SOUTH BEND —
Welcome to major college football, Gunner Kiel.
The highly touted Notre Dame freshman saw his first live game action in Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game, starting the first series of the second half.
And his first pass was an interception.
The Columbus East product and 2011 Indiana Mr. Football did complete some passes, going 5-for-10 for 57 yards, including a 25-yard shovel pass to George Atkinson III. Kiel also had a few nice runs and showed that even at this early stage of his college career that he isn’t afraid of lowering his shoulder and taking a hit to gain first down.
Kiel and the Irish offense had a mixed day at Notre Dame Stadium, amassing 551 yards in total offense, but falling to the defense, 42-31.
There were also six turnovers: Three interceptions and three fumbles.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly saw plenty of positives, but plenty of room for more work as the team wraps up spring drills.
“There is no question in my mind that we’ve got enough players out there to compete,” Kelly said. “I’m not worried about not having enough players. We need to continue to build the players that we have, and we have a long way to go. I was pleased with that. I think if there is one thing that stands out from the game itself, it’s the attention to detail. The little things that we need to do better.”
One of the most closely watched areas of spring practice for the Irish this season was the competition expected to take place at quarterback. Kiel is joined by junior returning monogram winner Tommy Rees and junior returning monogram winner Andrew Hendrix, along with sophomore Everett Golson. Rees and Hendrix appeared to have a slight edge as spring practice wrapped up, and it was Rees getting the first crack at the field on Saturday.
One of Rees’s mandates this spring is to cut down on mistakes, as he threw 14 interceptions to go with 20 TD passes a year ago.
But the two upperclassmen are being pushed hard by Golson and Kiel.
Rees did not look good in his first series, completing just one nine-yard screen pass to Theo Riddick and overthrowing two receivers.
Hendrix, meanwhile, led the Irish offense to its first score of the day, completing a 25-yard TD pass to tight end Tyler Eifert. Senior running back Cierre Wood had a pair of 20-yard runs to key the drive.
For much of the first quarter, it was the Irish defense asserting its will, as the Gold squad kept the Irish offense out of the end zone and picked off Rees on his second series.
But with just under four minutes in the period and Golson running the offense, the Irish drove into the red zone on a 31-yard pass to Eifert. The Irish defense held, however, and limited the offense to a 22-yard Nick Tausch field goal.
Rees, Hendrix and Golson shared the QB duties in the first half, all with mixed results: Hendrix had a pick in addition to his TD toss; Golson threw a 19-yard TD pass to Riddick, but also struggled taking care of the football, with a fumble and several bobbled snaps; and Rees threw well at times but could not seem to get the offense into the end zone.
Kiel took all the snaps in a shortened second half that featured two eight-minute quarters with a running clock.
Despite the pick, Rees was pleased overall with his play not just on Saturday, but throughout the spring.
“Obviously that interception put a damper on things,” Rees conceded. “But I’m happy with how spring ended. If I got that one throw back, I still feel good coming out of the game.”
Rees completed 7-of-14 passes for 84 yards with no TDs and the one pick.
Golson, numbers-wise, had the best showing on the afternoon. The Myrtle Beach, South Carolina product completed 11-of-15 passes for 120 yards and two TDs. He also had no interceptions.
But Golson also had his struggles, especially in managing the offense. Several delay of game penalties resulted from Golson having difficulty getting the play in from the sidelines.
Kelly said he expects all four quarterbacks to work hard this summer in advance of fall camp.
“The guy that really commits to the details this summer is probably one of the guys that’s going to start it,” Kelly said.
“The point is all of them have a lot of work to do. We’ll see who does a great job this summer,” Kelly added.
Offense misfires, mixed results for QB quartet in annual Blue-Gold Game
SOUTH BEND —
Welcome to major college football, Gunner Kiel.
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