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Saturday, April 24, 2010
Montana outduels Crist in Blue-Gold game

By Wes Morgan

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Nate Montana, unfamiliar with the spotlight, sheepishly approached the podium following Saturday's Blue-Gold spring football game at the University of Notre Dame.

"Do I just talk?" he asked.

"No, they'll ask you questions," an Irish official responded.

Nate Montana
As well as Nate Montana played today, he's a long shot to ever see the field for Notre Dame.

Son of Joe had himself another enjoyable spring game, (albeit against a mostly second-team defense) out-dueling probable starting quarterback Dayne Crist. Montanta completed 18 of 30 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Gold team to a 27-19 victory over the Blue squad.

Montana shined last April, then left Notre Dame for Pasadena City College to continue his development under center. Coach Brian Kelly, making his debut at Notre Dame Stadium, liked what he saw from Montana, though he'd prefer to see it on a routine basis.

"I thought Nate was pretty good," he said. "Nate does some things really well, and then I'll lose him for a couple of plays. It's more about him playing (more)."

Saturday was more about Crist, who finished 20-for-31 for 172 yards and one score, throwing two interceptions -- only one of which was his doing after receiver Duval Kamara dropped an easy ball.

As charming as Montana's performance was, it isn't unrealistic to believe this is the last time we hear from him. Kelly brought in a good crop of quarterbacks, some of whom won't arrive until the fall, and the walk-on with legendary lineage just isn't consistent enough to make a lasting impact.

It was the most live snaps Crist's taken at Notre Dame and his surgically-repaired knee held up as well as his wits, indicating he's ready to take on the life-in-a-fish-bowl challenge that comes with being the face of the Irish program.

"A world ahead right now," he said. "It was a little overwhelming at first, but now everything has started to slow down a little bit, and everyone has been able to kind of settle in and just go out and play."

Kelly was less concerned about grading Crist's performance as he was with the process as a whole.

"I thought he did some good things, threw the ball in the seam, the vertical, push throws that we've tried to get into our offense quite a bit," he said. "As he feels more comfortable, he'll be able to slide and extend plays longer."

Kelly did do a decent job balancing the teams to gauge just exactly where his squad is going into the summer. And there were plenty of positives to take away from the performance in front of 27,241 fans.

"You can look good, you can run fast, you can do all those things," Kelly said. "But can you play the game of football? Today, we intentionally wanted a competitive situation ... so we could find out who are those guys who have the innate ability to play the game."

A few guys who did just that were:

  • Sophomore tailback Cierre Wood - Wood, though Kelly referred to him as "Woods," rushed for 111 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 10 carries, including a 44-yard bolt to the end zone in the third quarter. With senior Armando Allen (8-41) pegged as the starter, Wood and junior Jonas Gray, who totaled 57 yards and a TD on eight takes, are primed to make a strong push in August after looking far more explosive.

  • Freshman receiver T.J. Jones - Jones was an early enrollee this winter and will see the field early this fall. The 5-11, 185-pounder caught four passes for 56 yards and a TD (thrown on a rope by Crist to the left corner of the end zone). With junior star wideout Michael Floyd flirting with a move to the slot, Jones is a lightning-quick weapon ready to join the mix. "Right now he's in a starting role," Kelly said. "I mean, he can play for us right now."

  • Senior defensive end Emeka Nwankwo -- That's a mouthful. And he's a handful coming off the edge. Nwankwo, who didn't see any action last season and only recorded two tackles as a sophomore, picked up five Saturday, including one for a loss. The 6-4, 280-pounder looks comfortable in the new 3-4 defensive scheme and likely solidified his place along the line.
  • Closing the door on the draft

    During the first quarter of the spring game, it was announced that former Irish offensive tackle Sam Young was selected by the Dallas Cowboys 179th overall in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. Dallas surely was impressed with Young's durability after the Florida native set an Irish record for career starts with 50.

    In the second quarter, fellow lineman Eric Olsen, who shifted to center as a senior last season, was picked 183rd overall in the sixth round by Denver. Olsen started 31 consecutive games, including three different positions, to close out his career in South Bend.

    Safety Kyle McCarthy went undrafted.