It’s never good to have many overreactions from the annual Blue & Gold game – call it the Junior Jabbie effect. There are going to be players who look awesome we never hear from again. There are going to be players that look awful that end up saving seasons a few months later (hello Deshone Kizer in 2015). That said, I write a weekly column called “Overreactions” after every game, so let’s have some fun and make some overreactions anyway.
Tyler Buchner looked excellent, and like a rookie, at times
The most apparent overreaction from yesterday is that Tyler Buchner is the real deal. Buchner came in and gave the offense a spark that neither Jack Coan nor Drew Pyne did when he went 3 for 3 on the first drive of the second half and then ran in the game’s first touchdown. He showed some excellent poise and arm strength in the snaps he got and was the only Notre Dame quarterback to lead a touchdown drive – he added a second against a defense that featured a lot of walkons.
Buchner’s skills were undeniable, but we all knew Buchner had tons of raw talent. He did, however, also look like a rookie at times, but that too was to be expected. Outside of the 14 previous spring practices, Buchner hadn’t had any live snaps since the 2019 season.
Was Buchner good enough o be included in the mix for the starting gig going into fall camp? Certainly. Even with what we saw yesterday though, I’d be surprised if Buchner was the day one starter. With what we saw yesterday, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was starting by the end of the season, though. We could be looking at a bit of a Trevor Lawrence situation here where Notre Dame rides a veteran quarterback early in the year before ultimately inserting the rookie.
Jack Coan seems to be quite a bit ahead of Drew Pyne
Speaking of the quarterbacks, we saw what I expected of them. Coan looked to be clearly ahead of Pyne at this point. Coan’s timing with the Notre Dame receivers is still very much a work in progress, but that will come with more reps. With some more reps, a couple of the misses Coan had on Saturday won’t be misses in the future.
Pyne wasn’t bad by any means; he just didn’t look as comfortable as Coan did in leading the offense. It’s easy to forget that Pyne is still technically a freshman, given how long he’s been a part of the program as Notre Dame’s first commitment from the class of 2020.
Both quarterbacks didn’t have a ton of time to pass as Notre Dame works to solidify its offensive line – more on that – so it was a bit tough to judge at times how both played, but after a rewatch, Coan looks comfortably ahead at this point.
Lawrence Keys looked comfortable as the go-to option
We’ve been waiting for a couple of years now for Lawrence Keys to break out. After yesterday, it looks like we won’t have to wait much longer. Keys hauled in five passes for 115 yards, including the game’s longest pass play of the day – a 41 yarder from Drew Pyne.
Keys couldn’t get fully healthy last year, whether he was dealing with health protocols or minor injuries like those that slowed him in the past. If he can stay healthy this year, it looks like he is Notre Dame’s go-to target heading into the season. Avery Davis and Braden Lenzy looked solid, but Keys stood out at the wide receiver position. Notre Dame was trying to get him the ball yesterday, and he didn’t disappoint.
I’m sure there won’t be able overreactions on the boards about Jordan Johnson and Xavier Watts seeing a combined two targets without picking up any yards.
There’s no reason to freak out about the offensive line yet
We knew the offensive line would look rough yesterday. Anyone who thought otherwise wasn’t being honest with themselves. Notre Dame is replacing four starters, and its lone returning starter missed all of spring with an injury. Yesterday, and the entire spring, for that matter, wasn’t about the offensive line looking like it was ready for Florida State just yet. It was about finding players who could start so Jeff Quinn, Brian Kelly, and Tommy Rees can figure out their starting five and work on chemistry in fall camp.
Notre Dame might not have fully accomplished that yesterday, but it got close. We know Jarrett Patterson will start at either guard or tackle. We know Zeke Correll will start at center. And we know Josh Lugg will start at one of the guard or tackle spots as well. So really, all we don’t know for sure is the other two of the starting five, although, after yesterday, I don’t see how Blake Fisher isn’t going to start. He was beyond impressive for a kid who should still be in high school.
If we pencil in Fisher and Lugg at tackle, Patterson at guard, and Correll at center, there’s just one spot left. Rocco Spindler, another early enrollee, looked like he could be ready to start already as well. Starting two true freshmen isn’t ideal, but both stood out so much that it seems possible. Tosh Baker struggled with Jordan Botelho while Fisher was locking up Isaiah Foskey. Spindler wasn’t as noticeable as Fisher, but he looked damn good too.
Make no mistake, the line looked pretty bad yesterday, but again, it wasn’t supposed to look good yesterday. We saw enough from the line, though, to be encouraged that the line could be about as good as we could have hoped for by September.
The defensive line looks like it’s going to be nasty again
On the other side of the line, the defensive line looked as good as we could have hoped for. While Dealin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji were getting selected in the NFL Draft yesterday, the current FIghting Irish defensive line looked deep and talented yet again.
Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa looked slimmed down and ready to be an impact player on the edge of the defense. Justin Ademilola continued to play well whenever given a chance. Botelho gave Baker all he could handle and then some.
Inside, Kurt Hinish, Rylie Mills, Jayson Ademilola, and Howard Cross all had their moments as well. The most challenging task for Marcus Freeman and Mike Elston could be determining what their rotations are in the fall because they have so many options.
Notre Dame has officially become a program that sends defensive linemen to the NFL and simply plugs in their replacements the next year and doesn’t skip a beat. Considering how bad the Irish were along the defensive line for so long, not all that long ago, it’s still almost hard to believe.
Maybe Shayne Simon is ready to emerge?
Notre Dame might not be quite as deep at linebacker as they are defensive line, but there was a lot to like at linebacker yesterday. Shayne Simon has been an athletic linebacker who hasn’t fully broken out outside of a few big performances here and there, like the regular-season clash with Clemson last year. Kind of like Asmar Bilal heading into 2019, he’s just never put it all together.
Yesterday, Simon was all over the field and looked every bit of the 4-star prospect he was four years ago. Simon recorded one of Notre Dame’s two interceptions on the day when he jumped in front of Kyren Williams to pick off Jack Coan.
We know Drew White will start at one of the linebacker positions, but the other two spots are up for grabs. If Simon continues to play like he did yesterday in fall camp, a linebacking corps of White, Simon, and Marist Liufau could be Notre Dame’s opening day starting lineup.
The secondary looked stronger than anticipated
The biggest question on defense heading into spring was the secondary. Shaun Crawford and Nick McCloud are gone. Kyle Hamilton missed pretty much the whole spring recovering from off-season surgery. That meant only Clarence Lewis was back from the starting lineup that ended the 2020 season.
All things considered, the secondary looked pretty solid. Cam Hart had a rough start to the day, giving up a long gain on the game’s first play, but otherwise looked really good. Ramon Henderson was good in coverage all day. Freshman Caleb Offord had a couple of nice moments as well. Tariq Bracy looked more like the defensive back that started 2020 in the starting lineup than the one who ended it on the bench.
At safety, Justin Walters hauled in an interception in limited reps. Litchfield Ajavon flashed as a big hitter as well. We didn’t notice Houston Griffith – in a good way – yesterday either. Once Hamilton is back there, this could be a pretty good secondary.