While I’m not completely certain about how much stock you can put into a scrimmage in which a 305-pound man lines up in the shotgun at quarterback, and converts a two-point scoring play, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hit the field Saturday for their version of the spring game.
Now while DT Louis Nix III taking the shotgun snap and scoring was quite amusing, there were the usual positives and negatives to take away from this contest.
If anything stood out in Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, it was the defensive effort. With the questions about how the squad would perform having to deal with the loss of their all-around leader, LB Manti Te’o, the Irish responded firmly.
First off, Te’o's replacement, junior Jarrett Grace, eased the minds of Irish fans in regards about how difficult it would be to replace the star linebacker. Grace recorded an eight tackle performance Saturday and seemed to be firmly in command of directing the defense up front.
Overall, the Notre Dame front seven looks just as fierce as it was last season when it paved the way to a BCS National Championship Game appearance for the Irish. The highlight of the game defensively was provided by LB Carlo Calabrese, who just simply put RB George Atkinson III in his place, to put it lightly, with a punishing blow.
Speaking of Atkinson, the offense on Saturday didn’t exactly give the 31,000 in attendance what they were hoping to see.
With a lot of folks looking to Atkinson to be a crucial part of getting the offense in motion, he didn’t quite produce a head-turning performance. Atkinson rushed for just 49 yards on 10 carries, and just seemed to be having a tough time reading the blocking scheme. And, when he was able to break through the middle, he kept his body upright and was met by Calabrese.
And then, there’s QB Everett Golson.
Golson didn’t exactly do himself any favors neither on Saturday. With 98 yards through the air on 6-for-13 passing, Golson wasn’t terrible by any means, but he also didn’t create a lot of optimism in regards to improvement. While Golson’s running ability will not be called into question any time soon, his decision-making still seems to be sub-par, at best.
The lone scoring play in the game came in the late in the game when early enrollee Malik Zaire tossed a 35-yard strike to safety-turned-wide receiver C.J. Prosise.
It appears that the defense will once again be the motor for this Notre Dame football team. They were fast, physical, and made smart decisions in coverage. For all the praise that Brian Kelly receives, and deservedly so, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco deserves similar respect. He has done a tremendous job of putting a solid defense in place consistently in South Bend.