SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The Notre Dame offense has a lot of work to do before the fall.
A quarterback who finished high school four months ago and isn’t expected to play in the fall accounted for the only touchdown in the annual spring game, and nose guard Louis Nix provided the highlight, rumbling in for a two-point conversion. But it was the defense that dominated with 10 sacks, two interceptions and linebacker Ben Councell tackling running back Cam McDaniel in the end zone for a safety in winning, 54-43, under a modified scoring system.
The offense had a touchdown and Nick Tausch kicked three field goals and missed another.
Coach Brian Kelly said he wasn’t concerned about the lack of production on offense, saying coaches had seen improved play throughout the spring.
“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,” Kelly said. “And I thought we, at times, we fell back into some of the mistakes we made last year offensively.”
Everett Golson was 6-of-13 passing for 98 yards with one interception and was sacked three times, although there was no hitting allowed on quarterbacks. Golson, who helped the Irish get to the BCS title game last fall, said he couldn’t explain why the offense didn’t play well Saturday.
“I know for my part there were a lot of plays there I was missing,” he said.
He pointed to an interception he threw in the second quarter from the defense’s 20-yard line, when he thought a cornerback was going to blitz but didn’t. He expected George Atkinson III to cut inside, but he didn’t, and safety Matthias Farley intercepted the pass in the end zone.
“It was just a bit of miscommunication,” he said.
Atkinson rushed for 49 yards on 10 carries, including a tough 2-yard run up the middle on fourth-and-1 where he was leveled by linebacker Carlo Calabrese. The lone touchdown came when early enrollee Malik Zaire threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Prosise, who switched from safety to receiver this spring. Zaire was so excited that he sprinted to the end zone and leapt, knocking Prosise down.
The play the 31,652 fans who attended will remember, though, was the run by Nix. Kelly said he made a bet with Nix, saying if the 6-foot-2, 305-pound defensive lineman did well enough academically he’d let him play quarterback for one play. Nix lined up in the wildcat intending to pass, but didn’t see anyone open.
“My intentions were just to truck somebody, to be honest. I didn’t care about the touchdown too much. I just wanted to run somebody over and show coach I can do it without fumbling the ball,” he said.
The defense wanted no part in taking on Nix, with linebacker Kendall Moore spinning out of the way to make sure he didn’t collide with Nix.
“They were scared. I wouldn’t want to tackle me. Would you?” Nix asked. “I saw fear in his eyes. I would have done the same thing.”