NOTRE DAME, Ind. - A Blue-Gold full of intrigue and overall excitement it was not, but from Brian Kelly's standpoint the best thing about Saturday's 84th edition of Notre Dame's spring game was there were no injuries to report. The only real issue Kelly had with the game was his team's lack of sharpness in the punting department during the cool and windy afternoon.
"We've only been outside three times this spring with the conditions that we've had," Kelly began. "So we didn't punt it quite as well or field it quite as well. Those are climatization things relative to my evaluation."
Kyle Brindza, who is moving into the dual role of punter and kicker this spring, punted four times for just a 33.5 yard average.
The most exciting moment of the day came late in the game when nose guard Louis Nix stumbled across the goal line for an extra point conversion. The 347 pound lineman took a direct snap from center on the play and then ran it right up the gut across the goal line before falling down in the back of the end zone.
"I lost a bet to Lou Nix," Kelly said with a laugh when asked about the play. "We had a bet, I lost it and the wager was that if I lost the best I would have to put together an offensive play for him, so I paid off my wager."
Nix would later joke that he is pushing Everett Golson for the starting spot at quarterback, but he has also been jokingly pushing for time in the backfield since last fall.
"I just wanted to run somebody over and show coach I could do it," Nix said of his carry. "Hopefully we establish an Irish tempo package for the future."
Eye On Offense
Saturday's game was set-up as a true scrimmage. There was no first team offense versus first team defense. It was strictly offense versus defense. The offense, which saw five different quarterbacks take the field, managed 19 first downs during the afternoon and mustered a total of 283 yards.
"If there's anything that I would like to do better is to make certain that we don't fall back into some of the mistakes we made last year," Kelly said. "I thought at times we fell back into some of the mistakes we made last year offensively. I don't know if we went 13 games and had third and longs like we did today. I mean we had some third and 20s and 30s; that can't happen."
The offense converted just six of 20 third down conversions. The defense also recorded a total of 10 sacks, although the quarterbacks, who were all wearing red jerseys, were never actually taken to the ground.
Last spring Everett Golson was fighting for a chance to climb from the bottom of the depth charts, but this spring was a different story. Every snap and every move that Golson, incumbent Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix made was dissected under a giant microscope. That same kind of scrutiny has been far from present this spring with Golson secure as the team's number one QB.
"He probably has a little bit too much knowledge and we have got to pull back some of those things," Kelly said of where Golson is now in the offense. "In other words, he's got so much going on in his head; he wants to do too much. It took him away from some progression reads today. He didn't make those mistakes last year as a freshman. It's great, we've got a lot to teach off, and it's going to be very positive for Everett."
Golson was 6 of 13 for 98 yards passing with an interception in the game. He was also sacked three times. He and Rees sat out the entire second half while freshman early enrollee Malik Zaire took the majority of the snaps. Hendrix ran a pair of second half series as well.
Kelly said Golson and the rest of the team will spend the next couple weeks working on speed and agility skills before hitting the weight room. Continuing to develop a "coat of armor" as Kelly terms Golson's strength development, is the quarterback's top priority this summer.
None of the team's current running backs had an overly impressive day on the field Saturday. George Atkinson, who is the most experienced back on the roster, ran 10 times for 49 yards. Atkinson did run between the tackles a little more than he is used to, but he still runs very upright, and Will linebacker Carlo Calabrese delivered a hard hit to Atkinson's chest on a power run in the first half.
"We've got to get his pads down a little bit," Kelly said of Atkinson's running style. "Carlo reminded him he should run a little bit lower at times and I thought that was a great teaching point for him."
Cam McDaniel had six carries for eight net yards as well as two catches for 31 yards. Will Mahone ran the ball eight times for 11 yards with two receptions for 40 yards.
In The Red Zone
Possibly Notre Dame's biggest offensive liability during the 2012 season was red zone scoring. The Fighting Irish were 48 of 60 (80%) on red zone scoring opportunities last season, but they were just 29 of 60 (48%) as far as red zone touchdowns.
The Irish scored no red zone touchdowns in four chances in Saturday's scrimmage and converted 2 of 4 red zone field goals. Kelly says red zone offense was not a priority though.
"We didn't have a red zone offense today," Kelly explained afterward. "We just ran plays...Sometimes we were just trying to get that clock running. I would not evaluate this game and look at issues in the red zone. We spent a lot of time in situational red zone during the spring practices and didn't call any of those plays today."
One Man Down
Guard Chris Watt was the only player who was expected to play on Saturday who did not play. Watt missed Saturday's scrimmage due to waking up with a stiff neck. Watt returns on the left side of the line alongside tackle Zack Martin.
Kelly has said since last spring that the offensive and defensive lines are the strength of his team, but with Watt out he was not able to get a complete feel.
"I think if Chris Watt was in there today I think we get a little bit more of a sense," he said of evaluating the lines. "I think up front we are pretty good on both sides of the ball, so yes, I feel pretty good about that."