In his penultimate meeting with the Irish media Wednesday night, head coach Brian Kelly informed the gathering that the 81st annual Blue Gold game would cater to the offenses.
744 yards later, the Gold team, led by walk-on quarterback Nate Montana outscored the Blue team, 27-19 on an overcast, intermittently rainy April Saturday in South Bend.
Dayne Crist directed the Blue squad on a 9-play, 70-yard, no-huddle drive to begin the contest. The march ended with a 3-yard touchdown plunge by running back Cierre Wood. Wood, who was withheld from action last season, scored the Blue’s final touchdown as well – a beautiful 44-yard scamper through and around the Irish defense midway through the third quarter.
After struggling early, Montana directed a trio of touchdown drives, first shuffling a short pass to tight end Mike Ragone for a 3-yard score; later tossing a 37-yard post pattern to a wide-open Duval Kamara; and finally firing a well-timed post to Theo Riddick for a 14-yard touchdown late in the first half.
Montana connected on 18 of 30 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns vs. one interception.
"I thought he was pretty good," Kelly said of Montana. "Nate does some things really well, and then I'll lose him for a couple of plays...
"But he's made progress and we'll continue to work with him. But I've got to tell you, at the end of the day, he wasn't even here when I first got here (in December). He was at a junior college, and he comes in and took a lot of snaps and did some pretty good things."
Crist, still limited from contact due to November knee surgery, hit on 20 of 31 passes for 172 yards and a pair of interceptions. Crist's only touchdown pass occurred late in the first period when he connected with early enrollee Tai-ler Jones on a pretty 18-yard corner route.
Kelly acknowledged the defenses, while competitive and at full speed, were not in a normal mode of operation.
“Yeah, it was,” Kelly answered of the observation that the defense was vanilla. “But going back to the main principles for me: the one-on-one matchups, the competitiveness, the game itself, the execution…it wasn’t a sloppy (game) with a ton of whistles or the ball on the ground.
"There were some deflected balls and a couple of interceptions but by in-large, it was their best practice. Believe me, if you saw some of our practices we’ve had leading up to this you’d be writing about this thing being a disaster.
“So today was a lot cleaner than we have been up to this point.”
Wood finished as the game’s leading rusher, running for 110 yards on just 10 carries to augment his two scores. His competition likewise showed well, as Jonas Gray gained 54 yards on 8 carries, including a highlight reel 38-yard touchdown run in which he froze a defender at the line of scrimmage before bursting down the right side for the score.
Senior-to-be Mike Ragone tied for the game lead (with Blue captain Armando Allen) with six receptions for a game-high 75 yards and a score for the Gold squad. Blue team tight end Kyle Rudolph caught four balls for 39 yards, all early in the contest.
Kelly noted he was impressed with his tight ends at the conclusion of the spring.
“The tight end position as you know – we don’t take them off the field,” he began. “We need that kind of depth.
“Ragone’s a tough kid. He’s going to help us; he’s going to move the chains for us and do some things that allow us to get into two tight ends as well. He’s very important in terms of what we’re going to get into during the fall.”
Steve Filer turned in the notable defensive performance of the scrimmage, finishing with 12 tackles (8 assisted) including two for lost yardage for the victorious Gold squad. Manti Te’o added 8 stops and an interception for the Gold while defensive end Emeka Nwankwo chipped in with 5 tackles (one for lost yardage) for the Blue.
Gold team linebacker Carlo Calabrese added a down field interception of Crist in the first half as well.
Though the game was played with standard college football rules from scrimmage, the second half featured two 12-minute quarters with a running clock. Following each score, the ball was spotted at the opposite 30-yard line (there were no kick-offs) and each punt ended with a mandatory fair catch.
Kelly, while pleased with his team’s first spring session, knows the 15 practice set was just the first step.
“(Saturday) was a good evaluator for us relative to all of our players,” Kelly stated. “Finding out more about them.
“It’s the first coat of paint for us. This is a process we’ve entered into and we know that this is not the destination for us. We got a chance to see some things today that we can build on, and I think those are pretty evident.”
Note: IrishEyes will have much more on today’s scrimmage Sunday and through the early portion of this week.
- Blue – Wood, C. 3-yard run (Ruffer kick) 0-7
- Gold – Ragone 4-yard pass from Montana (Tausch kick failed) 6-7
- Blue – Jones 18-yard pass from Crist (Ruffer kick failed) 6-13
- Gold – Kamara 37-yard pass from Montana (B. Walker kick) 13-13
- Gold – Riddick 14-yard pass from Montana (Tausch kick) 20-13
- Blue – Wood 44-yard run (Rees pass failed) 20-19
- Gold – Gray 38-yard run (Tausch kick) 27-19