Instead, a 17-year-old pass rusher, one just three months deep into his collegiate career, provided the afternoon's lightning strikes – mostly in the Gold team's backfield – as defensive end Aaron Lynch spiced up an otherwise mundane afternoon of football Saturday with a sterling performance against the team's experienced, first-string offensive linemen.
Periods of heavy rain contributed to an opening 43 minutes that yielded a mere nine points on three field goals before Gold team quarterback Andrew Hendrix scored on a scramble from 15 yards out. Hendrix added another touchdown run around and through the Blue team defense, this time from the 10-yard line for a 17-6 fourth quarter edge in the 17-13 Gold team victory.
But it was the destructive Lynch who kept the shivering audience captive with a show of force, occupying space in the offensive backfield as often as did the game's pair of veteran starting quarterbacks.
Lynch led the Blue team with seven tackles including six first half stops; 1.5 of his tackles behind the line of scrimmage. But it was the defensive end's shocking burst and ability to cover open space after shedding scrimmage blocks that caught the fans' and media attention in today's 82nd annual Blue Gold Game.
"He's a good football player. We have to go slow with him," said head coach Brian Kelly when prodded post-game regarding his pass-rushing prodigy. "The thing he did today was go against our first-string offensive linemen – Trevor Robinson and Taylor Dever. I'd like to tamp down the expectations too…I'd also like to give him credit for work that he did.
"It's going to be a process with him," Kelly continued. "We have to keep doing the little things right with him, but we moved him around: he played inside, he played outside, and he's going to be a great addition."
Lynch was credited with a lone QB hurry Saturday; just don't tell that to Gold team signal-caller Andrew Hendrix, who took a pair of shots from a hard-charging Lynch after he released down field throws.
"That's a big boy," said Hendrix post-game. "That's no high school (talent) on the field. I told him in the locker room, ‘I can't wait to see you do that to other people, because I had enough of it today.'
"I'm going to have a couple of bags of ice with his name on it today." Hendrix was the game's offensive MVP, finishing with the aforementioned touchdown runs while completing a game-high 10 passes for 113 yards. He also added 37 yards rushing to lead the Gold team on the afternoon.
The Blue squad drew close late thanks to an Everett Golson-to-John Goodman touchdown pass. Golson's ensuing conversion run for two points at the game's four-minute mark cut the deficit to 17-14, but the second half's constantly running clock, coupled with a defensive holding penalty vs. the Blue defense, allowed the victorious Gold to maintain possession until the final gun.
Golson finished with a game-high 62 net rushing yards while completing 9 of 18 throws, the game's only passing score, and no interceptions. The semester freshman suffered a costly fumble (forced by fellow January enrollee Ishaq Williams) that set up Hendrix's second rushing score.
Three goals achievedLynch's performance was outstanding, but the list of Blue Gold Game heroes that followed with quiet fall seasons is lengthy. (For instance, last year's leading tackler in this annual scrimmage has yet to start a college game entering 2011, his senior season).
Today marked the 15th practice for Kelly, his staff, and roster. Nothing more, nothing less. As a result, post-game evaluations are not the coaching staff's focus of the annual intra-squad scrimmage.
"It's hard to evaluate individual performances today given the circumstances of the game, (and) not having continuity at certain positions," Kelly said. "I'll stay away from those now. It was a competitive atmosphere, our guys played hard, and I saw great leadership from our seniors working with the younger guys.
"We got all four quarterbacks some work: Dayne and Tommy early on, than Andrew and Everett got a ton of work. Again, I (can) click off all the (goals) I had set up for us: stay injury-free; give our young players a chance to compete in a game like atmosphere; and young players an opportunity to compete at the quarterback position."
Red jerseys on returning starting quarterbacks Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees weren't the only elements unique to the contest. Kelly's offense repeatedly huddled out of necessity rather than employ its trademark, no-huddle spread attack.
"For us, the concerns coming into the game were depth at certain positions, so it forced us to slow down a lot," Kelly said.
Movin' on up?Kelly added post-game that a few of today's top players would qualify as competitors who made the greatest strides since the 2010 Sun Bowl.
"I think we're getting a lot of tight ends work," Kelly said. "You saw Alex Welch play very well today. He had an opportunity to get a lot of work. I think the tight end position benefited in the spring and we have good depth there."
Depth is also a strong point along the team's defensive front, and key to that calendar year improvement is the presence of massive nose guard, Louis Nix.
"Louis Nix, our concern is: how long can he play at that level? Because when he's out there, he's a pretty good football player," Kelly noted. "He was on today. He's pretty hard to move. We just have to continue to develop his work volume."
Also starring Saturday were the team's new DOG (Drop) linebacker competitors.
"I think (Prince) Shembo and (Danny) Spond are two guys that can play in space very well," said Kelly of the sophomore classmates. "And developing the cornerback position," he continued of the spring session's improvements. "Lo Wood had a high interception coming off the high-low combination (route)…that's another guy that I would point out. Then at safety, Collinsworth got a lot of action today, so I think all those guys helped themselves."
Spond tied junior inside ‘backer Dan Fox with a Gold team-best seven tackles (one for loss) while Shembo added six stops to the Blue team's tally. Wood's interception was the lone pass theft on the afternoon.
The team's combined for 32 first downs (16 apiece), committed just two penalties on the afternoon, and produced 528 yards of total offense. The quartet of quarterbacks completed 32 of 62 passes for 311 yards while seven ball carriers contributed 217 rushing yards, with walk-on Patrick Coughlin tying Golson for the highest number of carries, 11 totaling 42 yards. Coughlin suited up for both teams over the course of the afternoon as starter Cierre Wood (7 rushes/39 yards) and backup Jonas Gray (5/16) saw limited action.
Junior slot receiver Robby Tomas recorded a game-best six receptions for 64 yards while senior Deion Walker added 56 yards on five grabs and sophomore Alex Welch totaled 34 yards on four catches. Coughlin added another 24 yards on three receptions out of the Gold team backfield.
All of the game's 11 major statistical categories were paced by players that either did not appear, did not start, or were in high school last fall. Kelly noted that the game produced positives unique to playing inside the Stadium rather than the closed confines of the Irish practice field.
"We got some young guys some quality reps in a competitive environment. The next time they come out of that tunnel against South Florida, when it counts, they'll know what to expect."