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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 23, 2010

CFB: Offense should have edge in Notre Dame spring game


TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer

SOUTH BEND, Ind. Coach Brian Kelly expects the Notre Dame spread offense to look good in the annual Blue-Gold game on Saturday. He practically guarantees it.

That's because he's going to limit what the Fighting Irish defense can do against Dayne Crist and the other Notre Dame quarterbacks.

"You won't see much. You will probably leave going, 'Wow, our defense didn't get the kind of progress that we were hoping,'" he said. "This is going to be set up for offense from that standpoint. We want to get out there and show some exciting football."

The game, which is expected to draw at least 25,000 fans, will be played under regular rules except quarterbacks can't be hit. Instead of the No. 1 offense vs. the No. 1 defense, Kelly will mix the squads up and try to make it competitive.

Irish fans will get their first good look at Crist. As a sophomore last season, after sitting out as a freshman, he completed 10 of 20 passes with one inter ception and one touchdown in four games before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

Crist still isn't at 100 percent, wearing a brace on the knee, and hasn't been allowed to be hit during spring practices.

"I think I'm back mentally, but that will continue to get better and feel more comfortable as time goes on," he said.

Crist said he expects to be fully healthy when the season begins. The 6-4, 235-pound quarterback from Canoga Park, Calif., has often been the target of Kelly's criticism during spring practice. Kelly believes by putting a lot of stress on Crist during practice he will be ready for whatever challenges he faces during games.

One of the biggest criticism Kelly has had for Crist and the rest of the quarterbacks has been their footwork as they adjust from the pro-style offense Notre Dame ran under Charlie Weis.

"The thing is, the system we run offensively, the footwork has to marry that. You can't use the footwo rk in another system and apply it to what this system is. So that's really the tough part right now. He knows all the X's and O's, that's easy for him. He's really got great football intelligence. It's matching the footwork and that's really the growing pains right now," Kelly said.

Crist said he's been working on being lighter on his feet.

"Just foot quickness is a big aspect of your footwork. Being able to get your feet up and down. Being able to create force with your feet, not throwing all arm, using your legs to throw the ball," he said. "Every throw is tied in with your footwork."

Receiver Theo Riddick, who moved from tailback, also won't be allowed to be hit as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Tight end Kyle Rudolph and linebacker Darius Fleming will only play briefly because of injuries.

The game also will give Irish fans at least a peak at the new 3-4 defense that is a stark contrast to the 4-3 run the past two seasons. Instead of using a l ot of blitzes and trying to get into the opponents' backfield, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco runs a "no-crease defense" that calls for players to fill the gaps.

"You just have to know that you can't really get up field because you leave holes, you leave creases, that the offense can exploit," said linebacker Manti Te'o, a Punahou alum from La'ie.

Kelly said he's not worried if the defense won't be able to show everything on Saturday.

"Our defense has made great progress this spring," he said.