So after the Blue team's 68-33 victory over the defense, what exactly did Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis learn? If you ask him, he gathered that there is still some serious work to be done.
"I never said we were good enough," Weis commented after the game. "We have a long road for improvement. I'll let you know about that in September. Right now, we've got a long way to go. I just think that this was a very good spring. It was a very good spring and I think we improved in a lot of areas and we have a long way to go to being a really good football team. Potentially, potentially, you could see that elements are in place to be a really good football team, but we have a lot of work to do."
There were some positives to be gleaned from the Irish spring game Saturday, specifically when analyzing the rushing attack. All throughout spring practices, Weis had been emphasizing the need to improve on the ground game and become more efficient with the offense's carries. The Blue-Gold Game showcased the fruits of the squad's labor, as the offense racked up 247 rushing yards on 59 carries for a 4.2 yards per carry average.
The benefactors of this focus on the rushing attack were runningbacks Robert Hughes, Jonas Gray and offensive most valuable player, Armando Allen. Hughes received the highest number of carries with 21, for 93 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Gray touched the ball 20 times for 89 yards. Allen, working on only 12 carries, picked up 70 yards and had the longest rush of the day, going for 26 yards.
However, coach Weis would still like to see some more consistency out of the passing attack.
"Well, I think there's a different thing in each aspect of the team," he said. "For example, offensively, getting all of those receivers to get some continuity in the passing game. We're still a little rough around the edges. Like one time, Jimmy [Clausen] had a sack because one of our receivers was supposed to run an in-cut and he doesn't run an in-cut, and so it's a sack to him and everybody says, ‘well Jimmy's holding the ball,' and that's the type of thing that when guys aren't out there the whole spring, you're going to have a couple of things right there. You get Golden [Tate] from baseball and healthy, you get Duval [Kamara] out there, along with how the other guys have played this spring. While I'm still on offense, there's a couple of offensive linemen that we need to get back and get involved in the mix, to get us some more quality depth."
On the defensive side of the ball, Weis attributed most of the uncertainties to the absences of players who have been limited throughout spring practice.
"On defense, some of our speediest players, like Kerry Neal and Darius Fleming haven't been out there in our team situationals," Weis said. "And we have to see with some of these young guys coming in, on both sides of the ball, offensively and on defense, if these recruits can come in and get themselves involved in the mix."
CELEBRATION TIME: After displaying a knack for making plays in the secondary as a freshman, Robert Blanton didn't wait to put on a show at the 80th-annual Blue Gold Game. In the contest pitting the offense against the defense, the freshman cornerback showed why he was able to find the field early last season.
As quarterback Jimmy Clausen dropped back to pass, he scanned the field, but was too obvious in his read, honing in on the right side of the field to John Goodman. As Clausen released the pass, Blanton instinctively read the play and jumped the slant route and intercepted the pass. After the corner had the ball in his possession, all that was in front of him were green pastures and a herd of defensive blockers to pave the way. 48 yards later, Blanton had given the Gold team, 10 points and a reason to celebrate.
With the Gold team up 15-4 after the pick-six, the entire defensive unit sat Indian-style in a circle in the south end zone for an impromptu game of duck, duck, goose. Since Blanton was the player who scored the touchdown, he started the celebration, and began the revelry. The freshman shed some light on the post-touchdown gathering after the game.
"I don't know who's idea it was," he said. "But it was probably the tightest celebration I've ever seen. I was running down the field and Kyle McCarthy was yelling 'duck, duck, goose.' Somebody had planned the celebration out before. I didn't worry about looking stupid because you only live once so you have to have some fun."
Coach Weis wasn't as enthusiastic about the extra-curricular activity after the play.
"I didn't even watch them," he said with a grin. "I just told the referees not to call personal fouls. Part of the game is to have some fun, I mean I called a reverse from the eight-yard line. I called a flea flicker. It's part of the game — you want to come out in the spring game and have a little fun out there. I hope they got it on video so they could see how stupid they looked."
Regardless of the post-play fun, Weis did acknowledge the dexterity Blanton displayed on the interception.
"Oh, we'll have to hear about that one for a couple of weeks," Weis joked. "Where are you R.J.?" his coach said to Blanton, who was in the media room. "Yeah, this is probably one of the few times that we're going to hear you quiet back there. That's R.J. You better realize that the kid is going to challenge you, especially in three-step routes and that was a three-step route. He sat there and I think we were running a slant on that play. I think it was Goodman outside that didn't come across his face and R.J. drove right inside of him and picked up the ball and he's got ball skills and once he gets the ball in his hands, don't be surprised if the ball ends up in the end zone down at the other end because he knows what to do with it when he has the ball in his hands."
Blanton elaborated on his momentous play in the first half.
"We were in a cover two, I believe, he threw a slant, I picked it and we had some great blocking from my D line and my safeties and linebackers came through with some great blocking, so we played a little duck, duck, goose after that," he said.
ZEKE AND DESTROY: Early enrollee Zeke Motta had a big impact in his first game as a collegiate athlete. Although it was the spring contest, the freshman was the leading tackler in the entire game with seven takedowns, three of which were unassisted.
"Well Zeke is one of the more athletic guys that has walked in the door here," Weis said of Motta. "He came in here in very, very good shape, so those are two pluses. Now the negative is, he doesn't know what he doesn't know. What that means is that he's got a long way to go just to be figuring out what we're supposed to be doing every play. And that's not a derogatory comment about his intelligence; it's a first semester freshman. We've got an uphill battle here, but he's a very gifted athlete."