Saturday brings us our last glimpse of football for a few months as Notre Dame wraps up another spring practice with the annual Blue Gold Game. The Irish will square off against themselves in the intrasquad scrimmage fort he 15th and final practice of the spring. Much is still to be determined for the 2019 Fighting Irish, but there are a few storylines worth paying attention to Saturday.
PSA: the Blue Gold Game will be televised on NBC Sports Network at 12:30 PM ET.
Ian Book pushing the ball downfield
We’ve heard a lot this spring that the Notre Dame coaching staff wants Ian Book to start taking more chances and pushing the ball downfield. Saturday is the perfect time for him to do just that without having any real consequences. If he throws four interceptions on Saturday it means absolutely nothing. A tweet storm is sure to erupt if he does, but who cares?
If you look back on some of the best Notre Dame quarterbacks in the last quarter century, most never really excel in the spring game. If Book comes out and completes 80% of his passes but the vast majority of those travel less than 10 yards, Saturday shouldn’t be considered a success. I’d rather see Book complete 50% of his passes with a few INTs as long as he’s throwing the ball down field regularly and working on that aspect of his game.
The development of Phil Jurkovec
Speaking of quarterbacks, the opposite could be said of Notre Dame’s current QB2. All of the reports out of the spring have indicated that Jurkovec throws a beautiful deep ball and that he likes to throw it. A lot. For Jurkovec, what Notre Dame needs to see is consistency in his short and intermediate throws. If Book looks like Captain Checkdown and Jurkovec looks like Rex Grossman, neither will get a whole lot out of Saturday.
Notre Dame fans, myself included, wanted Jurkovec to be Notre Dame’s version of Trevor Lawrence. It didn’t happen, but let’s not forget this kid is still a freshman and has four years of eligibility remaining.
If Jurkovec comes out and looks sharp and Book throws a few interceptions, please don’t start the quarterback controversy calls tooo early.
The carousel at linebacker
The one area we probably won’t have much clarity at at all after Saturday is linebacker where Notre Dame is replacing program greats Tevon Coney and Drue Tranquill. In case you missed the full on carousel at linebacker this spring, lets get you caught up.
- Asmar Bilal: Started at ROVER in 2018, moved to BUCK day one of spring, and since moved to the top of the depth chart at MIKE.
- Shayne Simon: Started the spring as the top ROVER, moved to BUCK early on, and is now backing up Bilal at MIKE. It’s been a bumpy road for Simon so far, but it looks like the staff might be grooming him as the MIKE of the future.
- Jack Lamb: Easily had the best spring among the freshman backers and might have the inside track at BUCK
- Jordan Genmark-Heath: Currently battling Lamb at BUCK. This one will go into the fall.
- Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah: Should line up as the #1 ROVER on Saturday and looks like he is starting to pull away in this race. After missing all of 2018 to injury, JOK has made the most of spring.
- Paul Moala: Moved from safety to ROVER this spring and has been running as the backup to JOK. This move is looking permanent.
- Bo Bauer: It’s been a fairly quiet spring for Bauer who enrolled early last year but might be getting passed up by classmates. At a minimum Bauer should be a special teams ace for Notre Dame though.
That’s a lot at of movement for one position group in a single spring. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea is tasked with sorting all that out. He won’t have on Saturday, but he will eventually.
Who’s top dog at running back?
Odds are Jafar Armstrong will be the top back on Saturday, but reports are none of the Notre Dame backs have really distanced themselves as the #1 back on the depth chart. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Tony Jones Jr is having another really good spring. We’ve heard it many times before but so far it has not translated in the fall. Perhaps with one year remaining, success in the spring will carry over.
I’m interested to see what C’bo Flemister and Jahmir Smith show specifically on Saturday. We haven’t seen a whole lot of them to date. The same can be said for early enrollee Kyren Williams. During his recruiting I thought he might have a chance to earn some carries as a frosh given the uncertainty at running back, but we haven’t much about him this spring.
New starting center Jarrett Patterson
The only position on the offensive line that was up for grabs didn’t stay open long. Freshman Jarrett Patterson was the top center on practice #1 and has never looked back. Recruited as a tackle, it was a bit of a surprise move since his name hadn’t really been mentioned much when discussing the opening in January and February.
One key aspect of Patterson’s game to watch on Saturday is his snapping. He played tackle in high school so there are bound to be a few kinks to work out with his snapping – especially out of the shotgun – as he learns the position. Don’t be alarmed if those kinks show up on Saturday.
Claypool vs. Pride 1 on 1
The reports of the 1 on 1 battles between Chase Claypool and Troy Pride this spring have been impossible to miss. Claypool has reportedly seen the opportunity in front of him and started to play like the #1 wide receiver we’ve all been waiting for. Likewise, Pride saw Julian Love play to an All-American season and leave early for the NFL. Both players will be high draft picks next April and their battles on Saturday will be a lot of fun to watch.
The speed in Notre Dame’s freshman class at wide receiver
After hearing about the speed and athleticism in Notre Dame’s sophomore class all spring, it will be fun to see it all in action. Between Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys, Joe Wilkins, and Kevin Austin; someone is going to make a big play. Maybe multiple someones.
Watch for Austin specifically. He’s got the most potential of the group to be a legit, gamebreaking #1 wide receiver in the future for Notre Dame. It’s been rumored he has some consistency issues right now, but if he gets them sorted he’s going to be a handful.
Don’t forget about current sophomore Michael Young either. He looks locked in as a starter opposition Chase Claypool.
Starting cornerback Houston Griffith & nickelback Avery Davis
The spring started with Griffith moving back to corner to replace Julian Love and Avery Davis moving from receiver/running back to nickelback. Both moves have had their ups and downs this spring but when the Blue – Gold game starts on Saturday, both will be starters at their respective positions.
Watch for Griffith in any matchups with one of the speedy receivers and how he handles himself and watch for Davis if he has the misfortune of having to cover Chris Finke in the slot. Davis is still learning the position so don’t expect a lock-down performance. If he holds his own, that’s a win right now. He still has all fall camp to continue to improve.
Early enrollee Jacob Lacey
Notre Dame needed Jacob Lacey to be ready to play meaningful minutes this fall and he reported to Notre Dame early in shape to do just that. It is never a good thing to be reliant on a true freshman on the interior of the defensive line, but if you are going to be, that frosh better be able to be counted on. It sounds like Lacey can be counted on.
Lacey should still be getting ready for prom right now so if he gets overpowered by a veteran Notre Dame offensive lineman on Saturday, don’t freak out. If he wins more battles than he loses, Notre Dame will be in OK shape having to count on him.
Cole Kmet ready for prime time?
We’ve talked a lot about Cole Kmet finally breaking out after we’ve heard the report out of previous fall and spring camps, but will we finally see it happen? Everything is in place for Kmet to have a monster season in 2019. Now we all just need to see it.
There’s more to watch of course, but I just spent 1,500 words or so recapping the last 14 spring practices and getting you ready for Saturday.