What We Learned from Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold Game

Dexter Williams - Notre Dame RB
Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame concluded its spring with the annual Blue-Gold game after 14 practices.  And while it’s important to not read too much into what transpires during the game – there have been countless players throughout the years who have shone during the Blue-Gold game only to never be heard from again come the fall – you can get indications of what’s happening behind the scenes when the cameras are away.

Below are several things we learned from this year’s Blue-Gold game.

Notre Dame has a tremendous kicking game

Justin Yoon missed his one and only field goal attempt, a 48-yarder, in the fourth quarter.  As soon as the kick went wide I immediately assumed responsibility after writing earlier this week that Yoon hadn’t missed a field goal since drilling one in a hurricane against Clemson.  I violated the golden rule of sports: never point out when a player is on a hot streak.  I messed up, and I apologize.  Still, ND fans shouldn’t be concerned.  Yoon was an All-American as a freshman last season for a reason.

The most impressive kicker of the day was punter Tyler Newsome.  Newsome averaged 53 yards per punt and had a long of 64 yards for the Gold team and a long of 58 yards for the Blue squad.  He even had a ball drop and stick within the 5-yard line.

It hasn’t been the case since head coach Brian Kelly’s arrival in South Bend, but Notre Dame now has impressive weapons at kicker and punter.

There’s incredible depth at running back

Running backs Tarean Folston and Josh Adams made very limited appearances in the Blue-Gold game, but with Folston coming off an ACL tear from last season and Adams having already shown what he can do, there was little reason to give them more reps.  This game was meant to give running backs Dexter Williams and Josh Brent a platform.

Williams had an impressive 17-yard touchdown scamper where he made defensive tackle Elijah Taylor whiff and bowled over safety Max Redfield, but overall both had relatively modest games.  Word of their strong showings leaked consistently during spring practice, however, and considering what running backs coach Autry Denson achieved at the position last year with Prosise and Adams, there’s reason to believe Notre Dame will have a stable of running backs upon which they can rely this fall.

Wide receivers showed flashes

One look at the stat book from the Blue-Gold game would lead you to believe it was a pretty pedestrian day for Notre Dame’s wide receivers, but those within Notre Dame Stadium were able to confirm what has been said about Torii Hunter Jr. and freshman standout Kevin Stepherson.

All spring long there has been chatter about Torii Hunter becoming a weapon at wide receiver, and Irish fans got a taste of it when Hunter made a ridiculous one-handed grab against cornerback Nick Coleman for a 50-yard gain.

Likewise, Kevin Stepherson has been turning heads as an early enrollee for his crisp route running and speed.  And while Stepherson failed to make a play to match Hunter’s highlight reel catch, it wasn’t for a lack of trying.  Stepherson blew past coverage and gained significant separation on several occasions only to be overthrown.

DeShone Kizer has early edge at quarterback

Yes, it’s very early in the process and the starting quarterback won’t be named until fall camp – which is as it should be – but DeShonze Kizer outplayed Malik Zaire.  Kizer, who completed 10-of-17 passing attempts for 113 yards, looked calm and confident in the pocket, and impressed with his signature poise.  Even when he did have pressure near him Kizer unleashed a sidearm laser that was accurate to his intended wide receiver.

Zaire, on the other hand, only completed 40-percent of his passing attempts and appeared to be forcing many of his throws (although he must be given credit for the beautiful throw made for Torii Hunter’s one-hander).  Zaire was even bested by Kizer on the ground – Zaire averaged 2.4 yards per carry to Kizer’s 5.2 – which is the one area Zaire has always had a leg up on the competition.

The quarterback race may be too early to call, but it’s safe to say Kizer is now in the driver’s seat moving forward.  Malik Zaire has always carried the reputation of being a quarterback who struggles a bit during practice but turns it on come game day, but today, in head-to-head competition where Brian Kelly took the red jerseys off to make it as real as possible, DeShone Kizer was the one who showed up for the bright lights.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor.  He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him.  Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.





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  1. No Question we have the best quarterback situation in the country. But if we want to make a run to the chip which we definitely can it is Malik Zaires job to lose with his arm and legs there’s no question he is the leader of this team. Kizer is a great quarterback and God for bid if something happens I have faith in him stepping in but without a doubt Zaire is the way to go

  2. Most of those 10 touchdowns came against some the Irish’s weakest opponents. He did get one against Clemson and one against Stanford. But ND was 85th in red zone efficiency and much of that was on Kizer. With interceptions and fumbles. I don’t think the Offensive line is going to be as good this year, the Irish aren’t going to have their lifesaver Will Fuller. I think you’ll see this is where Zaire comes out ahead. Defensive coordinators aren’t going to be kept awake by Kizer’s running ability. Just the opposite with Zaire he’s a danger to break long runs anywhere on the field and he throws better on the run too. Having to account for his skill set opens things up for the other skill players. We’ll just have to see when they play the game.

  3. Kizer had 10 rushing touchdowns last year, a 150 qb rating, and completed 63% of his passes. If he continues to improve, he will be a first round pick someday. I think he will be the 2nd best NFL QB to ever play at Notre Dame. Just shy of Montana.

  4. Trying to decide who is your starter is a blessing rather than a curse. Kelly really can’t go wrong, whoever he selects. he has other problems that need immediate fixing and they are in the defense. last year at times they looked great but at other times, to many to count, they looked clueless/ Now they lose Smith a few key others…..where are the replacements. Receivers, although we lost a few really good ones, their replacements will be more than efficient. Hunter, Robinson will fill the void left by Fuller. The opening game against Texas will tell us a lot about the Irish. I feel the Longhorns will be much improved over the mess that showed up at ND last season. They can’t be that bad again. Go Irish! Can’t wait for the season to start!

  5. Both are excellent and lets hope we can keep both. Zaire will be the best against a strong pass

  6. Possibly the worst red zone offense of the 2015 season that I can recall came in the way of Zaire vs. 4-8 Virginia. “Kizer is now in the driver’s seat” is an accurate statement. Found it interesting to hear that Zaire was really talking smack about the Gold team being clearly superior to the Blue team before the spring game. WOW.

  7. I don’t take a whole lot out of the spring game. Though Kizer seemed to have played with more overall consistency, Zaire did pretty well in the 2nd quarter. Though not getting the same amount of time, Wimbush showed some good ability in his limited showing. I guess given how much time he played last year, I thought Kizer should have been more productive in this format and Zaire not having that time from last year due to his injury, played way better for being rusty. I liked what I saw from Tori, Kevin, and Aliza on the receiving end.

    Go Irish

  8. You’re dead wrong. Zaire had many passes that were impressive and on the money into tight coverage that
    were defended well and is the only QB other than Clemson’s Watson that could have escaped a couple of rushes put on him. And you forget about Kizer’s fumble or near fumble that wasn’t called a fumble that could have been called a fumble and would have never been overturned. Zaire is way more effective in the red zone as witnessed today, against LSU, as compared to Kizer against weak teams like Temple, BC and Georgia Tech and throughout the practices according to reports. He also threw a wide open pass into the dirt like he did so many times. Also a drive was kept alive by a penalty that would have taken his time on the field down. Zaire did not have nearly the time on the field and a poor spot by the ref cost Zaire more time on the field when the Gold team ran the ball three times in a row. Zaire is a better QB against the tougher teams because he is more of a play maker and showed it on the downfield pass that he kept alive and his accuracy on throws against the body after heavy pass rushes.

  9. Not so sure I agree with your assessment on the QBs. Their stats were relatively close but Zaire scored a touchdown down in the red zone with his legs which is something Kizer had problems with last year. Malik also threw the long ball successfully over the defense. It wouldn’t shock me if either QB transferred when the other one gets the starting job unless Kelly goes to a two QB offense like he did at Cincinnati.

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