Football in the spring is such a tease. It ends in January and is mostly gone for two months, only to return in March for five glorious weeks, and then gone again till August. Fortunately, Brian Kelly gave the media a ton of access this year, and there was a lot for fans to chew on. We’ve gotten to digest a lot more information than in years past heading into the spring finale, and the game pretty much confirmed everything we’ve heard.
The good news of course is everyone came away from it healthy and ready to go in the summer and into fall camp. There are some things we know and some things we don’t, but by in large, this is set up to be a good team in 2019.
The Offense Is Going To Score. A Lot.
Ian Book, in the words of Brian Kelly, was in full command of the offense. Many people wanted to see him push the ball down the field more than he did–he hit just one deep ball, a go route to Chase Claypool–but he pretty much refused to do it. This much we know, he isn’t Brett Favre. He’s not going to be reckless and taking chances all over the field, it’s just not in him. Especially in the spring game when the stakes are none and the amount of adrenaline is minimal. It’s a practice for him.
The good news is with all the check downs he was sitting at 16-21 passing for 220 yards, 10.5 yards per attempt, which would be an elite level of passing should it play out all season. Notre Dame has a ton of weapons for Book to work with and the idea of him just feeding it to them and letting them do exciting things isn’t so bad.
Chase Claypool and Jafar Armstrong looked great, especially Armstrong. It was expected of Claypool, we saw him play well all last year and the reports were glowing in the spring.
Armstrong was a different story. He’s talked about as a bell cow, but we’ve never seen him do it effectively. He looked the part on Saturday, showing speed, power, elusiveness, and pass catching. He did fumble on a brilliant strip by Jalen Elliott, which hey man get them all out in games that don’t matter, but beyond that he looked very good. He’s going to have to stay healthy this year, because he’s going to get a ton of touches.
Cementing the feelings of the offenses ability was how effective all of the other pieces were at the skill spots. We know Finke is going to be good, and Michael Young made a couple of nice plays, including scoring the games opening touchdown from Ian Book. Cole Kmet and Brock Wright looked good as well.
Solid At Running Back
The encouraging development were the running backs behind Armstrong (Tony Jones didn’t play due to injury). Jahmir Smith looked powerful, shifty, and displayed nice hands. He scored two rushing touchdowns to go along with several receptions. If he is to be the third back, then Notre Dame should be just fine there. Freshman Kyren Williams also looked like he was ready to contribute once the season kicks off. He played in a similar fashion to Smith, scoring a touchdown of his own.
Offensive Line Was Mostly Good
The starters were mostly good anyway. Liam Eichenberg had a tough day dealing with Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, and Daelin Hayes. This doesn’t worry me as much because he has missed a lot of time with ankle problems, so he short a lot of practices. Come in rusty against this group and it’s going to go poorly. Other than him, the starters were solid, especially new center Jarrett Patterson, who displayed no issues at center.
A good offensive line, an experienced quarterback, and tons of weapons? Yeah, we are going to light up the score board.
The Pass Rush Is Our Firewall On Defense
Holy smokes can we rush the passer. They were coming from everywhere. Kareem registered three, Okwara and Hayes one a piece, Justin and Jayson Ademilola, Ovie Oghoufo, and Paul Moala all got in on the act. This is fantastic news because everything that was going on behind them was a little shaky.
Holy Defensive Ends
At one point Notre Dame had Okwara, Tagovailoa Amosa, Kareem, and Hayes all lined up together and it ended how you would think with Hayes spinning on Eichenberg to get free, flushing Book away and right into the arms of Kareem. It was magical. And the good part is these are all proven players; this is the way it’s going to be. And the fact that they came in waves is the crazy thing. Let’s be honest, Notre Dame is six deep at defensive end and that doesn’t include Ovie Oghoufo who has been lighting things up as Mike Elston’s SEVENTH defensive end. Heck, freshman Nana Osafo-Mensah looked good, and he doesn’t have a chance to play this year.
The Linebackers. I Don’t Know.
Should mention right off the top presumed starter Jack Lamb didn’t play at Buck because of an ankle injury.
I’ll say this, if the pass rush isn’t getting home or stifling the run, it’s going to be trouble. There just wasn’t a lot going on here. There weren’t tackles for loss, there weren’t big plays in the passing game, there weren’t really flashes. It just wasn’t there. Let’s presume they will get better, and I think that’s safe. They are a talented group and they have a good coach. But, they will likely not be difference makers. They’ll need to be lifted by those around them. It can happen, but not ideal in the middle of the defense.
Still No Nickel
We know Troy Pride is good. We know Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman are good. Houston Griffith is more of a question, but the guy can tackle and has good size and athleticism. He’ll get picked on some, but he won’t kill them.
We don’t know who is playing nickel, and we don’t know who the third corner is. However, this is a position where there is plenty of time to figure this out. TaRiq Bracy can add weight. Shaun Crawford and Donte Vaughn can get healthy. Freshman Isaiah Rutherford and CJ Wallace can insert themselves into the conversation. There is enough here that a solution can be found. Unfortunately, I don’t see it coming from Avery Davis. In a lot of ways, nickel is the toughest position on the defense, and at times the most important. Can’t see it going to a former quarterback/running back.
And thus ends another spring season. We know they can score and we know they can rush the passer. If you’re going to be good at something, be good at that. See everyone in the fall.