To most fans, the big stars of Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold Game were quarterback Everett Golson and running back George Atkinson III.
To head coach Brian Kelly, things looked entirely different.
In a day that featured an even competition between four quarterbacks, it was Golson’s 120 yards passing and two touchdowns that led the way. He was also the only one of the four signalcallers to not throw an interception.
The fan favorite was Atkinson III, who ran 15 times for 124 yards and caught three passes for 54 yards, including some nifty moves that left defenders grasping at air. On the down side, he fumbled twice.
But Kelly was having none of it. ”Those guys (Golson and Atkinson III) are exciting, electric players,” Kelly said. ”But they are a heart attack for me. We have to get them (playing better overall) because we can all see that they have the skill but they are guys that are work in progress. You are seeing work in progress.”
Kelly said that Golson, in particular, needed more work.
”Quarterback is an art and a science,” Kelly said. ”He has the art part down. It is the science and consistency he needs. The stats really don’t mean anything to me. What I did not like is that he has to get the plays in quicker, he has to recognize the signaling or else we are going to get flags thrown all over the place.”
Atkinson III’s two fumbles were among the six that the offense committed in the scrimmage. Kelly has been emphasizing less turnovers all spring, but returning starter Tommy Rees threw an interception into coverage, Andrew Hendrix did the same, and Gunner Kiel, who enrolled early so he could practice this spring, had a pass of picked off. The last fumble was a bad center snap.
”It is the little things, the attention to detail that mean the most,” Kelly said. ”There are enough pieces out there for us. Our guys are going to have to work on attention to detail over the summer. If they do that, when we get into camp, we should be in pretty good position.”
The scrimmage format was offense versus defense with points awarded for specific goals and was won by the defense, 42-31. Rees, Hendrix, and Golson rotated turns taking snaps in the first half that was played like a regular game. The second half was two eight minute quarters played with the clock running and Kiel played the entire half. On the day, Rees was 7 for 14 for 84 yards, Hendrix was 4 for 9 for 51 yards and a TD, and Kiel ended the game with 5 for 10 for 57 yards.
Other key starters played sparingly, but tight end Tyler Eifert wowed the crowd with two long receptions, including one for a touchdown. ”He’s a guy that can play (as a tight end) as a wide receiver and heck, he can play at running back,” Kelly said. ”He is a versatile player so we are going to take advantage of that skill.
Running back Cierre Wood ripped off two 20-yard runs on his way to 52 yards in five carries and one touchdown.