SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame’s 15th spring practice of 2012 looked a lot like the 13 games it played in 2011: the defense was better than the offense, the football hit the turf too much, and the team’s quarterbacks completed a few too many to the wrong colored jersey.
In the end, the defense defeated the offense, scoring 42 points thanks to a combination of defensive stops and turnovers forced. A four-quarterback offense scored 31 with the third of four passers to appear, Everett Golson, tossing a pair of second quarter touchdowns and, at least to the untrained eye, appearing to take home game MVP honors in front of 31,582 faithful.
A far more trained eye saw things differently.
“We come at it from different perspectives,” said Kelly regarding Golson’s glowing statistics that included an 11 for 15 passing effort with 120 yards and no interceptions. “He has to get the plays in quicker. He has to recognize the signaling. If I’m not out there getting guys set and making sure he knows the play, we’re going to have flags thrown all over the place.
“Those things (statistics) really don’t mean as much to me as they do managing the offense. We’re making progress but nowhere where we need to be.”
Another one of Saturday’s stars added his own pair of coach-killing mistakes. Sophomore halfback George Atkinson led all rushers with 124 yards including a trio of runs over, around, and past would-be tacklers. But Atkinson also suffered two lost fumbles during which he did not encounter a defender.
“You can put (Golson) in the same category as George Atkinson,” said Kelly. “Both of those guys are exciting, electric players, but they are a heart attack for me.”
Along with the question mark that is the quarterback quartet, the team’s strengths – its defensive front seven and offensive line – will be the lead stories when the game's matter next fall. Those likely strengths had little chance to shine under the spring game format that included a running second half clock, ample substitutions, and little cohesion among the units.
While the six turnovers were no doubt disconcerting for a staff hell-bent on ameliorating its ball security throughout the spring, Kelly knows today’s controlled scrimmage, the 5th-largest in program history, wasn’t indicative of the progress his team made over the last five weeks.
”What I like is our team plays together,” said Kelly. “They like playing with each other. This is a group that's come a long way in a very short period of time, relative to understanding that it's a team sport. I like that. We've got a team, and you need a team to play the kind of schedule we play at Notre Dame.
“I saw that energy,” he continued. “The guys liked to play. There are enough pieces out there for us. It's really the attention to detail. The little things that matter the most. Our guys are going to have to work at that over the summer. If they do that, when we get into preseason camp, we should be in a pretty good position.”
Key Stats and Scoring Summary
The defense led 15-10 after the 1st Quarter and by as much as 12, 29-17 late in the second before a receiving score by junior Theo Riddick (from Golson) and an 8-yard run by Cierre Wood gave the offense a 31-29 lead at the break.
A continuous second half clock (16 minutes) saw the final 13 points scored by the defense, 10 from defensive stops and three on an interception by senior Chris Salvi from the arm of early enrollee freshman Gunner Kiel, who did not appear in the opening half but took every snap of the truncated second stanza.
In addition to the scores by Riddick and Wood, the offense enjoyed touchdown tosses from Andrew Hendrix to Tyler Eifert (25 yards) and Golson to Ben Koyack (10 yards). Riddick led all receivers with eight grabs for 63 yards while Koyack added four receptions and 38 yards, his 10-yard score his longest on the afternoon.
Wood finished second to Atkinson with 52 yards on five carries.
First among the team’s QBs to appear, junior Tommy Rees completed 7 of 14 for 84 yards with an interception by redshirt-freshman Matthias Farley. Said Kelly of Rees’ error: “It's a drop eight (defensive) situation, and he's trying to fit his seam route in. We've got a drive (route) coming in underneath. Drop the ball down, move, punt the ball…You can't make those mistakes.”
Also throwing an ill-advised pass directly to a defender was Andrew Hendrix, who, by bad luck of the QB rotation, saw fewer snaps of downs and thus attempted just nine passes, completing four for 51 yards and the aforementioned pick.
“You saw Hendrix can't make that mistake trying to throw an over route with a level one ball,” said Kelly of the former’s pass intercepted by Ishaq Williams. (Hendrix explained later that he was trying to hit Eifert down the seam but threw too low).
“That's just the thing that I'm talking about,” Kelly continued. “They can't make those mistakes and be the starter. They just can't.”
Inside linebacker Kendall Moore led the defense with eight tackles including one for loss. Junior cornerback Lo Wood added seven stops while redshirt-freshman ‘backer Anthony Rabasa recorded six stops with a fumble recovery.
Williams added a fumble recovery as did classmate Ben Councell.