SOUTH BEND – Malik Zaire made sure people remembered it is a competition for Notre Dame's starting quarterback job this spring.
Zaire, who didn't play as a freshman, threw for 292 yards on 18-of-25 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He led the Irish to touchdowns in each of his first three series in Saturday's Blue-Gold Game, with the offense won 63-58 as the two units gained points for various in-game accomplishments.
"I feel confident in my abilities," Zaire said. "I feel confident that the coaches want to put the best guy out there. I just have to play well and doing what I need to do, whatever it takes to win games."
Everett Golson, who returned this spring after missing the fall semester and the 2013 season because of an academic violation, threw for 154 yards on 13-of-24 passing. He also had no interceptions, and while he didn't throw for a touchdown, Golson scored on a 5-yard run late in the opening quarter.
"Nothing is ever given to," Golson said of competing for the starting job he won before the 2012 season when the Irish went 12-0 in the regular season and reached the BCS championship game.
"You are going to have to work for everything that you've got. I think I've done that up to this points. What we have right now is a quarterback battle, so you are definitely going to work. I think that competition is going to push both of us."
Notre Dame gained 436 of its 576 offensive yards in the first half. The Irish five legitimate scoring plays came on their first five drives, which ended with four touchdowns and a field goal.
"I thought there was some development there in terms of where they were at times during the spring," coach Brian Kelly said of the quarterbacks. "There was a little bit better attention to some of the details that they have to have at that position. I thought that there was one series where Malik kind of got off – got away from some of the things that we needed to do, but by and large, I thought he was fairly consistent. His problem has been consistency of staying with progressions and – are we letting anybody in at any time? Is that how we're doing this? I guess so.
"So that has been really good today, the consistency was much better for him. Effort, pocket awareness was OK. We've still got a ways to go there. You know, I'd like to see more catchable balls. I thought there was some quick game stuff that, you know, just ball placement needs to be a little bit better, but overall, structurally, his understanding of what we're doing, it's getting better, so I thought there was some progress."
Turf is coming
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced near the end of the first quarter of Saturday's scrimmage that the grass at the stadium would be replaced by FieldTurf.
Swarbrick said the push back of replacing the grass with a synthetic surface was about trying to preserve something more than preventing something.
"It's more of a personal preference than an athletic department preference," Swarbrick said. "I like it. I'm an alum here, and it's part of the dynamic of this place. I was inclined to say can we do it? And some of the other iconic stadiums have held on to it, Green Bay, the Rose Bowl, so both of those things played a role.
"But we just couldn't get ourselves there."
The turf will start being installed after commencement events May 16-18 and is expected to be done by Aug. 15.
Swarbrick said there hasn't been discussions about adding logos to the field with the move to turf, but he doesn't expect the field to look too different than it does now.
He also said turf will allow the stadium to play host for more events, such as a possible outdoor hockey game and concerts.
Kelly, who hasn't been shy about saying he preferred FieldTurf to grass, said he was happy the change is coming.
"I think you look at the conditions of the field today, going out there and it's really about getting a surface where there's some consistency week‑in and week‑out for our players," Kelly said. "I think today was an indication; we can't even practice out there. And we want to be able to get out there with our team. We want some safety issues to be not part of the equation. And look, I think, you know, everybody is in agreement; if we can get the best surface there and grass, we're all – we'd love to have that. We just haven't been able to get to that.
"You know, this is my fifth year here at Notre Dame and we haven't been able to get to that. This is the best option available to us, and I'm happy that Jack Swarbrick, our athletic director, our administration, has acted and we are going to have that playing field in place for the fall so we don't have to have those concerns going into 2014."
The players are also happy to see the turf replace the grass.
"Love it," Golson said. "There was a couple of times I fell today, so love it."
Defense takes steps
Notre Dame mixed and matched its first- and second-team defense Saturday.
And after getting off to a slow start, giving up four touchdowns and a field goal on the first five series, the Irish settled in on defense.
And the defense picked up a lot in the second half as it limited the offense to 140 yards. The second half was played in two quarters of 15 minutes with the clock running and walk-on Charlie Fiessinger finished the last 8 minutes.
Kelly said he liked what he saw from the defense.
"We accomplished a lot in the sense that, first of all, (defensive end) Sheldon Day played a cameo role today; (linebacker and former Bishop Luers star) Jaylon Smith, (safety) Max Redfield, a lot of those guys got in and got out early. So we feel like we've identified some of our really legitimate playmakers, and then we've identified some individuals that will really play roles for us. Maybe not 60 plays, but that will have a significant role for us.
"So I think what (defensive coordinator) Brian (VanGorder) has done is he has found players that maybe have not played a lot of football for us, that can have roles in assisting and helping our defense. And I think that that's what his experience brings. Here is somebody with a lot of experience that can take an individual and say, all right, here is where he can help us. So I think that that's what the spring has allowed us from a personnel standpoint defensively to do. And secondly, we've added a scheme that certainly has some more pieces to it that we didn't have in the past. "
- Greg Bryant ran for 101 yards on 12 carries with the longest run of the game, a 51-yarder in the fourth quarter
- Chris Brown had five catches for 105 yards to lead all receivers
- Kyle Brindza kicked a 50-yard field goal but had a 36-yard attempt hit off the post
- Austin Collinsworth, Kendall Moore and John Turner each had seven tackle, Jaylon Smith had six