Team unity pushes Irish through Blue and Gold game
By TIM CASEY
Assistant Sports Editor
Fresh off a 5-7 campaign which included a few embarrassing off the field incidents, the Notre Dame coaches and players came together this offseason and formed a leadership committee.
This leadership committee included approximately 15 players who were responsible for creating team unity and more open communication among coaches and players.
"It's not to separate us from the rest of the team," said Arnaz Battle, a committee member. "It just gives the coaches a chance to hear what the players feel and know what's going on."
"There were some incidents that could have been prevented last year," Battle said. "We've tried to not have that distract us going into the season. We've got to look out for each other. Every little thing you do goes to the media and gets out in the public so we try to keep things clean, do what's right and get rid of the distractions."
On Saturday, 14,135 fans had a chance to see the 2000 Irish for the first time since November in the annual Blue-Gold game.
Was this game the result of the new emphasis on team cohesion? It's tough to tell.
Unlike in years past, Saturday's game used a complicated scoring system that awarded points for various offensive and defensive situations. The game also featured the offense against the defense, instead of the normal Blue versus Gold format.
Add in the fact that the quarterbacks were not allowed to get hit, the game plan was a fraction of the Irish's entire play book and the ability to evaluate the team's outlook for next year is minimal.
"There's always a temptation when you get out there in front of fans to try to do too many things," head coach Bob Davie said after the defense beat the offense 39-31. "But I fought that temptation today. You would love to do more things scheme-wise, maybe give Arnaz Battle a chance to beat you with his legs either by running the option or something else."
"I don't know how much we can determine from the outcome of the game, if anything. But it was a good day."
The day began with a field goal kicking contest pitting David Miller, Nick Setta and Matt McNew against each other. Each kicker attempted field goals from 32, 37, 42 and 45 yards out. Both Miller and McNew were perfect on their attempts, while Setta missed from wide left on the 37 and 45-yard attempts. The trio also had a chance to kickoff.
Miller and McNew kicked to the 15-yard line but Setta again struggled, kicking it out of bounds. Setta and Joey Hildbold also competed in a punting contest with each getting two chances. There was no real winner, as both punters averaging 35.5 yards per punt.
Battle started at quarterback for the Irish but alternated with Gary Godsey. With the Irish running no option attack or quarterback draws on Saturday, Battle had the opportunity to work on his passing game, a concern heading into the fall. For the game, Battle completed 10 of 23 passes for 117 yards.
"I have a lot more confidence with the offense now," Battle said. "I learned so much this spring sitting down with Coach [offensive coordinator Kevin] Rogers, watching film. I think the chemistry is there this year."
"The only concern we had with Arnaz was that he seemed to be a little bit laid-back when Jarious [Jackson] was here," Davie added. "Would he step up and take control? Would he have the confidence? I think since Jarious has left he's shown that confidence. Guys take on different personalities when it's their turn — So much of playing that position is when something bad happens, when that offense starts to struggle will he be able to jump in there and get that offense back on track?" Davie added.
"All of us will have to wait and see. But from a talent standpoint he's fine."
The other quarterback, Godsey, also threw 23 passes, completing 12 for 148 yards. Godsey showed what the coaches have been saying all spring: he's a legitimate backup quarterback.
Joey Getherall was on the receiving end of six passes while tight ends Jabari Holloway and walk-on Joe Recendez caught four balls apiece.
Holloway, in particular, stood out on the Irish offense. The senior-to-be from Riverdale, Ga., was Battle's favorite early target, picking up 23 and 19 yards on two catches on the first drive of the game. For his efforts, members of the media named Holloway offensive game MVP.
"We've got a bunch of Notre Dame people happy out there now," Davie said of his plan to throw to the tight end. "There's no question Jabari's a talent. Here's a player that has a legitimate chance to be a first round choice [in next year's NFL draft]. We've really worked hard this off-season to try to find a way to get the football in his hands more."
One area where the Irish coaching staff decided not to concentrate on was the running game. The Irish's top three tailbacks, Tony Fisher, Julius Jones and Terrance Howard, had a combined 12 carries for 59 yards.
Before the game the three running backs — Fisher, Jones and Howard — flipped a coin to determine who would start. Fisher won and thus began the game.
"We have three tailbacks right now that are equal in my opinion," Davie said. "It looks like now we have four running backs but those three [Fisher, Jones and Howard] are still ahead of Chris Yura."
After David Miller connected on a 26-yard attempt, the offense led 6-0. But the defense reeled off 24 straight points, including a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown by Anthony Denman. The senior linebacker earned the defensive MVP honors for his play.
"I was a little concerned early," Davie said, reflecting on the 24 points by the defense. "The way things go around here I didn't want to explain all summer at all these Notre Dame clubs why the final score of the spring game was 98-62 or something like that."
Luckily for Davie, the offense started to settle down and control the ball. Though they failed to score a touchdown, the Irish offense cut the deficit to 29-24 in the third quarter.
As the players concentrate on studying for finals and getting ready for the summer, the memories of last season still remain. And those memories won't go away until the Irish win some games.
"We've been through so much," Battle said. "But we have the athletes, we have the ability. Now it's having that team chemistry and doing what's right."
All Sports Stories for Monday, May 1, 2000