April 26, 2003
By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The Notre Dame offense once again saw how productive its defense can be.
The Blue team forced three second-half turnovers, all leading to points, in a 17-14 victory over the Gold in the Irish’s annual spring game Saturday. Chris Olsen played for the Gold in the first half and Blue in the second, guiding the Irish to 23 of the total 31 points scored.
“I thought he did a good job,” coach Tyrone Willingham said. “I was impressed with how clever he could be at times. He made some plays, that is always a good quality for a quarterback.”
Olsen, who did not play during his freshman season last year, was 11-of-25 passing for 146 yards and ran for a 4-yard touchdown.
Offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said he was impressed.
“He stepped up and made some plays,” Diedrick said. “He showed maybe a little more consistency than he has.”
Olsen ran the scout team last fall, which he said helped prepare him.
“Just because it was the rest of the scout team, the rest of the freshmen, running against possibly the best defense in America,” Olsen said. “It helped me a lot.”
Olsen hopes to eventually challenge Carlyle Holiday for the starter’s job.
“Time will tell,” Willingham said.
Willingham wasn’t ready to award Olsen the backup spot ahead of Pat Dillingham, a former walkon who guided the Irish to wins over Michigan State and Stanford last season. Dillingham struggled Saturday, though, completing 5-of-12 passes with two interceptions.
Holiday played only two series because Willingham wanted to get a better look at Olsen and Dillingham.
But just like last season, when the defense continually set up easy scores for the Irish, the defense was the difference. The Blue offense was held to minus-13 yards total offense in the first half. In the second half, the Blue defense dominated, forcing three turnovers. Jake Carney intercepted a pass by Dillingham that bounced off Maurice Stovall and returned it 24 yards. That set up a 27-yard field goal by Nicholas Setta.
On Gold’s next possession, Dillingham fumbled consecutive snaps by center Bob Morton. Defensive end Travis Leitko recovered the second at the Gold 26-yard line.
The Blue offense finally got its first first down with 6:35 left in the third quarter when Olsen threw an 11-yard pass over the middle to Omar Jenkins. On third-and-19 from the Gold 23, Olsen threw a 21-yard pass to Jenkins on the 2-yard line that set up a TD-run by Jeff Jenkins on the next play.
Two plays later, Jared Clark bobbled a pass from Dillingham that Vontez Duff intercepted at the Gold 48-yard. A 28-yard pass from Olsen to Jenkins helped set up Olsen’s 4-yard TD run, giving the Blue a 17-6 lead.
The Gold finally put together a 74-yard scoring drive, highlighted by a 39-yard pass from Dillingham to tight end Anthony Fasano, to cut the lead to 17-12. The Gold added a 2-point conversion when Dillingham picked up the fumbled snap and threw a pass to Clark in the back of the end zone.
The trouble between Morton and Dillingham highlighted the offensive line troubles. The line struggled throughout last season and the Irish lost center Jeff Faine, who was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft by Cleveland. Right guard Sean Milligan the only returning starting lineman.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Willingham said. “We’re still learning. We’re still growing. That’s a big area of concern.”