Spring game roundup: BCS participants Notre Dame, Alabama take the field
By Zac Ellis
After yet another weekend full of spring football games, here’s a rundown of the latest news and notes from across the nation:
• Notre Dame: The Irish defense came to play in the annual Blue-Gold game on Saturday, accounting for 10 sacks, two interceptions and a safety in the scrimmage. The offense, however, failed to find its groove, with second-year quarterback Everett Golson finishing 6-of-13 passing for 98 yards with one interception. He was also sacked three times. Coach Brian Kelly said he wasn’t concerned with the offense’s struggles, admitting he’d seen improvement on that side of the ball throughout spring. But the offense did find a spark late in the game when nose guard Louis Nix III took a goal-line snap and rumbled in for a two-point conversion. Perhaps Kelly should consider that package for the fall.
• Alabama: The Crimson Tide were anything but streamlined in Saturday’s A-Day game. The Crimson and White teams combined for nine turnovers — six interceptions and three fumbles — in the contest, leaving coach Nick Saban understandably upset. “The biggest thing I was concerned about was how the team would go out there and what would be their energy, their enthusiasm, and their attention to detail,” Saban said. “I don’t think that there were enough guys that answered that question in a positive way to my liking. But I’m never satisfied.” SI.com’s Lars Anderson reported on the game from Tuscaloosa. Oh, and AJ McCarron’s famous female companion Katherine Webb also made an appearance.
• Penn State: Around 28,000 fans ventured to Happy Valley for the Nittany Lions’ spring game this weekend, braving the icy elements in State College. But there wasn’t much closure for fans hoping to get a feel for Penn State’s quarterback situation, in which Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson are battling for the starting job. Coach Bill O’Brien was non-committal when discussing both passers after the game, but the competition may become more heated when five-star recruit Christian Hackenberg arrives on campus this summer.
• West Virginia: The Mountaineers’ offense looked sharp in Saturday’s spring game, with quarterback Paul Millard throwing three touchdown passes and wideout Jordan Thompson hauling in three scoring grabs of his own. But the defense came out on top, 41-33, using a special scoring system that awarded points for defensive stops. “We got accomplished what we wanted to get accomplished,” said coach Dana Holgorsen. West Virginia also dropped some sharp new uniforms during the weekend’s festivities:
• Western Kentucky: Hilltopper fans looking for some offense out of Bobby Petrino’s first spring game at Western Kentucky didn’t leave disappointed. The Red team, comprised of the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense, reeled off 509 yards of offense in dominating the White team 42-3 on Saturday. Quarterback Brandon Doughty accounted for 314 yards of that production through the air, while wide receiver Willie McNeal and tight end Mitchell Henry combined for 209 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 13 catches. Perhaps Petrino has another high-flying attack in store for the fall.
• Michigan State: Returning quarterback Andrew Maxwell wasn’t spectacular in the Spartans’ spring game, completing just 9-of-20 passes for 120 yards. He did manage to toss the game-winning touchdown pass for the Green team’s 24-17 win over the White squad, but the defense made the most noise Saturday. Chris Laneaux ran back a 25-yard interception for a touchdown while Kyler Elsworth returned a fumble recovery 41 yards to the end zone. Meanwhile, Michigan State fans received a surprise before the game when their beloved Sparty statue was found to be vandalized with Michigan maize and blue. There seems to be a lot of that going around.
• Tennessee: The second-largest crowd ever at Tennessee’s annual Orange and White game made its way to Neyland Stadium on Saturday to watch new coach Butch Jones in his first spring game. The crowd of 61,076 witnessed an unusually high-scoring game thanks to a modified scoring system, with the Orange side posting a 95-71 win over the White team. One of the Vols’ biggest questions is at quarterback. Returnees Justin Worley (8-for-18, 123 yards, TD) and Nathan Peterman (9-for-23, 98 yards) put up decent outings, but spring practice failed to clarify Tennessee’s quarterback picture. “It is wide open,” Jones said.
• Washington State: Mike Leach’s first season at Washington State didn’t turn out like he might have hoped, and if Saturday’s spring game was any indication, his roster still has some work to do. Upset with his team’s performance in the first half of the scrimmage, Leach forced his players to participate a full second half instead of using a 30-minute running clock. “We didn’t get our work done the first half,” Leach said, “so we were going to play a full second half. Which we did.”
• Wake Forest: No spring game in the country featured the offensive ineptitude that plagued Wake Forest’s weekend scrimmage. It took until the 14th official possession for either side of the Demon Deacons’ team to put points on the scoreboard, and it came on a field goal. Chad Hedlund’s 39-yard field goal stood as the only points of the entire contest and gave the Black team a 3-0 victory over the Gold. The passing game particularly struggled, as four interceptions were thrown. “I think it proves what we think — we’re not a pure-throw football team,” coach Jim Grobe said. “If we come out and just throw the football, it’s going to be really, really hard.”
• Auburn: Fans swarmed to Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium to notch the country’s top spring game attendance, with 83,401 setting the spring record for the school. But the story of the game was the ejection of cornerback Jonathon Mincy for targeting wideout Dimitri Reese on a hit. Mincy was ejected to simulate the new targeting rule that will go into effect this season. New coach Gus Malzahn must be trying to prepare his players for what to expect from officials this fall. After the game, Auburn fans rolled the oaks at Toomer’s Corner for the last time.