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Five things we learned: The 82nd Blue-Gold game

Apr 16, 2011, 6:44 PM EDT

Aaron Lynch Blue Gold

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The good news? Notre Dame won, with the Gold beating the Blue 17-14. The better news? Nobody got hurt. The best news? The kids are going to be alright.

If you were looking to draw conclusions after the spring game, you might be out of luck. Like last year, the Irish didn’t play a defensive front that they planned on using this fall. Incumbent quarterbacks Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees spend more time with rain panchos on than helmets. And walk-on running back Patrick Coughlin nearly led both the Blue and Gold teams in carries, swapping jerseys early and often, a sign that the coaching staff wasn’t willing to take a chance getting either Cierre Wood or Jonas Gray injured.

Still, there’s plenty to be gained from the rain-soaked 82nd playing of the Blue-Gold game, which gave audiences a good look behind the curtain of a Notre Dame football program on the rise, thanks to the open-microphone Brian Kelly wore for Versus.

Let’s take a look at the five things we learned in the Gold team’s 17-14 victory, in front of 27,863 rain-soaked, die-hard Notre Dame fans.

1. Freshman Aaron Lynch might be the best pass rushing recruit the Irish have brought in… ever?

Don’t laugh. Sure, the talented freshman is a long way from going down in the Irish record books, and somewhere Beano Cook is chuckling about a preposterous statement like this. But looking back at the modern era of recruiting, there hasn’t been another player like Lynch to sign with the Irish.

Manti Te’o was a five-star everything, but he was a middle linebacker. Victor Abiamiri was a top-ten, blue-chip recruit, but he always profiled as a power defensive end. Nobody knew Justin Tuck would become one of the NFL’s most dangerous players when he signed as a long and lanky three-star linebacker out of Kellyton, Alabama.

Lynch dominated the Blue-Gold game, taking advantage of freshman like Christian Lombard and seniors like Trevor Robinson alike. He led the game with seven tackles, led the game with 1.5 tackles-for-loss, and certainly led the game in quarterback hurries, planting Andrew Hendrix on his back early and often.

Understanding that the expectations could get out of control, Lynch wasn’t made available to the media after the game. But the blogosphere is already abuzz about the 18-year-old’s performance, and even Brian Kelly struggled to temper his enthusiasm.

“He’s a good football player,” Kelly said. “The one thing that he did today is he went against our first offensive linemen, he went against Trevor Robinson and Taylor Dever, and we thought that would tamp down the expectations, too. But I’d also like to give him credit for what he did.”

Quarterback Andrew Hendrix, the receiver of Lynch’s torment, was a little less diplomatic.

“I told him after the game that I can’t wait to see him do that to other quarterbacks,” Hendrix said. “It was pretty painful.”

What Lynch did was raise a bar that already started sky high. Something Irish fans (not to mention the coaching staff) have to be very happy about.

2. The Irish defense will be dynamic on the edge.

Taking away what Aaron Lynch did, it was a very good day for the edge of the defense. With Ethan Johnson, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Darius Fleming all but taking the day off, the defense built depth at defensive end, but more importantly had great performances from nearly every outside linebacker that took the field.

Danny Spond and Prince Shembo, both fighting for the starting ‘Dog’ linebacker position, had seven and six tackles respectively. Shembo did a nice job playing in space while Spond looked fluid in coverage and also made a tackle for a loss. Ishaq Williams made five tackles in his Irish “debut,” working effectively at the ‘Cat’ linebacker position with Fleming watching. And while Steve Filer didn’t fill up the stat sheet, he came off the edge hard as a pass-rusher, nearly notching a few sacks on some very mobile quarterbacks.

It’s remarkable to think that in one calendar year Kelly and his staff have taken one of the biggest liabilities on the roster and turned it into a strength. Again, we weren’t going to see anything Diaco and Kelly didn’t want us to see, but expect some dynamic rush packages on the field come autumn with guys like Lynch, Shembo, Fleming, Williams and Filer getting after the quarterback, maybe at the same time.

3. The Irish rushing attack will evolve in season two.

It’s no surprise that the leading rusher for both teams was a freshman quarterback. Andrew Hendrix bulldozed his way to two touchdowns, running for 42 yards on five carries while Everett Golson had a game-high 74 yards on 11 carries, dazzling fans with a highlight reel 23-yard scamper that evoked shades of Fran Tarkenton.

Kelly kept both young quarterbacks live, and each defense took its turn teeing off on the signal-callers. While the passing game for each was a work-in-progress, the Irish showed their ability to incorporate the quarterback into the spread-option game, something Kelly didn’t have the luxury of doing last year.

“Obviously for me, and what I’m used to, it’s a comfort level in terms of play-calling,” Kelly said. “But we’re going to make it work whoever the quarterback is. I think it’s pretty clear that we saw that they had the ability to do both, and that’s pretty exciting when you’re in the spread offense.”

On a windy and wet day, it’s hard to judge where any quarterback is throwing the football. But both Golson and Hendrix had flashes of rock-solid play, with Hendrix’s two-minute drill at the end of the first half giving him the opportunity to unleash a couple of big-time throws. Golson had a sloppy fumble and turnover, but he also showed a comfort level in the pocket and in the spread that most early-enrollees couldn’t imagine.

Running the ball with the quarterback — regardless of what quarterback is on the field — will be an added element in the Irish offense. But also expect to see a big jump in production from Cierre Wood, who took great strides in his first spring as the starting tailback.

“I like the way Cierre looked,” Kelly said of his running back. “Confident in running the football is the way I would describe him. He was confident and decisive in his decisions. If he couldn’t hit it at the front door, he was going to bend it back.”

Wood only had seven carries, but his 39 yards came in chunks. Expect bigger things out of the running game both from Wood and No. 2 Jonas Gray.

4. The Irish defense finally has the physicality of a BCS-caliber defense. 

If you were looking for big collisions, I offer you Louis Nix’s tackle of walk-on running back Patrick Coughlin. Working through multiple blocks, the 345-pound freshman defensive tackle put a very large shoulder into Coughlin, popping the backs helmet off his head and knocking him into next week.

Nix is an abnormally large defensive tackle and looks the part of an NFL’er right now. Keeping him in the game continues to be the biggest challenge for the coaching staff.

“Louis Nix, our concern is how long can he play at that level?” Kelly said. “Because when he’s out there, he’s a pretty good football player. He was today. We’ve just got to continue to develop his work volume.”

If it looks like Notre Dame’s defense is bigger than seasons past, it’s because it is. Consider that the projected starting 2011 defense, even with one less defensive lineman, is 205 pounds heavier than the 2006 defense. (Numbers courtesy of JRT)

2011 (3-4 alignment)          2006 (4-3 alignment)
Louis Nix, 345                           Trevor Laws, 283
Ethan Johnson, 300                 Derek Landri, 277
Kapron Lewis-Moore, 295        Victor Abiamiri, 270
Darius Fleming, 250                Chris Frome, 262
Prince Shembo, 250                Joe Brockington, 220
Manti Te’o 255                          Maurice Crum, 220
Carlo Calabrese, 245               Travis Thomas, 209
Zeke Motta, 215                       Chinedum Ndukwe 210
Harrison Smith, 214                Tommy Zbikowski, 210
Robert Blanton, 196                Ambrose Wooden, 193
Gary Gray, 195                         Mike Richardson, 188

Total: 2,755 lbs.                       Total: 2,550 lbs.

If you’re looking for a reason to believe that the Irish can play dominant defense, here it is. Three NFL sized defensive linemen? Check. Big, strong, physical linebackers? Yep. In the past, it was the front-seven of the Irish defense that didn’t physically stack up. Not anymore.

5. After a few quiet weeks, the Irish struck gold in recruiting.

Even with weather most elite recruits would run from, the Irish coaching staff got a major commitment from Maryland’s Ronald Darby, who some are calling the fastest recruit Notre Dame has signed since Raghib Ismail. Darby was joined by commitments Nicky Baratti and long-snapper Scott Daly, all three priorities for the Irish coaching staff.

Both Darby and Baratti are listed as athletes by the major recruiting websites, but Darby walks in as a cornerback and Baratti as a safety. Daly is a 6-4, 230-pound long snapper, a position the Irish almost brought in last recruiting cycle, even with tight numbers.

Darby spent most of his time on the sidelines with fellow Irish commitment Tee Shepard, giving the Irish a cornerback duo that any college would take. With more than a dozen other prospects on campus this weekend, recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin and player development head Dave Peloquin continue to bring in elite recruits, with Darby having offers from Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Michigan (among others) while Shepard turned down USC, Miami, Auburn and Alabama for the Irish.

If last year’s position of need was defensive end, this year’s roster needs an infusion in the secondary, and Shepard, Darby and Baratti are three great additions.

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  1. packymalley - Apr 17, 2011 at 1:21 AM

    Who cares? Really. ND is, has been and will always be the most overrated program in the country. They have not been relavent since 1988…that is 23 years ago. Follow programs of interest that win like Auburn, Okahoma, Ohio State, USC, Texas, LSU (sorry TCU & Boise – no one cares about you either). I love college football but will never understand the obsession with ND other then you have to promote them because you you (NBC) got suckered into a long term football agreement and they have been a total bust.

    • dirtyharry1971 - Apr 17, 2011 at 1:52 AM

      Dont like ND? Than why the hell are you here? The bottom line is ND draws ratings no matter what their record is, teams like usc or lsu could never say that junior

    • mrdecat - Apr 17, 2011 at 6:18 AM

      i have never written on any comment page in my entire life but i felt compelled today as i read your post. First, you are a truly a loser. You went to a college football website that you dont even like, clicked on an article, read it, and then posted a comment bashing the program. You even posted facts. And its not like you posted it on wednesday afternoon just passing time, no. You posted a comment at 120 on a saturday night. Sweet life! If you are married or have children, please copy this post and email it to them so they know how big of a tool their husband/dad is. If you arent, just copy it to your parents so they realize what a clown shoe they brought into this world.

      • danno27 - Apr 17, 2011 at 4:14 PM


    • cftempe - Apr 17, 2011 at 11:07 AM

      My friend, you must go study college football history. Every one of the programs you mention have had periods of insignificance. Programs go in cycles and it is now time for Notre Dame to be relavant because of a combination of factors starting with the current coaching regime. It is ok that you are not a Notre Dame fan, but do some research and know history before you make broad statements. Of course like all ND haters you mention the ND/NBC connection. Pay attention, all conferences and some individual schools are signing long term tv contracts (The Big Ten (12), SEC (shamelessly promoted by ESPN), BYU, Texas, Pac 12). I suspect your allegiance lies somewhere within.

    • fighting69th - Apr 17, 2011 at 11:53 PM

      Bro, why would you even come on this site…..FOR ND FANS! Hence the name INSIDE THE IRISH. Besides we cant hear you over 11 national championships. Go Irish

      • 9irish - Apr 18, 2011 at 1:13 AM

        Never really quite understood this from these clowns….Lou Holtz basically got screwed out of another 2 Nat’l Championships after 88, and there have been several good years since with 4 different coaches…just had some bad years in between the good seasons (which is the puzzling part). Not-relevant is not the term to apply to Irish football, or he wouldn’t be blowing out of his pie-hole about it

    • mikeod44 - Apr 18, 2011 at 9:40 AM

      Auburn? Cheaters…Ohio State? Sounds like they will be implicated as cheaters…USC? cheaters…LSU(they are in the SEC) Cheaters, ND has been down because they’ve refused to cave into the cheating ways that has tainted the rest of colllege football. All these cheating schools are finally being brought to justice, ND is on the rise again, doing it the right way!

    • rmgorey - Apr 18, 2011 at 12:36 PM

      Packymalley, Get an education, learn how to spell and maybe you’ll become RELEVANT. What a life to when you troll ND postings to provide your insightful commentary!

    • heymansan69 - Apr 18, 2011 at 1:20 PM

      You know Packy the Irish were the team that introduced the forward pass to football, with Knute Rockne and teammates developing tis on the beaches at Cedar Point. Also, if you remember ND beat USC for what 12 years in a row before USC getting Pete Carrol. They also beat Michigan State for 15 years straight in that same time period. ND is second all time in Wins, the most Heisman Trophy winners, the most national championships, Just FYI.

      • 9irish - Apr 18, 2011 at 1:29 PM

        Couldn’t have said it better myself. Too many “prisoner of the moment” people out there. Auburn is a football powerhouse now because they finally won a nat’l chmpship (with a QB who shouldn’t have been playing)? and they will probably take it away from them anyway.

        2002 was the first time that OSU had won one in my lifetime. USC was NDs whipping boy for about 15 years. Everybody has a memory that goes back about 15 minutes.

        I don’t like Michigan, but I respect them. Lived in Ann Arbor for 3 years…similar attitudes.

    • rr1380 - Apr 18, 2011 at 3:42 PM

      You’ll never understand because you are what we call a fencerider. Your only reason for following a team is because they win. When your team begins to lose you will buy the current champion’s hat and wear it. ND fans are fans because they love their team, win or lose. That’s why NBC has a contract…because the ND nation will tune in no matter what!

  2. notredave - Apr 17, 2011 at 8:51 AM

    Gotta love the haters trolling sites for teams that they hate. Pure ownage right there.

    Lynch impresses. A motor that never stops, and still really, really raw. Longo’s S&C program combined with Diaco’s defense….whew…this kid is going to be BEAST!!

    Notre Dame football is going to be BEAST!!

    Go Irish!!

  3. bernhtp - Apr 17, 2011 at 9:42 AM

    I’ll never understand why anyone pays attention, let alone responds, to trolls. Just gove the petulent child a timeout.

    The game was rough due to the weather, its teaching nature, and talent being spread thin at a number of positions. However, you can’t help but come away impressed with the defense and their potential on the fall. They were getting good at the end of last year and have an opportunity to become great.

  4. 9irish - Apr 17, 2011 at 12:36 PM

    It was good, just nice to see it back. Plus it was good mental exercise, trying to figure out who was who and what team they were on! (first 4 jersey game I’d ever seen)..They have gotten some awesome freshmen, I can tell you that…..and some of them aren’t even there yet

  5. ndfootballfan4life - Apr 17, 2011 at 2:09 PM

    First of all, I am almost embarrased to say that I got chills when I first heard Tom Hammond’s voice. I thought it was September and the season had started. Secondly, I was very impressed with Golson, Hendrix, and Lynch. These guys show a lot of promise for the future. Unfortunately, I was not as impressed with Crist. At first I thought Crist would be the starter without a doubt, now I believe that the competition could still be wide open. I don’t know if it was the poor conditions, but he looked like the Crist of old, making inaccurate throws.

    On a final note to the first poster, how can you say with a straight face that ND is irrelevant in college football because they haven’t won a NC since ’88, but yet Auburn is all of a sudden one of the greatest programs in CFB because they pulled one off for the first time in the last 52 years??????

    • danno27 - Apr 17, 2011 at 4:13 PM

      I got chills when I first saw Tom Hammond’s face – he looked like a 3-day old corpse.

      Seriously though, I have to agree with you re: Crist. He talks like a leader and occasionally plays like one, but yesterday he looked like he did often last year – throwing one-hoppers out to the receivers in the flats.

      I almost think KA is angling for the sideline reporter job with that appearance yesterday.

  6. leprechaunlover - Apr 17, 2011 at 3:46 PM

    There will always be Notre Dame haters and it all stems from pure jealousy! Let’s not let him ruin our glory and excitment. I too was not impressed with Crist. I was not impressed with him last year either. I just don’t believe he has “it”. Not really sure what “it” is, but I want to feel what I felt when I watched Brady Quinn play. I’m just not feeling it. Only time will tell what next season will bring for us. Fall can’t come soon enough for me. My biggest wish of all is to beat the snot out of Michigan. I pray for that daily (:

    • 9irish - Apr 17, 2011 at 3:56 PM

      What, are you tired of the Irish blowing games in the last few minutes to Michigan? (two years in a row). Tate Forcier is now at Miami (seems so appropriate). They need to win that game this year, it will set the tone for the whole season.

  7. jerseyshorendfan1 - Apr 17, 2011 at 5:19 PM

    A few observations:

    1) To packymalley above: The NBC contract gets renewed every 5 years I think it is. A contract is a binding agreement between two or more parties that is enforceable by law. If NBC don’t wanna play, they don’t gots ta pay. Know what I’m saying? They re-up every renewal term because they have the ratings and ND makes money for them. ND is the most followed program in the nation (by both the lovers and the haters as you have so aptly proven). Deal with that, you doucher.

    2) I agree completely with ndfootballfan4life; nice comeback also.

    3) danno27, I agree on the Hammond comments. I feel like NBC must bring in a local mortician when they do his make-up on game day.

    4) Also, let’s not give Arnold a big head over his on-air appearance yesterday. Next thing you know, he’ll be doing color and we’ll have no more live blog.

    5) Call me crazy, but I would be getting Golson ready to start this fall with Hendrix as the #2 man in. Give Rees the Matt Lovecchio award for four nice wins and lets hope Crist hangs around for emergencies. Its time this offense became a true Kelly offense. Golson had me seeing visions of Tony Rice. You all remember what happened the last time we had a killer defense and a mobile QB right?

    6) All hail Lynch. This kid will only get better and I suspect that most of us would be fine with him playing at the level he demonstrated yesterday. Can’t wait to see him develop and the opponent’s QB’s trying to deal with him.

    7) These next 4 months are going to be really long. I really love summer here at the shore but I find myself hoping for fall to come quickly.

    Your pal,
    Art Vandelay

    • nddc21 - Apr 18, 2011 at 6:30 PM

      “Call me crazy…”
      OK, you’re a bit crazy. Listen, I’m as excited by Golson as any other fan, but he’s still just a kid. Like we saw in the clip during the game of BK giving him some verbal “coaching” (i.e. getting his butt chewed out), it will take a while until we see him really get this offense. Until then, he’s going to be making some mistakes. I would love to see some Golson packages this year, but with limited room for him to make mental errors.

      With the great defense we’re going to have this season, I’d much rather see a QB who can apply the strategy that a lot of teams with great defenses use: create turnovers on D, minimize turnovers and chew up clock on offense, and take advantage of the field position that a great defense will give us. Is it a little big ten-ish (conservative)? yes. But I think this is how we’re going to maximize this team’s ceiling.

      Just my opinion, I could be way off. Golson could start & go undefeated, in which case I will happily buy you a beer of your choosing.

      • bernhtp - Apr 19, 2011 at 8:10 AM

        Golson is clearly a very talented kid with sparks of brilliance, but he is no where near ready to QB this team yet. This was apparent with his happy feet – first instinct is to run out of the pocket even when unnecessary – and his proclivity to carry the ball around the field at his hip.

    • irishtiger17 - Apr 19, 2011 at 8:05 PM

      Why not put Hendrix ahead of Gholston?

  8. irishtiger17 - Apr 19, 2011 at 8:03 PM

    Whoever the “packeyguy” is up on top of this is really a typical college football idiot. Putting ohio state in there is laughable with all the criminals and thugs Warden Tressel takes in. And now the warden himself is tottooed “IN TROUBLE”. Makes Jerry Tarkanian look like a saint. Notre Dame runs a clean program and allows no margin for academics. Love them or hate them. One day, they’ll be lookin’ at your team and walking away a winner. Long way to go but not as long as it was. Back end of recruiting was fantastic.

  9. azirish16 - Apr 20, 2011 at 2:49 PM

    Start Tommy Rees. We are going to have a DEF that will stop teams! Right! Tommy is the smartest QB we have in the system right now. He makes the correct throws!! Yea he doesnt have the cannon of an arm that the other 3 have, but you know what neither did Joe Montana!! What wins games? A stout DEF and a smart QB that will have long drives, chew up the clock and make smart decisions in the red zone. I just dont trust Dayne the way I trust Tommy. Hendrix looked real good Sat. but he hasnt seen a real football team yet, and Gholson, give him a year to learn the system and develop. He will battle for a starting job next year!

  10. azirish16 - Apr 20, 2011 at 2:52 PM

    Oh yeah-Aaron Lynch is a STUD! He’ll put on 15lbs of muscle this summer and really be a BEAST! I’m sure he will be starting by USF! Go Irish!!

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