Notre Dame’s Blue team (quarterbacked in the first half by DeShone Kizer) beat the gold squad (quarterbacked in the first half by Malik Zaire), 17-7, in Saturday’s annual Blue and Gold scrimmage. Some notes and observations from the south end zone at Notre Dame Stadium:
— Torii Hunter Jr. made the play of the game, beating Nick Coleman to reel in a spectacular 50-yard one-handed catch on a deep ball from Malik Zaire. The redshirt junior wide receiver has been roundly praised as one of Notre Dame’s most improved players this spring, which is a highly positive development as the Irish offense looks to replace Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle from last year’s team.
“The throw was just awesome,” Hunter said. “He put that right on the outside shoulder. I was able to kind of wall off the defender and make the play. But that was an awesome throw.”
— Running back Dexter Williams showed some impressive burst on a 16-yard touchdown run in the first half. Coach Brian Kelly listed the sophomore from Florida as another one of Notre Dame’s most improved offensive players during spring practice.
— Cornerback Shaun Crawford, despite wearing a green non-contact jersey, looked solid in coverage and put some good pressure (in tandem with linebacker Nyles Morgan) on Malik Zaire in the first half, forcing the quarterback to hurry a throw that was broken up. The sophomore’s return to the field is key not only for Brian VanGorder’s base defense, but it also gives the Irish an option they feel good about in nickel packages (which they weren’t able to deploy much last year).
— Running back Tarean Folston also wore a non-contact jersey in the first half and while he didn’t do much, just getting back on the field after tearing his ACL in Notre Dame’s season opener last September was a milestone for the senior from Cocoa, Fla.
— Notre Dame rain a fairly vanilla defense, but safety Max Redfield had a solid day, nearly forcing a fumble and making six tackles. More importantly, he kept everything in front of him — the most explosive play Kizer’s offense had went for 25 yards.
— Defensive end Isaac Rochell and cornerback Cole Luke also had solid games. They’ll both be looked to, along with linebacker James Onwualu and a few others, as defensive leaders this fall with the departures of Jaylon Smith, Sheldon Day, Joe Schmidt and Matthias Farley from last year’s unit.
— Early-enrolling freshman wide receiver Kevin Stepherson rebounded well from a dropped pass (he beat cornerback Ashton White on a fade but couldn’t hold on to Kizer’s throw), capping a solid spring with four catches for 70 yards.
“I don't know that we have a player on our team in KJ Stepherson that can catch the ball at full speed as he cuts across the field, (which is) a very unique trait of his,” Kelly said. “He still has to work on catching the ball vertically down the field. But he catches the ball out of his break at full speed, and it is a unique trait that he has that I have not seen since I've been here at Notre Dame.”
— Notre Dame exited the spring game without having suffered any notable injuries, Kelly said. Spring practice saw a few injuries, but the only one that looks like it could impact the 2016 season is the concussion suffered by wide receiver Corey Robinson. Robinson met with a concussion specialist earlier this week and will make a decision about his football future in the coming weeks.
— Every spring game has one of those fun, spring-gamey moments, whether it’s Louis Nix running the “Irish Chocolate” package or Ronnie Stanley rumbling downfield with the ball in his hand. On Saturday, that moment came when walk-on quarterback Montgomery VanGorder — the son of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder — darted into the end zone for a touchdown against his dad’s defense.
“ We wanted somebody to have bragging rights tonight and we were going to make sure that Montgomery had them,” Kelly said.
— Special teams play during spring practice generally isn’t worth reading much into, but punter Tyler Newsome parked three few punts inside the 20 and averaged 53.7 yards per punt (though all punts were fair caught on Saturday). The junior earned the game ball for his work.
“I guess that's a good thing in the spring game — your punter won the MVP of the game,” Kelly said. “That says a lot about a spring game.”