Big plays, good and bad, mark spring game

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- From the stands, one could imagine the minor sigh of relief Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly exhaled upon Everett Golson's 19-yard touchdown pass to Theo Riddick in the second quarter of Saturday's Blue-Gold game.

It came after the defense forced another turnover, after Golson fumbled the drive's first snap and after the sophomore quarterback seemingly ran in circles before drawing a facemask penalty on Kendall Moore.

"The quarterback position, as I mentioned to you before, is the art and science," Kelly said. "In putting both the art and the science together, he's very creative. The art part he's got down. It's the science and the consistency, all of those things to be a championship quarterback."

Two drives earlier, Kelly was likely the only one among the crowd of 31,582 to control himself as George Atkinson III took a short pass from Tommy Rees, juked Cam McDaniel and made 19 yards out of nothing.

Because two plays later, the running back mishandled a pitch from Rees and turned it over for the second time in the first half.

Golson, the great unknown of this four-man quarterback derby, finished 11 of 15 for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He carried the ball six times for 25 yards. He was the only quarterback to not throw an interception.

Atkinson, whose electricity was on display during kick returns last season, rushed for 124 yards on just 15 carries, and added 54 receiving yards on three catches.

"Both of those guys are exciting, electric players," Kelly cautioned, "but they are a heart attack for me."

So goes it for the Irish at the end of the spring season. They put up 500-plus yards of offense in five games a season ago, but ranked 118th in turnover margin. They entered fall camp last season with a quarterback controversy, and they also ended it with one.

Few clues could be gathered from Saturday's spring game -- in which the defense defeated the offense, 42-31, for those counting -- as the offense netted 551 yards but turned it over six times.

Rees took the game's first snap, played five drives, completed 7 of 14 passes for 84 yards and tossed a pick to Matthias Farley. Andrew Hendrix came next, connecting with Tyler Eifert for a 25-yard score and eventually playing four drives. He was 4 of 9 for 51 yards, rushed for 13 yards on a pair of carries and threw a pick right over the middle to Ishaq Williams.

Gunner Kiel started the second half, completed his first pass for 11 yards and was promptly picked by Chris Salvi on the next play. The freshman played the entire third and fourth quarters — which were eight minutes apiece with running time — and went 5 of 10 for 57 yards, adding 15 yards on three carries.

"I think we saw some things that we haven't seen before in terms of ball placement," Kelly said. "Then we saw some errors that, unfortunately, are all too familiar. So, I think there were some strides made, but clearly we're not there yet. We've got a lot of work to do with all the quarterbacks to get them to the level that we want. And we have a high bar set for them."

Kelly mentioned having seen the same movie before with Rees' and Hendrix's picks, specifically saying that Rees needs to know that "zero" is OK on third down, especially in drop-eight situations. He said the offense can't run everything with Kiel after just 15 practices to work with him.

And he said Golson needs to do a better job of getting plays in quicker, a fact the signal caller acknowledged goes a long way in earning the staff's trust.

"You never really know which way the play's gonna go with me and George," Golson said of himself and Atkinson. "That's because we're just not consistent: One play we're making a good play, one play it's a fumble or turnover, so I think just being more consistent on the positive end will help us out."

Added Atkinson: "There's so many things I can work on. I don't think I did that well today, personally. I still need fundamentals, basically. Just work on fundamentals and taking the coaching and everything else."

Atkinson said he doesn't want to give his staff a roller-coaster ride when he's on the field. Having a man under center who can protect the ball will go a long way in easing the blood pressure of everyone in the huddle and on the sideline. But an answer there isn't coming anytime soon.

"The guy that really commits to the details this summer is probably one of the guys that's going to start it," Kelly said. "So if you can go to any of those voluntary workouts, then let me know. I'd be happy to field that when I'm on the golf course. Just text me if you have that opportunity. The point is all of them have a lot of work to do. We'll see who does a great job this summer."