Irish fans will get a preview of the 2005 Notre Dame football team on Saturday, during the 76th Annual Blue-Gold Game.

Blue-Gold Game Notes

April 22, 2005

76th Annual Blue-Gold Game

Presented by Chick-fil-A

The Date and Time: Saturday, April 23 at 1:35 p.m. EST.

The Site: Notre Dame Stadium (80,795/Natural Grass) in Notre Dame, Ind.

The Tickets: Available through the Notre Dame athletics ticket office (574-631-7356) – cost is $10 for adults, $8 for youths (18 and under). Tickets purchased on game day will cost $12 for adults, $8 for youths (18 and under).

The Radio Plans: The Blue-Gold Game will be broadcast live on radio by South Bend’s ESPN Radio 1580 AM (Sean Stires, Andy Budzinski and Mike Frank).


This is the 76th Annual Blue-Gold football event, Notre Dame’s final controlled scrimmage of the 2005 spring practices.


Proceeds from the Blue-Gold Spring Football Festival benefit the scholarship fund of the Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley, which is sponsoring Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game.


The Blue-Gold Spring Football Festival, presented by Chick-fil-A, also has several supporting sponsors: Chili’s, Papa Vino’s and WMWB-TV (the local WB affiliate – channel 25).


Four of Notre Dame’s most recognized names will serve as honorary coaches for this Saturday’s game. Former Irish All-American wide receiver and 1987 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown (1984-87), former Irish quarterback and four-time Super Bowl champion Joe Montana (1975-78), former Irish All-American quarterback and two-time Super Bowl champion Joe Theismann (1968-70) and former Notre Dame All-American defensive tackle and 1990 Lombardi Award winner Chris Zorich (1988-90). Montana and Zorich will coach the Blue team while Brown and Theismann will coach the Gold team.


The Blue-Gold Game features a matchup of teams selected by the Irish coaching staff prior to the contest. Some players may change teams during the course of the game and all of the Notre Dame coaches are expected to be on the field during the game. There will be four 15-minute quarters with a running clock, except for the last two minutes of each half (will be played with normal clock rules). Officials may stop the clock at their discretion at any time for injuries, measurements, etc. Each team will be allowed 3 timeouts per half (clock will stop at each timeout). Halftime will last 20 minutes.

Each team will dress in the home locker room. A coin toss will determine which team uses the visitors’ locker room after warm-ups prior to the start of the game and at halftime. The coin toss for the game has already been held. The Gold Team won the toss and will announce its choice prior to kickoff on Saturday. Two-point conversions may be used only for possible game-winning points in the final two minutes of the game. Teams cannot kick a field goal to tie the game with during the final two minutes of the game – they must go for a first down or a touchdown. The quarterback cannot be touched or tackled. All turnovers are live ball situations. After a score by either team, the team trailing will get the ball on its own 35-yard line.

Several “special rules” also will be in effect: Teams are allowed only one trick play per quarter (no carryover from quarter to quarter). The defense must play a multiple 4-3 alignment and there will be no blitzing. No kickoffs or kickoff returns will be used as the ball will be placed at offense’s 35-yard line to start a possession. On punts, there will be no rush and no contact on return men.


The 76th Annual Blue-Gold Game is just one part of the annual Spring Football Festival, which officially begins at 9 a.m. with a pre-game brunch with Notre Dame players and coaches in the Joyce Center Fieldhouse (ticketholders only). An interactive fan festival will take place in the Joyce Center South parking lot from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Gates to Notre Dame Stadium will open at 11 a.m. for the Alumni Flag Football Game which is slated to begin at 11:30 a.m.


Beginning at 9:45 a.m. Saturday, current Irish football players will be available for autographs inside the Joyce Center Fieldhouse (north dome) until 10:30 a.m. The 45-minute session is available only to people who have purchased the special “VIP ticket package” along with very limited public access to the event (enter through Gate 3).


Seven returnees from the 2004 Irish roster are sporting new numbers for 2005 spring practice:

Player New # Old #

Darrin Bragg 7 18

Leo Ferrine 15 38

Brandon Harris 36 81

Junior Jabbie 8 37

Terrail Lambert 20 34

David Wolke 14 13

Anthony Vernaglia 4 42

HEAD COACH Charlie Weis

The Blue-Gold Game will mark the first public look at the Irish football team under new head coach Charlie Weis, who was named the 28th head football coach in Notre Dame history on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2004. A 1978 Notre Dame graduate, Weis takes the reins of the Irish program after a highly successful career as an assistant coach in the National Football League.

The owner of four Super Bowl champion rings as products of a stellar 15-season career as an NFL assistant, Weis is a widely-respected disciple of professional coaching standouts Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. He comes to Notre Dame after excelling as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots where he has played an integral role in New England’s victories in three of the last four Super Bowls.

Weis is the first Notre Dame graduate to hold the football head coaching position at his alma mater since Hugh Devore (a ’34 graduate) served as interim coach in 1963 and is the first Notre Dame graduate to serve as the Irish football coach on a full-fledged basis since Joe Kuharich (a ’38 Notre Dame graduate who coached at Notre Dame from 1959 through ’62).

A veteran of 26 seasons in coaching, Weis coached nine seasons with the Patriots, five as offensive coordinator. Weis helped produce four Super Bowl championships (New York Giants following 1990 season, Patriots following ’01, ’03 and `04 seasons), five conference titles and seven division titles. Weis has been a winner everywhere he has coached – and he has received widespread notice as one of the most creative and innovative offensive coordinators in football.


The members of the University of Notre Dame football team recently voted linebacker Brandon Hoyte and quarterback Brady Quinn as team captains for the 2005 football season. By virtue of the vote, Hoyte and Quinn will be the team’s designated captains for each game of the `05 season, to be joined each week by a special teams performer to be determined by coaching staff. Team members also elected a group of representatives from the team’s various position groups. Members of the 2005 Irish Football House of Representatives are: Victor Abiamiri (defensive line), Anthony Fasano (tight ends), D.J. Fitzpatrick (special teams), Corey Mays (linebackers), Rhema McKnight (receivers), Rashon Powers-Neal (running backs), Brady Quinn (quarterbacks), Dan Stevenson (offensive line) and Tom Zbikowski (defensive backs). Those representatives will join Hoyte and Quinn to comprise the team’s Leadership Committee for 2005. “Leadership is something we often talk about but is usually an intangible quality,” head coach Charlie Weis said. “Leadership has to come from many places – the head coach and the coaching staff, for sure – but ultimately it must come from the players themselves. That’s why the Leadership Committee will be such an important facet of our football team.”


Notre Dame returns 29 players and 10 starters from an offense that produced one of the school’s finest passing attacks in history in 2004, but will be looking to achieve more balance in `05. Returning offensive starters for the Irish in 2005 are QB Brady Quinn, FB Rashon Powers-Neal, TE Anthony Fasano, WR Maurice Stovall, WR Rhema McKnight, LT Ryan Harris, LG Bobby Morton, C John Sullivan, RG Dan Stevenson, and LG Mark LeVoir. The only spot where the designated `04 starter doesn’t return this season is at tailback. But sophomore TB Darius Walker started six games there in `04 and led the team in rushing yards (freshman record 786) and touchdowns (seven – second-best by a freshman in ND history). Other items regarding the Irish offense:

For the most part in 2004, success running the football led to success in the win column for Notre Dame. In the Irish’s six victories, Notre Dame averaged 150.8 yards per game on the ground and 3.4 yards per rushing attempt (905 yards on 265 carries). In the Irish’s six losses, Notre Dame averaged 104.0 yards per game via the rush and 3.2 yards per attempt (624 yards on 195 carries). Notre Dame’s best rushing performance in a victory was a 204-yard effort against Navy. The worst Irish rushing performance in a victory was the 98-yard outing at Tennessee. The exception to this trend occurred in the loss at USC when the Irish rushed for 195 yards on 37 attempts (5.3 avg.), the most surrendered by the Trojans since UCLA gained 197 on Nov. 24, 2002.

Notre Dame’s passing totals were consistent throughout most of the 2004 season – at least in regards to the passing game’s effect on the outcome. In the Irish’s six victories, Notre Dame averaged 195.7 yards per game in the air and 7.4 yards per pass attempt. In the Irish’s six losses, Notre Dame averaged 272.8 yards per game via the pass and 7.5 yards per attempt. Notre Dame’s best passing performance in a victory was a 266-yard effort, four-touchdown against Washington. The worst Irish passing performance in a victory was the 118-yard outing at Tennessee.

Notre Dame did not commit a turnover in the loss at USC, snapping an amazing 41-game unbeaten streak (40-0-1) since 1985 for the Irish when they don’t commit a turnover. Prior to the USC game, the last time a Notre Dame team lost a game without committing a turnover was in a 34-30 loss at Penn State on Nov. 12, 1983. Two of Notre Dame’s six victories in 2004 were keynoted by errorless outings in the turnover department as the Irish collected wins over Navy (27-9) and Tennessee (17-13) while not losing the ball via a turnover.

The Irish enter 2005 with an impressive streak of six consecutive games without losing a fumble. Overall, Notre Dame did not lose a fumble in seven of 12 games and lost more than one only once all season (two at Michigan State). Since a fumble lost against Stanford on Oct. 9, the Irish enter the 2005 season having gone 24 quarters and 184 rushing attempts without losing a fumble. Over that span, Notre Dame only fumbled twice, recovering both drops (vs. Navy and USC).


Notre Dame returns 29 players and three starters from a defense that was tough to run on in `04 but struggled against the pass. Returning defensive starters for the Irish in 2005 are NG Derek Landri, LB Brandon Hoyte and SS Tom Zbikowski. Overall, 11 players who earned monograms in `04 return on the defensive side. Other items regarding the Irish defense:

Notre Dame’s defense was excellent against the run in 2004. The Irish prevented every opponent from reaching its full-season average on the ground, holding all but two foes under 100 yards for the game. For the season, the Irish allowed 88.2 yards per game on the ground and yielded 2.7 yards per rushing attempt. The only player to rush for more than 100 yards against Notre Dame in 2004 was Navy fullback Kyle Eckel, who gained 102 yards on 22 carries on Oct. 16. Notre Dame’s 20 yards allowed to Oregon State in the Insight Bowl set a new Irish bowl record for fewest rushing yards allowed.

Only one (Pittsburgh) of the Irish’s 12 opponents achieved its rushing average for 2004 against Notre Dame. Only three opponents managed to break the century mark in rushing yardage (Michigan State, Washington and Navy), and only one averaged more than 4.0 yards per attempt (Michigan State, 4.7 yards per rush). Navy’s 216 yards (on 61 carries – a 3.5 avg.) was the only 200+-yard outing by an opponent.

Notre Dame’s defense against the rush was the team’s most consistent area in 2004. The Irish allowed only 1,058 rushing yards (88.2 per game) and a key to that success was the defense’s ability to prevent long rushing plays. Notre Dame did not allow a rushing play of more than 25 yards in 2004. Other than two 25-yard runs (by Boston College and Tennessee), the `04 Irish did not allow a run of more than 18 yards (by Michigan State and USC) in a game. Notre Dame allowed only six rushing touchdowns (the Irish gave up 19 rushing touchdowns in 2003) for an improvement of 13.

One of the focal points of the Irish in 2005 will be improving their pass defense. The `04 Irish struggled against the pass, particularly in the season’s final three games and in losses on the whole. In their six wins, the Irish allowed an average of 186.5 yards per game through the air and 5.7 yards per pass attempt. In the six losses, Notre Dame allowed an average of 272.8 yards per game and 7.4 yards per attempt. In the six wins, the Irish allowed only two passing touchdowns, but gave up 17 in the six losses. Opponents completed 49.5 pass attempts in Notre Dame wins and 65.3 percent in Irish losses.


Quarterback Brady Quinn re-wrote virtually all of Notre Dame’s sophomore passing marks in 2004, moving into fifth place on the Irish career passing yards list with 4,417 yards through two seasons. Quinn set new sophomore passing standards for yards (2,586), touchdowns (17), completions (191) and attempts (353).

Quinn’s 2,586 passing yards in `04 is the second-best single-season passing yardage total of any quarterback in school annals behind Jarious Jackson’s 2,753 in 1999.

Quinn passed for more than 200 yards seven times in `04 including a career-best performance against Purdue when he completed 26 of 46 passes for 432 yards and one touchdown. That outing was the highest individual passing yardage total in Notre Dame Stadium history and the second-highest in any game in school history (behind Joe Theismann’s 526 yards at USC in 1970). Other notable facts about Quinn heading into the `05 season:

Quinn’s three-game stretch against Michigan State, Washington and Purdue is the second-best in Notre Dame history for most passing yards in three consecutive games. In that stretch he threw for 912 yards.

Quinn spread his pass completions around in 2004, completing passes to 21 different receivers (the most since 1962), a breakdown of seven wide receivers, six running backs, four tight ends, two passes to himself (caught off of deflections vs. Washington and Purdue) and one to an offensive lineman (LT Ryan Harris on a tackle-eligible play in the Insight Bowl). For the second straight season, WR Rhema McKnight was Quinn’s favorite target grabbing 42 passes for 610 yards and three touchdowns. Other top targets for Quinn were TE Anthony Fasano (27-367, 2 TDs), WR Maurice Stovall (21-313, 1 TD), WR Matt Shelton (20-515, 5 TDs) and WR Jeff Samardzija (17-274). Quinn tossed touchdown passes to six different players last season: McKnight, Shelton (five times), Fasano (twice), FB Rashon Powers-Neal (twice), Stovall and TE Billy Palmer.


Running back Darius Walker produced the finest rushing performance by a freshman in Notre Dame history in 2004, breaking a 29-year-old school record in the process. His 43-yard effort against Oregon State in the Insight Bowl moved him atop Notre Dame’s freshman rushing list, passing Jerome Heavens (756 yards in 1975). Walker provided a consistent threat for the Irish running game by averaging 71.5 yards rushing per game (786 yards on 185 carries). He made a big splash in his home debut vs. Michigan, rushing 31 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-20 Irish win. He followed up with another solid effort at Michigan State, rushing for 98 yards on 26 carries and posted his second 100-yard effort of the season with 112 yards and two touchdowns against Pittsburgh. His Michigan performance was good enough for The Sporting News and Sporting News Radio to name the Lawrenceville, Ga., native as its National Player of the Week, and for to tab him as the National Freshman of the Week for Sept. 11. He was consistently productive in the red zone, producing seven touchdown rushes. That total ranks him second all-time in Notre Dame history for rushing touchdowns by a freshman. Only Autry Denson’s eight rushing scores in 1995 ranks ahead of Walker’s total.


Wide receiver Rhema McKnight is nearing the top of Notre Dame’s career receiving lists for both receptions and receiving yards after his junior season. He enters the `05 season with a career total of 98 catches for 1,301 yards and six touchdowns. McKnight enters `05 needing 23 catches to break into the top six receivers in Notre Dame history (Tony Hunter is sixth with 120 catches from 1979-82). The Irish career receptions leader is Tom Gatewood, who caught 157 passes over three seasons from 1969-71. McKnight’s 1,301 receiving yards ranks seventh in school history. Over the last two seasons, McKnight has made 89 catches, the most in a two-year span by an Irish receiver since Derrick Mayes caught 95 passes in 1994-95.


With 45 catches over the last two seasons (including a 27-catch year in `04) junior tight end Anthony Fasano has been among the nation’s most productive tight ends. His `04 totals (367 yards, four touchdowns) rank among the best ever by an Irish tight end. That production has Fasano positioned for early consideration for the `05 John Mackey Award, given annually to college football’s top tight end. In fact, the Mackey Award honored Fasano with its national Tight End of the Week Award in `04 for his performance against Purdue on Oct. 4. Fasano had eight catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns against the Boilermakers.


Linebacker Brandon Hoyte will be the veteran returnee to the Irish defense in `05 as he returns for his final season of action at Notre Dame. Hoyte has played in 37 games in his career including 16 starts at inside linebacker. He was a catalyst for Notre Dame’s physical play on defense in 2004, making several big hits and tackles for losses. Hoyte ended the season with 74 tackles to rank second on the team, and his knack for making big hits was a hallmark of his play in `04. Hoyte forced three fumbles, collected three quarterback sacks and made eight tackles for losses (46 yards). He posted a career-best 16 stops vs. Navy, the most by an Irish player since Courtney Watson had 18 tackles at Nebraska in 2001.


The Irish should be in good shape in the kicking game on special teams in 2005 as PK D.J. Fitzpatrick is back to handle the placements while vying to return as the full-time punter. Fitzpatrick connected on 11 of 15 field goal attempts in `04 to raise his career total of field goals made to 23. His next successful field goal attempt will move him into a tie for seventh in Notre Dame history for field goals made in a career with Harry Oliver (24 from 1980-81). The Irish record for field goals made in a career is 51 by John Carney (1984-86). Fitzpatrick ranked 40th nationally with a 41.8-yard punting average, a jump of five yards per kick from his `03 average (36.84) and a big factor in Notre Dame’s ranking of 25th nationally in net punting. He had 17 punts of at least 50 yards, including a career-long 67-yarder vs. Boston College, dropped 29 punts inside the opposition’s 20-yard line and helped the Irish hold opponents to only 8.2 yards per punt return. The former walk-on from Granger, IN, had career-best outings in consecutive games in `04, averaging 46.0 yards on seven attempts against Washington (including four punts of at least 50 yards and four punts downed inside the UW 20) and an impressive 49.3 yards on three punts against Purdue.


A closer look at probable returnees to the Notre Dame roster from the 2004 season shows the Irish will be far from inexperienced on offense and in the kicking game, but will be looking to replace the bulk of their tacklers on the defensive side of the football. The details:

RUSHERS: The Irish return players who accounted for 57.6 percent (881 of 1,529 yards gained) of the rushing yardage accumulated in `04 led by sophomore-to-be Darius Walker (team-leading 786 yards) at tailback. Returnees accounted for 71.9 percent of the rushing attempts in `04 (296 of 460 carries) and 64.7 percent of the Irish’s rushing touchdowns (11 of 17).

PASSERS: Starting quarterback Brady Quinn returns for a third season at the helm of the Notre Dame offense. He alone accounted for 98.8 percent (2,586 of 2,617 yards gained) of the passing yardage gained in `04. Primary backup Pat Dillingham graduated, leaving the Irish with virtually no experience at the backup positions (`04 freshman David Wolke played three snaps). Quinn had 97.5 percent of the pass attempts (353 of 362) and 97.9 percent (191 of 196) pass completions in `04 and 100 percent of the touchdowns thrown (17) and interceptions (10).

RECEIVERS: The team’s top seven receivers from `04 return including receptions and yardage leader WR Rhema McKnight (42 catches, 610 yards) and leading deep threat Matt Shelton (school-record 25.8 yards per catch). Overall, 15 players return of a school-record 21 players who caught passes in `04. Returnees accounted for 88.2 percent (172 of 195) catches, 91.8 percent (2,402 of 2,617) yards gained and 94.1 percent (16 of 17) receiving touchdowns in `04.

BLOCKERS: Every offensive lineman that started a game in `04 is slated to return for the `05 season: LT Ryan Harris, LG Bob Morton, C John Sullivan, RG Dan Stevenson and RT Mark LeVoir. Harris, LeVoir, Stevenson and Sullivan started all 12 games in `04 at their respective positions while Morton started all 11 games in which he played (he missed the Insight Bowl with an injury – Dan Santucci started at LG). The primary group of `04 starters has accounted for a total of 101 career starts. Overall, the team returns offensive linemen who have a total of 106 career starts.

TACKLERS: Defensive players that accounted for 34.8 percent (287 of 824) of the tackles made in `04 return. The Irish lose seven of the top 10 tacklers from `04 including leading stopper LB Mike Goolsby (97 tackles), leading sack man DE Justin Tuck (47 tackles, six sacks, 14 tackles for loss) and veteran linebacker Derek Curry (65 tackles). The top returning tackler is LB Brandon Hoyte, who was second on the team in `04 with 74 tackles.

PASS DEFENDERS: Of the 39 pass breakups recorded in `04, the Irish lose players credited with 66.7 percent (26 of 39) of those plays including team leader CB Dwight Ellick (seven PBUs). Other prominent pass defenders who depart include CB Preston Jackson (six PBUs) and S Quentin Burrell (three PBUs). Only one player with an interception in `04 returns – S Tom Zbikowski. He accounted for one of 10 thefts in `04 (10 percent).

PASS RUSHERS: The early departure of DE Justin Tuck (team-high six sacks in `04; ND-record 24.5 sacks in career) to the NFL deprives the `05 team of its most successful pass rusher. Players who accounted for 28.3 percent (8.5 of 30) of `04 sacks return. Leading returnees are LB Brandon Hoyte (three sacks), LB Corey Mays (two sacks) and DE Victor Abiamiri (two sacks).

RETURN MEN: Plenty of experienced kickoff return men return as the Irish welcome back players who returned 40 of 41 kickoffs in `04. However, Notre Dame needs a new punt return man after the departure of Carlyle Holiday, who accounted for 29 of 33 (87.9 percent) of punt returns and 87.7 percent (314 of 358) of yardage in `04.

SCORING: Players who scored 83.4 percent (241 of 289) of Notre Dame’s points in `04 return led by placekicker D.J. Fitzpatrick, who scored a team-leading 67 points (11 field goals, 34 PATs).

KICKERS/PUNTERS: Fitzpatrick’s return gives ND its leading punter and placekicker from `04. Fitzpatrick accounted for 100 percent (67 of 67) of the Irish’s kicking points and attempted 79 of the team’s 81 punts. All three kickoff men (Fitzpatrick, Carl Gioia, Bobby Renkes) and both punters (Fitzpatrick and Geoff Price) are slated to return in `05.


Recent years of Notre Dame football have produced some impressive semesters in the classroom for the Notre Dame football team. In fact, the Irish are coming off a 2004 fall semester in which the team’s 105 members combined for a 2.862 grade-point average. That followed an `04 spring semester in which the team’s 104 players combined for a 2.96 GPA that ranks as the program’s best semester GPA on record (dating back to 1992).

The Notre Dame football program’s top seven semester GPAs since ’92 all have been posted during the past eight semesters (prior to the spring of `05), including the three consecutive semesters from fall of `02 to fall of `03 (2.84 in the fall of ’02, 2.79 in the spring of ’03 and 2.82 in the fall of ’03). The football program’s second-best semester GPA of the past 12 years came in the spring of 2002 (2.90), followed by the 2.862 of the fall of `04, a 2.80 in the spring of `01 and a 2.69 in the fall of ’01.

Upon closer examination, the 2004 fall semester saw nine Irish football players post a Dean’s List GPA (sliding scale, based on major) while 20 turned in a semester GPA of 3.4-plus and almost half (43) had a GPA of 3.0 or better. In addition, fifth-year DE Kyle Budinscak received Academic All-District V honors in 2004, marking Budinscak’s fourth selection to the prestigious squad.

The Irish also had two players, Jake Carney and Rob Woods, who recorded perfect 4.0 GPAs in the fall and one more with a 3.9 GPA or better (John Carlson – 3.933).