SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame's offense didn't produce a lot against the defense in the Blue-Gold game Saturday.
But that is no reason for the Irish to panic, according to coach Brian Kelly and the players.
Notre Dame's defense defeated the offense 54-43 in the modified scoring system of the spring game that drew 31,652 to Notre Dame Stadium.
The offense had only 19 first downs and 300 yards at the end of the game that featured a stop clock in the first half and a running clock in the second half when early-enrollee Malik Zaire took the majority of the snaps.
"Really you're not game planning, you're trying to stay away from doing some things, so it's not really an indication," Kelly said of the offense. "I think if there's any concern … not concerns, 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. And I thought we, at times, we fell back into some of the mistakes we made last year offensively.
"Look, I think today, spring game, 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. So I'm not happy about that. But by and large, you know, a lot of them are correctible."
Everett Golson completed 6 of 13 passes for 98 yards with an interception. Tommy Rees went 4 for 7 for 64 yards. Andrew Hendrix completed 5 of 10 passses for 59 yards, and Zaire went 5 for 8 with a touchdown and an interception.
"Today was just kind of an off day," Golson said. "If you go back to our spring practices, we've been doing a great job all around the board. You know having new guys in at different positions. I'm kind of disappointed we had an off day, but our spring has been very, very good for us."
Dream come true
Nose guard Louis Nix III got what he has wanted for a long time, the chance to play quarterback.
The 6-foot-2, 347-pound senior got to lineup behind center on a 2-point conversion over Zaire hit C.J. Prosise for a 35-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter Saturday.
Nix had a bet with Kelly about his academic performance that the nose guard won to be able to get the chance to score in the Blue-Gold game.
"He surprised me, and so I paid up," Kelly said. "As you know, we had a hard time scoring touchdowns in the spring game, and I didn't think that was going to come to reality. We tried a couple of times, right before the half to get the opportunity and we couldn't get the ball close enough. We had to settle for some field goals. So when Malik hit it, we changed the play to a two‑point play, and we were able to get that one off."
Nix said he encouraged Zaire to get the touchdown so he could have his play on offense.
"I went up to Malik, real story, I went up to Malik and said, 'Bro, get me to the promised land, man.' He was doing bad at first, I said get me to the promised land," Nix said. "That's what he did. He put the team on his back, got us a touchdown, we went for two and coach called me up."
Nix said he was going to pass at first, but when he didn't see anyone open, he barreled into the end zone for the score.
"My intentions were just to truck somebody, to be honest," Nix said. "I didn't care about the touchdown too much. I just wanted to run somebody over to show coach I could do it without fumbling the ball. Hopefully, we will establish an 'Irish Chocolate' package in the future."
Notre Dame had to change its starting offensive line just hours before Saturday's scrimmage when starting right guard Chris Watt woke up with a sore neck.
Kelly said Watt slept on his neck funny and that was why the senior was kept out of the scrimmage and replaced with Ronnie Stanley, who played tackle through the spring.
The Irish struggled to get a good push against their defensive line in the Blue-Gold game, and that may have been because Watt was out. But overall, Kelly liked what he saw from Stanley stepping in at guard.
"Going in at guard and having that flexibility, he just played tackle most of the time, so the guard/tackle combination has been good for us and I think he competed pretty well," Kelly said.
Notre Dame didn't have the best special teams performance Saturday.
The Irish haven't had a lot of time to work on special teams this spring because they only had three outdoor practices before the Blue-Gold game, but the performances in the scrimmage raised concerns.
Kyle Brindza averaged only 30.7 yards on seven punts, and Nick Tausch missed his first field goal attempt from 40 yards out before connecting on field goals of 40, 31 and 36.
The punt return game, even though the Irish would only fair catch punts in the scrimmage, also had a moment of panic as receiver TJ Jones missed hauling in a punt in the first half.
"I'd like to leave the spring feeling a little bit better about (special teams), but we've got a lot of work to do there," Kelly said.
Golson was intercepted on the 1-yard line by safety Matthias Farley with 3:13 to play in the first half.
Golson said the pass was a timing play with Atkinson, but it was thrown off when the defense showed a corner blitz at first then pulled back and Atkinson was bumped off his route by linebacker Carlo Calabrese.
"The whole play, I saw a corner blitz and they ended up checking out of it and going to cover-2," Golson said. "I was looking for George on the inside. But he got re-routed, and it is a timing throw. It was just a little bit of miscommunication."
- Linebackers Ishaq Williams and Jarrett Grace led the defense with eight tackles each. Williams had three tackles for lose, and Grace had one tackle for loss
- Williams and defensive lineman Tyler Stockton and Jarron Jones each had two sacks Saturday
- DaVaris Daniels had a team-high 48 receiving yards on three catches
- Tight end Troy Niklas had two catches for 46 yards
- TJ Jones had three catches for 38 yards
- Cam McDaniel ended up with eight rushing yards, but the running back had one of the best plays of the game when he made a one-handed grab then eluded a few defenders for a 25-yard gain in the opening half