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Gastelum: A serious look at the Blue-Gold game (April 23)

Andrew Gastelum | Monday, April 23, 2012

They say not to take the Blue-Gold game seriously. But I say: Why not?

We still saw guys compete for their spots. It was a starting offense – minus a set quarterback ­- and a starting defense playing against each other. This was two hours of live-game action, with the starting units working as a whole. In fact, it is the only time we, and Irish coach Brian Kelly, will see this type of extended action until Sept. 1 in Dublin.

So, yeah, I would take this a little bit more seriously than most are.

Most saw what they expected from Tommy Rees, Manti Te’o and Cierre Wood. But I want to draw attention to what we didn’t expect: those pleasant surprises who, after Saturday’s scrimmage, have Irish fans thinking about what could be in this fast-approaching season.

Biggest surprise: Golson

If people told you they weren’t surprised by how well Everett Golson played, they are probably lying (or, are Golson himself). The dual-threat quarterback surprised us all with his arm strength, his tenacity and, most importantly, his poise.

Golson led his squad to points on every possession except the first. He topped all quarterbacks with 120 yards and two touchdowns on 11-for-15 passing. The rising sophomore was also the only Irish quarterback without a turnover.

The biggest hit on Golson is his size, or lack thereof. But the six-foot quarterback took hits with the best of them – including a punishing “Welcome-to-the-show” late hit by Te’o – and also knew when to drop his shoulder and push for the first down.

But it was the young gunslinger’s patience to let plays develop that impressed.

And this just in – Golson can throw. He was extremely accurate on short passes, while throwing one touchdown pass from the pocket and the other on a bootleg right. Meanwhile, his mid-to-long-range passes were so tight on a line (like his 31-yard zinger to Tyler Eifert) that the path could have been the wire for NBC’s Skycam. Without a doubt, you could “NBCee-it,” with “it” being his potential for greatness.

Pleasant Surprise: George Atkinson

Sure, Atkinson had more carries than all the other running backs combined, but he was known for only one thing last year: returning kicks for touchdowns. It’s not a bad trade, but not too many could have seen Atkinson rushing for 124 yards against a terrifying front seven. But the best part of his stat line was his 8.3 yards per carry.

The highlight of the day for the rising sophomore was a dominating, “put-the-team-on-my-back” 30-yard run in the second quarter. The linebacking corps met Atkinson in the backfield, but No. 4 wouldn’t let it stop him, juking, spinning and turning on the afterburners, while breaking tackles with ease. The two fumbles didn’t help, but what people will remember most is how well he ran.

We know how good Cierre Wood will be this year, we saw how good Theo Riddick will be and we heard how good USC-transfer Amir Carlisle will be. But now you add Atkinson to the mix, and this rushing attack could be a major key to Notre Dame’s success this season. These four could take the brunt of the pressure off “Quarterback Quad” and make defenses account for a remarkably balanced offense. It is about time to spread the love to the running backs in Kelly’s spread offense.

Unexpected surprise: Lo Wood

The secret is out on the Irish defense already: Attack the secondary. And with USC’s Matt Barkley and Oklahoma’s Landry Jones on the 2012 menu, things could get scary. The success of the secondary is intertwined with the amount of pressure the front seven can put on opposing quarterbacks. But it doesn’t hurt to have a surefire, diligent tackler with solid fundamentals.

We saw a glimpse of that with Lo Wood.

The cornerback recorded six tackles in the first half alone, and was aggressive at the point of attack. Coverage-wise, he was solid, but even Kelly has said he doesn’t need Wood to be a lockdown corner. He just needs to be consistent in coverage and continue to be aggressive with the ball carrier.

Honorable Mention

Ishaq Williams, Anthony Rabasa and DeVaris Daniels could easily be crucial role players this season and did enough to show that Saturday. Williams recovered a fumble and snagged an interception, Rabasa was all over the field and Daniels showed brief previews of his amazing athleticism.

With these surprises, it looks like this season’s harvest could be quite fruitful. That is, unless I took this game too seriously.


Contact Andrew Gastelum at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.