10 Observations from the 2015 Notre Dame Blue & Gold Game

Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire
Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

Notre Dame concluded spring practice on Saturday with the annual Blue & Gold game.  While it’s tough to really draw any conclusions from a glorified scrimmage, here are 10 observations from the game and some things to think about as the Irish move into the off-season.

1. There’s a reason there won’t be a decision on the Quarterback until the summer

Neither Everett Golson or Malik Zaire did too much to separate themselves.  Zaire had the long bomb to Will Fuller but that was really the only difference and everyone knows that Golson has the ability to hit Fuller deep from last year.  Golson looked more comfortable running the football than we’ve seen in the past with Doug Flutie complimenting his footwork.  For Zaire, he made more big plays but also was more inconsistent and looked less polished.  Zaire’s playmaking ability though can’t be denied.

2. Notre Dame’s offensive line has a chance to be really, really good

The first and second team offensive lines were both stout on Saturday without there being a large drop-off from one unit to the other.  Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars will still be battling for the starting left guard position through the summer just like Zaire and Golson and the competition will only improve the play of the line.  Kelly has said both could play in the fall but for the offensive line to really be elite, it’s going to need consistency in the starting five.  Whoever wins out though, the Notre Dame offensive line can be great in 2015.

3. The hype surrounding converted wide receiver CJ Prosise is legit

No one ran the ball more than CJ Prosise yesterday and he didn’t disappoint.  He picked up 64 yards on 12 carries and showed the speed we’ve heard about all spring practice.  For a converted wide receiver, he also looked much more comfortable running the ball out of the backfield than you’d have expected.  Kelly said yesterday that he is going to put the best 11 players on the field and its hard to argue against Prosise not being one of those players.  It’ll be interesting to see where Prosise lines up in the fall, but it’s pretty clear he’s a weapon for the new offensive staff to utilize.

4. Jarrett Grace looks healthy and ready to help the Irish defense

After a long lay off from game action, Jarrett Grace was active and looked healthy.  The Notre Dame linebacking corps is going to be fun to watch unfold with the depth and talent Notre Dame has amassed assuming Joe Schmidt comes back 100% for fall camp.  Between Grace, Schmidt, Nyles Morgan, Jaylon Smith, Greer Martini, and Tevon Coney there’s a lot for Brian Vangorder and Mike Elston to work with.

5. Max Redfield’s improvement doesn’t appear to have been overstated

Redfield was all over the field yesterday leading the team in tackles with 6.  Redfield also had the interception on the fan designed “Inebriated Irishman” play that he returned for a touchdown.  Opposing offenses still have the game tapes from last year and will test Redfield early in the season, but on Saturday the praise the coaching staff was sending his way all spring look warranted.

6. The Notre Dame defense could resemble the unit we saw the first half of 2014 

Notre Dame clearly has more depth than they did a year ago.  Without Joe Schmidt and Jarron Jones, the Notre Dame defense still made the Irish offense work for everything it got other than the long bomb to Will Fuller.  Last year Notre Dame was lost without Schmidt, but the Irish backers played well in his absence on Saturday.  Now imagine the Irish defense with him back at full strength.  Now add in Keivarae Russell to the mix.  All that sounds like it could equal a defense that is more of a weapon than a liability.  The defense probably won’t rival the 2012 squad, but it doesn’t need to with the potential of the Irish offense.

7. Notre Dame ran the ball a lot, is it a sign of things to come in 2015?

Maybe Brian Kelly knows he can chuck the ball around the field if he wants to or maybe he looked at what his team did against LSU in the Music City Bowl and realized that if the Irish are to make a playoff run, they are going to have to commit to the run.  Even with limited depth at running back, Notre Dame ran early and often.  Where CJ Prosise ends up playing the most could ultimately depend on what identity the offense assumes.  If Notre Dame’s offense in 2015 resembles what we saw on Saturday, the Irish are going to need as much depth as they can find at running back.

8. The tight ends didn’t do much, will Alize Jones be able to see the field early?

Nic Weishar made a nice catch at the end of the game for a touchdown but other than that, the tight ends were really quiet.  Durham Smythe got a lot of praise from the staff throughout the spring, but he didn’t show up on the stat sheet on Saturday.   Notre Dame needs a weapon at the tight end position for the passing game to truly shine.  Could incoming freshman Alize Jones fill that role?  It was just one scrimmage where the staff was likely holding a lot back, but it would have been nice to see a pass or two down the seam to the tight end.

9. Notre Dame didn’t generate much of a pass rush when the quarterbacks were live

In the first half when the quarterbacks were live there wasn’t much of a pass rush.  Now, Vangorder probably didn’t have license to blitz as he wanted, but that’s kind of the point – Notre Dame couldn’t generate a pass rush without blitzing.  That is not a great sign for the fall.  Jarron Jones was out of action so the line was missing a starter, but none of the defensive ends showed great pass rush skills.  Jhonny Williams got pressure late, but Kelly’s post-game comments about the struggles he’s had to bulk up and play at the new weight didn’t make it sound like he was a candidate to fill that role just yet

10. After a rough start, Tyler Newsome settled in

Newsome’s first couple of punts were rough, but he ended up averaging 42.9 yards per punt with a long of 51 yards.  He also pinned two inside the 20.  Grant all of this was without any chance for a return, but it was nice to see him get some distance and settle in after the first couple of punts looked shaky.

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  1. Duranko – Thanks for your input.

    I agree about Van Gorder’s son. Should never have really got one in the 1st place.

    I also agree that there might be players who find themselves ineligible come time for the Texas game, (Ishaq being a prime candidate).

    There’s also the possibility that there may be guys who will transfer if they’re buried on the depth chart. Golson is one of the 5th year guys and it’s not hard to see him leave if BK isn’t telling him what he wants to hear and/or he has a better offer elsewhere.

    But we don’t know any of that. I know it’s 4 months off, but in all likelihood there will be 1 or more players who ask for a 5th but won’t get it. BK has to have an idea in his head as to who they are. Who do you think they are?

    No matter how much he likes Hounshell, he’s too easy to replace. Unfortunately, he has to be #1 on the list. Also, I think either Schmidt or Grace will have to be a candidate. He loves them both but, again, it’s a numbers game and not all the 5th year requests can be granted as of now. To me, I think Farley should be next, though I’d be surprised.

  2. Mike, I am in the realm of conjecture here, but here’s a WAG at the ones who will not be part of the85 man roster for Texas:

    Monty Van Gorder, it was nice last year, but dad can afford to pay

    Nicky Baratti, his injury problems do not look as if they can ever be solved.

    MikeHeuerman-even with an open TE position, he got no mention, NOT ONE WORD, from either Kelly or Booker. He would have to want to stick around for the degree and for two more years of rough practices and not playing.
    After that it’s tough to see.

    Perhaps one of the Offensive linemen buried on the depth chart, Byrne, McGovern or Bivin might give up the ghost.

    The law of large numbers predicts that one player will either be ineligible or do something disqualifying.

    Then there’s the Nile Sykes syndrome, where, after a player arrive, it was clear that there was not a fit and there was a mutual severance of the relationship.

    It is going to be tight. But better tight than 6-7 players short of the 85.

    Chase Hounshell-Kelly really loves his Rudyness, and Kelly likes having these willful kind of guys around, and he will keep Hounshell if others leave, but the honorable Chase may get chased.

  3. We better not get too used to Farley, Grace, Golson, Schmidt, Nick Martin. They can’t all be granted a 5th year. Too many scholarships. Someone won’t be here. Who do you guys think won’t be here?

  4. Blue and Gold Game did not dissapoint. Both quarterbacks look ready to go. The running backs including the walk-on Josh Anderson did an impressive job. The offensive line is fearless. Defense is strong.

  5. Everett made 3 bad/dangerous throws in a row at one point. I don’t think he’s cleaned things up because of that. Not that Zaire can’t make bad throws.

  6. Damien,

    Here is maybe a better way to look at it…

    Do you think Prosise has the skill set to be the best RB on the current roster?

    Do you think Prosise has the skill set to be the best WR on the current roster?

    My opinion is yes and no, respectively. Fuller, Robinson, and Carlisle are all just as good, with Fuller being better at WR than Prosise. So the question is…why wouldn’t you place him where you think he would be the best at that position? A RB can split out wide just as easily as the slot receiver to utilize receiving skills too.

  7. I do think EG will likely start the season as the starting QB. But I think the key difference will be that his leash will be a lot shorter. It won’t be one fumble and done, I mean no one’s perfect. But one thing about EG, even from my view as a fan, it’s obvious when he’s starting to unravel. You don’t need to be a million dollar a year coach to see that. I think if that happens, Zaire will quickly replace EG in those situations. While Zaire still needs some experience under the belt, I think he’s shows that he’s comfortable enough to run the offense and have some success.

    Prosise has shown great running ability. That can help with running back depth, you now have 3 legit running backs, and who knows what the incoming players bring to the table. But I don’t necessarily agree with ChrisJ. Having a player that can both run and receive opens up more possibilities for the offense, and I think it’s one more thing opposing defenses will have to contend with. There will be a lot of different plays ND can make on offense this year.

    If the Irish can both run and pass this year, that will open things up considerably, esp. considering we are in line to have an elite receiving corp, offensive line and maybe some great running back potential as well. I really think this can be an exciting offense this year.

  8. Overall there was way more positives than negatives. Lets hope the pass rush improves but it
    should be a great season.

  9. One other thing to add about maximizing Prosise is look what happened with Theo Riddick. The experiment at slot did not work because his talents were not being used enough. He moved back to RB where he belonged because that was his best skill set and look what happened. He had a tremendous senior season and is making a name for himself in the NFL. I really hope Kelly does the same thing in Prosise knowing he will be used best at RB.

  10. So, I didn’t see the game, but how should the lack of pass rush be perceived given the talent on ND’s O-line?? If ND’s O-line was swiss cheese and we had no pass rush, then I might be concerned. anyone have any idea???

  11. You don’t know if Durham Smythe is a great tight end or not. And frankly, saying that you take anything as a concern, or as a major positive, from a Spring game is uninformed – the coaches said he had an outstanding Spring and has the tools to be another great ND TE. Smythe has had exactly two passes thrown to him, and he has caught two. He is an incoming redshirt sophomore, 19 years old, with three years of eligibility left.

    The Spring game is viewed by the players and coaches as another practice scrimmage, and compared to last year’s Spring game, the offense ran the ball about 2X more. They will likely do the same this fall – and that’s exactly what you want – a team that can run the ball, and throw it when it wants to.

  12. Sometimes coaches get too picky when it comes to “maximizing” a player’s talents. In Prosise’s situation, they want him to play slot but carry the ball at least 10 times a game. I could not disagree more with this approach for Prosise. Just viewing one spring scrimmage alone, I can see that he should be our #1 RB and get the bulk of the carries each game. He has great size, vision, and breakaway speed that separates him from the other backs. Folston clearly has great vision, decent size, but lacks breakaway speed. Bryant has good size, decent speed, but just seems to be lacking a killer instinct. If Prosise can pass block, which I’m assuming he can since a lot of players think he is one of the best overall athletes on the team, then there is NO reason he shouldn’t be our #1 RB this fall.

    Prosise will be maximized as a player by playing RB full time. This is where his skill set will be best utilized. While he is a decent receiver, he does not have the best hands as history has shown us. With an already crowded receiving group and even if Prosise is the #1 slot guy, there is not much of a drop-off between him and Carlisle at that particular position. Receivers don’t get as many touches as a RB. And lastly, he brings the one element to the RB game the others on the depth chart do not have which is breakaway speed.

    And speaking of maximizing players in general, have Kelly and crew thought of putting this guy and/or Will Fuller back to return kicks and punts?? I was making an arugment to my dad the other day during the spring game that I couldn’t believe that we have these types of athletes on our roster but we continue to see returners that don’t have elite speed/vision and then end up having average return teams. Is it to not get these guys hurt? I just don’t understand it. Ted Ginn was a receiver at OSU but he returned kicks because he was the fastest guy on the team. Look at how successful he was in doing it. It truly amazes me these athletes do not get used the right way, in my opinion.

    Anyone else agree with me here??

  13. “Zaire’s playmaking ability though can’t be denied.”

    I think I might take issue with this statement. We have not seen much playmaking from Zaire at all, especially in terms of him taking the team on his shoulders and making the play they need to win in a game environment. He did some nice things against LSU, but nothing compared to some of the plays Golson made to single-handedly win the game for us in past seasons. Zaire is a good-to-great runner and has a good arm and lots of potential, but if there’s one quarterback I would say “his playmaking ability can’t be denied” about it would be Golson. He just fumbled way too much last year.

  14. Maybe fate is on our side this year?

    (See Soso Jamabo)

    So much better talking about CJ today than Soso tomorrow !

  15. I always find the Blue Gold game tough. Which side do your root for. If the offense does really well, I’m happy the pieces are coming together, but then I think what does that say for the defense? If the defense steps up, what does that say for the offense?

    I think overall, though, this particular Blue Gold game gave fans reason to hope. There were a number of good things to take from this game, and some things that need further work. But I can’t say there was anything that made me think we’re in trouble. The lack of a pass rush, for instance, can be worked on with good coaching. The skills are there, they just need refinement. The punting game, well Newsome probably just needs to settle in the role. I think he’ll be ok. Tight ends are probably the main concern I take from this years game. Hopefully Jones is an elite talent and can make an immediate impact. I don’t think the Tight end situation will make or break this team, but it will make success this year more of a challenge without a great tight end.

    I’m excited about this upcoming year, but given how rough this winter was weatherwise in NEPA, I’m in no rush to get to football season ;).

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