘s performance alone.
Frazer and Jones each threw an interception that the other team converted into a touchdown. Frazer did not complete a pass on Saturday, going 0-for-4 but had a touchdown in the fourth quarter dropped by Richard Jackson. Junior Evan Sharpley had the best numbers of the day, completing 5-for-7 passes for 31 yards. Clausen was 3-for-7 for 23 yards. The longest pass of the day was Parris's 15-yard touchdown. On the Blue's final chance to win the contest, Clausen did hit John Carlson for a first-down near midfield but officials called offensive pass interference on the fifth-year senior tight end. It wasn't a showcase day for the signal callers. Weis didn't want it that way. What was on display was a return to smash mouth football.
"If you saw the spring game today, you could see what I'm trying to establish," Weis said. "You always have to be thinking along the lines of inexperience at several positions. It's not just (at quarterback). It's inexperience on the offensive line and at wide receiver. We're not inexperienced at tight end and running back. If we could establish a mentality where we can run the football with power, the whole offense opens up."