6 Things I Liked From The 2018 Notre Dame Spring Game

Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush - 2018 Blue & Gold Game

We’re going to be national champions!

Ok, I didn’t like the scrimmage that much, but as far as spring games go, it was an enjoyable experience. There were a lot of things that happened, both good and bad, but I decided to focus on the good in this write up. Unless you’re a beat writer for the football team, this is everyone’s first extended look at the team. Why nit pick on the bad things when there were so many bright spots to point out?

This isn’t to say the team is a finished product by any means. They need to improve everywhere. But, it was a scrimmage in April, and the players realize that more than anyone. The intensity level just isn’t going to be there, so there is no point in stressing out over “X” player didn’t look that great to me. Unless it was one of the quarterbacks, and thankfully it wasn’t.

1. The Play At Quarterback

A lot of the talk surrounding Brandon Wimbush was his ability to raise his completion percentage to the 50’s, after completing 49% of his throws last season. He finished Saturday’s practice 19-33, for a 58% completion rate that featured a variance of pass attempts. He didn’t raise his percentage throwing screens and dump offs. He was accurate deep, on crossing routes, and on slant routes. All of those throws gave him trouble at times last season, and one wonders if Equanimeous St. Brown was watching somewhere and asking himself “where was that guy last season?”

Wimbush clearly has a chemistry with Miles Boykin, who he hit on a 45 yard pass, a 64 yard touchdown, and a nifty back shoulder throw up the sideline on 3rd and long to extend a touchdown drive. Wimbush having a security blanket in Boykin may be the best development of all this offseason. There was never the sense he had a great deal of chemistry with any one player in 2017. It could make a big difference in key moments next year.

While he was more accurate than most of last year, he still looks off balance a lot of the time while throwing the ball, and that’s a concern for me. He made some nice throws off of his back foot, but was needlessly leaning back, or he would be leaning one way and not fully planted. That makes me think he’s not fully confident in what he is seeing. In a real game, with higher stakes and charged up nerves, that can lead to errant throws and incompletions. And we’ve seen Wimbush let the moment get to him.

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Ian Book looked more of the same, which is a solid player who can do what Wimbush can do, but scaled down just a little bit. Book becomes the best option when Wimbush is chucking the ball all over the yard. Book finished 17-30, 57% completions. If they are both going to throw 30+ passes and finish around the same percentage, it’s Wimbush every time due to his athleticism and bigger arm. He can make throws Book cannot. But, Notre Dame can win with Book, which makes the position overall very healthy heading into the summer.

2. Avery Davis And Jafar Armstrong

When position changes are announced, you always wonder if they are just plays to get guys involved because they won’t play elsewhere, especially the case with Davis. But, what we saw on Saturday shows both of these two should be factors in the fall.

Armstrong looked dynamic with the ball in his hands, scoring untouched on a 25 yard run, and taking a swing route out of the backfield and juking defenders for a nice gain. He has nice size and has some good wiggle to him. He reminded me a lot of Theo Riddick out there, though Armstrong has better physical skills. If this was your first time every watching Notre Dame football, you’d think #8 needed the ball more than #6.

Davis appears to have taken the move to running back/slot receiver very well. He looked and moved like a guy who is happy playing the position, which was nice to see. He caught the ball well and was slippery moving through defenders at various times. The only thing with Davis is it’s easy to see him playing and making a contribution, but whose snaps is he taking? Does he play over Armstrong? Does he take snaps from Chris Finke or Michael Young? Would he get Braden Lenzy’s snaps when he arrives in the summer? The good news is, if he does hit the field, I think he can do the job.

3. The Athleticism At Receiver

There were some drops that no one wants to see, but overall this is a group that is dangerous and can get open. I already talked about the play of Boykin, and Chase Claypool was frankly dominant. If he wakes up tomorrow and says “I’m going to do everything I can to be a first team all-American next year” then it’s going to happen. He possesses a skill set rarely seen in football.

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Chris Finke, Michael Young, and Javon McKinley all made nice plays receiving, although Young’s fumble after a big gain was disheartening. This group is only going to get better with freshmen receivers Kevin Austin, Braden Lenzy, and Lawrence Keys coming in the summer. Should be a really nice season in the passing game if Wimbush can deliver the ball.

4. Jerry Tillery, Te’Von Coney, and Drue Tranquill

Not too much to say other than I’m glad these three decided to play football for Notre Dame in 2018. Makes a big difference. That’s it.

5. Ade Ogundeji

With the loss of Jay Hayes at defensive end, Ogundeji officially joins the rotation on the defensive line, and he acquitted himself nicely with six tackles and two sacks. The pass rushing moments were the best to see. It’s supposed to be his forte and a pass rushing threat opposite of Daelin Hayes or Julian Okwara is important. The question for Ogundeji is can he go from a couple snaps a game to around 30 and be effective? Time will tell on that, but we at least know he can be effective out there.

6. The Overall Athleticism On Defense

One of the best developments of the spring for me was the transition of several safeties to the linebacker position. Jordan Genmark Heath, Isaiah Robertson, and DJ Morgan all have moved to either Buck or Rover. This is how elite speed defensive units are built. Those guys can always add weight while bringing their physical skills to the position and next thing you know you have four players on the field who were either current of former safeties. That sort of move has already paid dividends with Drue Tranquill and I think it’s in keeping with the times of how football is being played now.

In another move I like a lot, Notre Dame now has three former corners playing the safety position in Nick Coleman, Houston Griffith, and Alohi Gilman (who started his Navy career at corner). Continuing the theme of getting athletes on the field and with the game is played today, more guys who can cover and are more adept in coverage is at a premium. Notre Dame is adapting it’s defense and style to fit the game and they have the pieces to do it. Of all the positives I saw Saturday, the most positive was how many times I saw a play and said “hey I like that guy, he can play.” This is a really deep roster, much more so than in the past.

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28 comments

  1. EJS 5 months ago

    “He didn’t raise his percentage throwing screens and dump offs.”

    Didn’t Brandon have the most trouble last year with screens and dump offs?

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  2. Doc Savage 5 months ago

    I’ve been an Irish fan for several decades and I am still waiting for the next NC! I don’t believe that the Notre Dame football team has one in them, at least not for many more years. So you might as well get use to those 8-10 win seasons and they may possibly even make it to the big 4 match ups but that’s where it’ll end.

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    1. Damian 5 months ago

      Yeah, I can’t disagree with you there. I think it’s an above average team that will get 8 to 10 wins. They’ll get to the cusp of elite but just seem to fall a bit short.

      This year it may very well be the QB that holds them back, unless he makes some dramatic improvements this summer (though I have the feeling this is just who Wimbush is–I’m not sure it’s ‘fixable’ at this point).

      But I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Every year I say the same thing, I would love to eat my words and celebrate an NC. But when I compare ND to the Alabamas and the Clemsons of the world, they just don’t have that elite feel.

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    2. Bruce Gregory Curme 5 months ago

      I understand why so many of you are thinking 8 to 10 wins…some think that’s all BK can do and some think that’s all BW can do. I get it. But I’m sticking with my 11-1 prediction for the regular season…I don’t know if that will get us into the playoffs, but it could. Our defense will keep us in every big game, just like it kept us in the Georgia game. But this year we’ll have a coherent receiving corps too. That will be the difference between 9-3 and 11-1.

      BGC ’77 ’82

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    3. EJS 5 months ago

      The odds will always favor your position, but I think Brian Kelly has really upped his game since the 4-8 season. It’s almost like he’s taking the job a lot more seriously now, or at least that ND can’t be a consistent winner wiyhout lots of hard work at every level. I’m more optimistic than you about a NC because of Kelly’s vast improvement. I hope he stays long enough for ND to reap the full benefit of his “born again” coaching.

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      1. EJS 5 months ago

        Sorry for the typos.

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  3. ndcrazymike 5 months ago

    After watching re-play of game WIMBUSH still has plenty of the same problems as last year! He throws off the back foot constantly , still forces way too many passes into traffic , and stays on primary receiver to long. That being said when his primary is open and he sets his feet his arm strength is off the charts! We know what a great talent and runner he is , just hope he can make more progress leading up to the MICHIGAN GAME! Book played well though not the talent WIMBUSH is he plays the QB position with a great deal of confidence and better reads still at this point of the spring!!

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  4. Damian 5 months ago

    The Blue-Gold game is more interesting for individual players and their progression to me. I always found it a difficult game to analyze otherwise. I mean, if the offense does really well, then you need to be concerned about the defense, and vice versa.

    The position I was most interested in was the QB, of course. I think ND has good depth and players at other positions mostly. But I really think ND’s win-loss record will be based on QB more than anything else. I find myself agreeing with Mick. I saw some good things out of Wimbush, but I don’t see the fundamental change. I really don’t see the improvement in his throws that lead me to believe that he’s got that monkey off his back. I was hoping to see more confidence. I think I agree with Greg, he still appears off balance. Against a team with a stout defense that will be concerning.

    Like Mick said, I think under Wimbush this is an 8 to 10 win team. Unless he has dramatic improvement this summer, I just don’t think ND’s going to be able to break through that last ceiling under Wimbush. Unfortunately I’m not sure it happens under Book either. If we could somehow merge Wimbush and Book together, that would be a different story. Each seems to have what the other lacks (Wimbush is elusive on the run, while Book appears to me to be more poised when it comes to throwing). And I’ve already noted numerous times my lack of faith in BK to develop QB’s so I won’t continue to beat a dead horse there.

    In short, right now, realistically I see an 8 to 10 win season. And I just don’t think that’s acceptable personally anymore. Not in year 9 and not at ND. I hope I’m wrong, I hope Wimbush gets it all together this summer. But I can’t help but think it’s just not there.

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    1. Mick 5 months ago

      You make some really good points. I sure hope I am wrong and BW comes out blazing against Michigan. I think that could be his last chance. If he craps the bed again vs a big name opponent I just don’t see how you stay with him.

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  5. ChrisJ 5 months ago

    Dexter Williams running with 2nd team to start…again…

    Are these coaches seriously blind? Dexter is by far the best back on the team. If it wasn’t Troy Pride (fastest guy on team), then he would have scored that long run. These coaches are obsessed with Tony “2 yards” Jones. I just don’t understand it. Armstrong and Davis even looked better than Jones and I think probably are better backs.

    Very pleasantly surprised with Mack making some really tough catches downfield instead of dropping 2 yard drag routes. That kid is a beast so if he finally breaks out this year, watch out!! Boykin and Claypool are going to be nice big targets out there as the 1 and 2 and I do like Finke’s hands and quickness in the slot.

    And guys, easy on Wimbush. I think I even read somewhere where Kelly told him to just make plays since a touch by a defender was a sack. There is no way Wimbush is going to be throwing the ball off his back foot with defenders in his face the way he did during this game. It was a scrimmage and he was just forcing the throws where he would typically scramble away and prob tuck and run. I honestly thought he was throwing the ball pretty well for the most part. Unbelievably strong arm. Much stronger than Books.

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    1. Keith 5 months ago

      You play how your practice, so if Kelly is telling Wimbush to do things differently in the scrimmage than he would in a game, I find it odd.

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      1. Bruce Gregory Curme 5 months ago

        Great observation, Keith.

        BGC ’77 ’82

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    2. Mick 5 months ago

      I have to second your comments on Dexter. I just wonder what is going on? He is clearly the most talented runner on the team. He has to get the ball a minimum of 10 times a game this year.

      And Keith, I hope you are right about BW. That throw off of his back foot into 4 defenders INT he had looked all too familiar.

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    3. Jamie Adcock 5 months ago

      There must be more to Williams not running with first team. He is a best back on the team.. hands down.

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      1. Terrence Richardson 4 months ago

        He has a problem with the playbook

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    4. EJS 5 months ago

      There’s lots of speculation, unfortunately, that Dexter may have encountered the evil weed again or has some other disciplinary problem, leading to his “Stephersonization” by the coaches. Hope it’s not true.

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  6. Alley O'Cat 5 months ago

    I was impressed with a lot, but most impressed with #11.

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  7. Jim 5 months ago

    The tesm seems to have a lot of talent at most position groups.

    Hopefully it will all gel into a great season

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  8. Greg Kelly 5 months ago

    Mick, you’re absolutely correct. Wimbush will get the Irish 8 -10 wins. He has the proverbial monkey on His back. But, in true Notre Dame fashion I think his teammates will rise to the occasion this year and take the burden away from Brandon.

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    1. Mick 5 months ago

      I sure hope you are right. I still have nightmares about Miami and Stanford. You never want to put the total blame on one person but in those two games anyone who watches can plainly see his inability to make plays and propensity for huge turnovers cost the Irish a shot in both of those games. I just hope the coaches are preaching to him that he does not have to win the game by himself

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  9. Mick 5 months ago

    I am sorry and this may be a quick hook but after watching Brandon in the scrimmage it is absolutely clear he is not going to clean up his
    deficiencies at quarterback and it is time to
    move on. The Irish can win 8-10 gamed with
    him but it looks to me as if he will always be the guy that makes the big, game changing mistake. It’s too bad because between the catastrophic mistakes he really can look good. The BW we saw vs Georgia, Miami and Stanford is who he will always be.

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  10. Greg Kelly 5 months ago

    David, back it up. Put your money where your mouth is and make up shirts , ” David is a Hero”

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    1. david 5 months ago

      Here’s what “money” has to say, sport:

      Vegas odds for ND National Championship range from 33:1 to 40:1.
      Michigan is at 10:1.

      Enjoy another Kelly miracle season, putz.

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      1. Bruce Gregory Curme 5 months ago

        Michigan has won a grand total of one NC during my lifetime. (65 years +) And they have not beaten Ohio State at all lately, and not beaten MSU very much either. And they will be starting 2018 with a loss. As they ended the 2017 season with a loss to an SEC cellar dweller. So I am not surprised that Vegas bookmakers welcome bets on Michigan! Why don’t you make a large one, David?

        BGC ’77 ’82

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      2. david 5 months ago

        Yes..based on all that empirical data, Vegas thinks ND is not a strong bet to win.
        And obviously you don’t hold out much if any hope either.

        So shame on me….for not just going along with this elaborate charade like you sheep ?

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  11. david 5 months ago

    One of the few purposes of a Spring Game is to get the fan base excited for the upcoming season.

    The first sentence is all you need to read: a wink-wink sarcastic quip about National Championship aspirations.
    This is where ND is. Kelly is a fraud.

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    1. ndcrazymike 5 months ago

      FUNNY I remember BGC , DURANKO , SOUTHSIDE , MTA And all the true ND FANS ON THIS SITE CHEERING ON THE HOCKEY TEAM , MENS BASKETBALL TEAM , AND FINALLY THE GREAT RUN BY THE NATTY CHAMP. GIRLS BASKETBALL TEAM!! Where were you DOPEY DAVEY? THE ONLY FRAUD IS YOU PINHEAD!! HERES THE ODDS OF YOU KNOWING ANYTHING ABOUT FOOTBALL 500 TO 1!! KEEP US UPDATED ON HOW MANY PLAYS OTHER TEAMS ARE RUNNING IN THESE SPRING GAMES!! YOU SIR ARE A DOPE!!!!!!!!

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      1. Greg kelly 5 months ago

        “Dimension of David”

        NDCM, thanks for covering for me. I’ve been to ill to respond. I just pray for Jim Kelly’s recovery. No one would know unless you are in their shoes. Just got a new present. The hoodie says ” It’s a Kelly thing, you wouldn’t understand”
        Just when I was seeing that ” our David ” seemed to clean up his act, He has to resort to his gutter language as He still can’t close. Thought He would take a writing class over the off- season. I’m very disappointed in Him. He has failed miserably. I should talk, as I’ve been clicked on for more dislikes than David will ever have. However, I learned from that and am trying to be more diplomatic.

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