Notre Dame Spring Game Observations: Offense Shows Promise, Raises Some Concern

The way I watch a spring game is to focus on individual performance rather than the performance of a unit. Touchdowns and scoring drives aren’t irrelevant, but it’s not important for me. For example, Jack Coan had a drive end after he completed a great third down pass for a first down only to have it blown dead for a “sack” when he clearly would not have been sacked on the play. Later, Coan scrambled for what would have been an easy first down, if not a touchdown, only to have the play blown dead and spotted five yards shy of the first down, for reasons unknown. In other words, spring games are weird and drives are thwarted for reasons that go beyond the way the game usually flows.

I’m just going to throw my observations out there by position, but overall I thought the offense looked the way I expected it to look and there isn’t any one facet of the team that gives me concern save for the wide receivers. To be clear, not having concern doesn’t mean I think it all looked great, but there was enough everywhere to feel good heading into the summer. We knew we wouldn’t have answers at certain spots.

Quarterbacks

Jack Coan

It was all going really well until he threw that really bad pick to Shayne Simon on the short out route intended for Kyren Williams, which I really did not like. Beyond that, he looked like a winning quarterback for the football team. He threw the ball with authority, operated in the pocket confidently, he was able to move and roll pretty well, including a strike to Avery Davis on a bootleg, and picked out the right spots for where the ball should go, which is very important to me. He missed Avery Davis for an easy touchdown–a play he checked into–that I think was affected by the wind, as a lot of balls sailed when operating from right to left.

What Coan lacks with his legs he appears to make up for with his arm. There were a couple of instances where it’s very easy to imagine Ian Book taking off to run and Coan hanging in there to let the ball go. Obviously, there are times when we’ll miss the legs, but the payoff in the pocket is nice as well.

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He looked as advertised to me, and the insertion of Michael Mayer and Kevin Austin as weapons will only enhance his options. As for the competition, Coan clearly looked to be the number one at the end of the day.

Drew Pyne

Pyne to me was Ian Book without the legs, which is a compliment but also highlights the limitations. His anticipation is really good, it makes up for the arm strength issue, and he also has a good feel for where the ball should go. He had a couple passes float on him into the wind and he sailed Jordan Johnson on a fade route in the end zone where a back shoulder pass would have put Johnson in good position to pull in the touchdown.

He’s just good enough to not let Coan get away from him, but his efficiency has to go way up to beat Coan out. The issue for Pyne is Coan is the better athlete, so he doesn’t have that in his back pocket as a differentiator. But, Pyne is also good enough to where if Notre Dame needed him to win a game, I think he could do that a la Book in 2017.

Tyler Buchner

Well that was pretty exciting wasn’t it? A lot of people are clamoring for some sort of package for Buchner, I guess in the red zone, but he doesn’t seem super packagy to me. He seems like the kind of guy who once he gets a better feel for the speed and understanding of the offense and what the defense is doing, he’ll stand back there in empty and just deal. The ball comes out like a rocket and with such quickness, even when you know it’s coming it shocks you.

It’s a race against time for the other quarterbacks on the roster because the more Buchner learns and the more reps he gets he’s closing the gap even more, and there is a skill set as a passer in there that was not seen by anyone other than him.

Running Back

Who needs analysis here? The team was determined not to use Kyren too much and Chris Tyree had one real good series and then things kind of shut down for him as well. Both flashed in the passing game and it’s so obvious these two are going to be heavily involved in the offense next season. They can both play the slot, they can both run however you need, they can both pass block, they are both dynamic with the ball. A phenomenal duo.

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Poor C’Bo had no where to go, but I’m not sure he didn’t enjoy that. The man likes the contact. We know what we’ve got from him and this position.

Tight End

No Michael Mayer which kind of hangs over everything, but my goodness Notre Dame just finds these tight ends. Early enrollees Cane Berrong and Mitchell Evans combined for five catches and 70 yards and looked ready to be on the field, while George Takacs had a couple of nice receptions as well. Between Mayer, Bauman (who was hurt), Takacs, Berrong, and Evans Notre Dame is all set at tight end one more time.

Wide Receiver

Lawrence Keys and Avery Davis lived up to the billing they received throughout the spring. Both looked confident, caught the ball well, and ran their routes with authority. It’s great that Braden Lenzy made it through spring healthy, he caught some nice passes, got behind the defense late against a walk on, had another catch on the sideline on something of a busted coverage. Joe Wilkins got the first play of the game for 37 yards, a bad drop was also mixed in there, plus he got popped by Litchfield Ajavon for a missed touchdown on a slant. So there’s your four seniors, plus Kevin Austin who was out with a foot injury.

The non-senior receivers accounted for three catches and nine yards. Two of those catches were by Lorenzo Styles, who had another catch taken away on the dubious sack call. So the 2020 receiving class of Jordan Johnson, Xavier Watts, and Jay Brunelle caught one pass for zero yards and was targeted twice. With the injury history from Austin, Lenzy, and Keys there is great urgency to get these three activated. There is no junior class at receiver to speak of, literally.

Now, if you told me Austin, Lenzy, and Keys are healthy all year then Notre Dame has enough with that trio plus Davis and Wilkins. Especially with Mayer involved, and the running backs plugged into the passing game. But, history says the chances of that happening are not good.

There is time for that 2020 crew, plus Lorenzo Styles has looked good, and Deion Colzie could have something to say when he arrives, but there needs to be an urgency here.

Offensive Line

This is the group most people are very concerned about and I’m just not. And again, this isn’t to say it was a great performance, it wasn’t, but to me this was about finding the individuals who played well and seeing how that fits into a line that can play together. Blake Fisher, Zeke Correll, Josh Lugg, Rocco Spindler, and Andrew Kristofic all played well on Saturday. We know Jarrett Patterson is waiting in the wings. We know Dillan Gibbons can play guard at a solid level. Once Notre Dame gets into fall camp with these guys and they are playing together day after day, I think it’ll all come together to where Notre Dame is ready to beat all the teams on their schedule with what they have.

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As far as the possibility of freshman starting on the line, it’s just not a hangup for me. They are two top 50 guys, if they are the goods, they are the goods. If it was Tosh Baker and Michael Carmody, who are going to be redshirt freshmen, everyone would feel good about it and all would be in order. The line repeated most is “Quenton Nelson didn’t even start as a freshman”. That’s not Jeff Quinn‘s problem, that’s Harry Hiestand’s. Maybe he should have started! Either way, I’d be willing to bet it’s Fisher who starts at left tackle with Patterson at guard next to him and Spindler who shares reps with Gibbons at right guard. A Fisher-Patterson-Correll-Gibbons/Spindler-Lugg situation feels workable to me.

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One Comment

  1. There is a lot to like on the OL:
    Jarrett patterson
    Correll has started and was good against the Tide
    Lugg has experience.

    Blake Fisher? Wow
    so for the rest, you have to pick one of Gibbons, Baker, Kristofic, Dirksen, Spindler. and one guy EVERYBODY is sleeeping on: Joe Alt.
    I am mystified as to the lack of progress of Carroll

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