For the first time since Kelly was hired in December, 27,241 fans were able to see the revamped offensive and defensive schemes that will be employed on Saturdays in the fall in South Bend, Ind.
Calling it the team’s “best practice” so far, Kelly and the Irish staff will now count down the days until practice begins in the summer and preparations can begin for the 2010 season.
“We got a chance to see some things [Saturday] obviously that we can build on, and I think those are pretty evident,” Kelly told reporters after the game. “Today was a good evaluator for us relative to all our players and finding out more about them. It’s the first coat of paint for us. This is a process that we’re entered into, and we know that this is not a destination for us.”
Offense certainly took precedence over new coordinator Bob Diaco’s 3-4 defense — as Kelly had promised — with both offensive units combining for 67 pass attempts and 436 yards through the air.
Some of the highlights from the 27-19 Gold victory over the Blue team included:
• Dayne Crist began his tenure as the new starting quarterback with a solid but not spectacular performance, completing 20 of 31 passes for 172 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Most importantly, however, Crist was on the field — just six months after having surgery to repair a torn ACL.
• Fellow signal-caller Nate Montana had the surprise performance of the game, tossing three touchdowns and throwing for 223 yards on 18 of 30 passing for the Gold team. The walk-on looked comfortable in the pocket and seemed to have a good grasp of the offense, hooking up with tight end Mike Ragone for a 4-yard score, wideout Duval Kamara on a 37-yard touchdown and wideout Theo Riddick on a scoring connection of 14 yards. Ragone led all receivers with six catches and 75 yards. Montana’s performance solidified him as the No. 2 heading into fall camp.
• Michael Floyd will have a new role on offense, as he will now line up as the inside slot receiver after playing on the outside last season. Kelly’s goal is to get the ball in Floyd’s hands as much as possible. On the first play from scrimmage Saturday, Floyd took a handoff from Crist and ran 13 yards on an end-around.
• Tai-ler “TJ” Jones, the early-enrollee freshman who has been working with the first-team offense nearly the whole spring, caught four passes for 56 yards with an 18-yard touchdown. His quick ascent up the depth chart has been one of the most pleasant surprises of spring camp, and it doesn’t look like he is going to relinquish any opportunity for playing time. He’s big, physical and fast — and a hard worker.
• Sophomore Cierre Wood, who was expected to carry a larger load last season, led a productive rushing attack with 110 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries for the Blue team — including a 44-yard TD run — while Jonas Gray had a 38-yard TD run. Senior Armando Allen is listed as the starter, but it’s clear that Wood will get his share of carries, as Kelly recognizes his immense talent and the depth in the backfield.
• Linebackers Manti Te’o and Steve Filer were the defensive standouts of the contest. Te’o, a sophomore, finished with eight tackles and an interception while playing the inside linebacker spot in the new 3-4 scheme. The junior Filer led all players with 12 tackles, including two tackles for loss.
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