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April 20, 2013

Sweet spring finish

II Game Story With Sidebar

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Irish Chocolate saved the Blue-Gold Game.

Notre Dame closed spring practice on Saturday - the midpoint between one BCS National Championship Game run and the hopeful start of another - with a largely anonymous scrimmage until Louis Nix walked onto the field early in the fourth quarter.

Following Malik Zaire's 35-yard scoring pass to C.J. Prosise, the game's only touchdown, Brian Kelly made good on a bet. The head coach wagered a quarterback rep if Nix overachieved in the classroom. Nix did. Kelly paid up.

And the spring game had a two-point conversion to remember it by for the 31,652 who watched in 40-degree temperatures.

Nix surveyed the field after taking the shotgun snap, didn't find an open receiver, then bolted toward the end zone. His 347 pounds of inertia met little resistance.

"That's something all teams need to be scared of, everybody, including you," Nix said. "I would have moved out of my way too."

The Blue-Gold Game particulars were as forgettable as Everett Golson's helmet, left on the bench afterward until Notre Dame's starting quarterback realized it while walking up the tunnel. A manager stopped it from becoming a fan souvenir.

Under Kelly's modified scoring system, the Blue (Defense) beat the Gold (Offense) 54-43. In traditional scoring, Gold won 17-2. That box score also listed the game as played at Frank Eck Stadium, home to the Irish baseball team.

Point being, few made much of a spring finale that seemed to run counter to Notre Dame's off-season progress. Golson finished 6-of-13 for 98 yards, took three touch sacks and threw an interception just before halftime.

"If you go back to our spring practices, we have been doing a great job all around the board, having new guys on different positions … O‑line is doing great, and just a lot of that stuff," Golson said. "So I'm kind of disappointed that we had an off‑day, but our spring has been very, very good for us."

George Atkinson III led Notre Dame with 10 carries for 49 yards, but took a crushing hit from Carlo Calabrese in the first half. Will Mahone added eight carries for 11 yards plus a 29-yard grab. Cam McDaniel rushed six times for eight yards to go with two catches for 31 yards.

Ishaq Williams and Jarrett Grace led the team with eight tackles each. Williams, Tyler Stockton and Jarron Jones each posted two sacks. Quarterbacks were ruled down by first contact.

Farley and walk-on linebacker Joe Schmidt both made interceptions.

Kicker Nick Tausch converted three-of-four field goal attempts with a long of 40 yards. That proved it for the special teams as Kyle Brindza struggled at punter, the punt return team only fair caught the football and the kickoff return team got legislated out of the game.

The Irish also worked without precautionary scratches Lo Wood (Achilles) and Chris Watt (neck) along with expected omissions Bennett Jackson, Dan Fox and Nicky Baratti. Ronnie Stanley started at left guard in place of Watt. Josh Atkinson struggled at corner minus Wood.

The mismatched parts set Notre Dame up for a spring game of fits and starts.

There were plenty of both, even in a game with just five penalties. The Irish quarterbacks combined to complete less than half their passes. As a team, Notre Dame averaged 0.4 yards per carry.

"If there's anything that I would like to do better, it's 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.

"By and large, a lot of them are correctible."

Remember when Notre Dame entered last year's Blue-Gold Game looking to cut down on turnovers, then lost six of them during the scrimmage? The Irish came back to lose just 15 all last season. This off-season's necessary improvement was red zone efficiency. The Irish scored twice in four trips on Saturday, both field goals.

Kelly said Notre Dame worked that situation during spring ball, but it wasn't a focus during the spring game.

"Well, we really didn't have a red zone offense today," Kelly said. "We just ran plays.  So there was nothing that we said, 'Okay, when we get into this area.'  We were just running plays. Sometimes we were just trying to get that clock running.

"I would not evaluate this game and look at issues in the red zone.  We spent a lot of time in situational red zone during the spring practices, and didn't call any of those plays today. "

In the end, there was only one play to remember from the 84th Blue-Gold Game. And that didn't have anything to do with quarterbacks, red zones, punt returns or injuries.

"Yeah, official quarterback spot, I made it," Nix said from the postgame lectern reserved for Kelly and Golson. "I'm making strides to push Everett, the rest of the guys and get the starting spot and hopefully coach has enough trust in me to put me there one game."

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