The Notre Dame Spring Game happened a short time ago, and the Blue team (offense) won 47-44 against the Gold team (defense).
The game itself has a bit of an odd format, unlike Michigan’s Spring Game, Notre Dame doesn’t split the team in two, they keep their offense and defense in tact, and they play against one another
The defense can gain points by having a tackle for loss (1 point), sack (1), defensive stop (2), three and out (3), fumble recovery (3), interception (3), and defensive touchdown (6).
While the format is odd and can be confusing at first, it does give the defense more incentive to play hard, and the offense as well, because losing to your defensive peers would be downright embarrassing.
The game was a glorified practice, but the effort displayed on both sides of the football was impressive, the Fighting Irish were playing hard.
Takeaways From Notre Dame’s Spring Game
Ian Book and Brandon Wimbush are slugging it out in hopes of being named the starting quarterback versus Michigan. Wimbush started every game except the Citrus Bowl last season, so his experience may give him the upper hand in the battle.
Wimbush has a great arm and can really thread the needle. His issue is he’s inconsistent. There were times throughout the game where he really let it rip on intermediate and deep throws, showing impressive accuracy. But that wasn’t all the time. At other points in the game, errant passes were thrown, especially when pressure was in his face. With a lineman bearing down on Wimbush in the first half, the quarterback made an ill-advised throw lob throw into triple coverage and was intercepted.
Wimbush was 19-33 for 341 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.
While Wimbush has a lot to like, whether it’s his arm or athleticism (rushed for 100 yards four times in 2017), he needs to become more accurate. Wimbush completed just 49.5 percent of his passes last season.
Book had almost as good of a showing as Wimbush, but he looked to be more rough around the edges and not as likely to succeed in a live game situation. Book repeatedly kept putting his head down when a moderate pass rush was coming his way, instead of taking an extra half second to keep his eyes down the field and find an open man. Book’s hesitation led to a lot of sacks, while Wimbush didn’t get sacked much at all.
Book was 17-30 for 292 yards and one touchdown. Book may be a solid backup, but it would be surprising if Wimbush is not the starter week one.
Running Back Question Marks
Dexter Williams is the favorite to be the starting running back in 2018, but that isn’t a guarantee. Notre Dame starting RB’s from last season are no longer on the roster, which has hurt their depth at the position.
Williams made some impressive runs during the day, with his biggest rush going for 72 yards. He had 117 yards on 11 attempts. He had shiftiness and quick open field acceleration like that of a LeSean McCoy.
A nice compliment to Williams appears to be Jafar Armstrong, who has converted to running back after playing wide receiver during his freshman campaign. Williams may be a solid third down back for Notre Dame, with good pass catching ability and shiftiness.
Weapons At Receiver
The best depth on the team is likely at wideout, with a bevy of solid options who compliment each other well.
Chris Finke is of the Cole Beasley/Victor Cruz mold at wideout, he’s shifty in the slot and can take a big lick in traffic and hold on to the football. Finke had five receptions for 81 yards.
Chase Claypool, who is 6-4, is a big and bad dude who has above-average speed to go along with his physicality. Claypool made a handful of big plays throughout the day, the biggest of which being a 85-yard touchdown. Wimbush and Claypool have good chemistry and the timing was evident on comeback routes and back shoulder throws. Watch out for Claypool, Michigan. Claypool finished the day with six receptions for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
Another tall option is Miles Boykin, who is also 6-4. Boykin only caught three passes, but he made them count, tallying a whooping 132 yards and one touchdown, the longest catch went for 64 yards.
What About The Defense?
Any Spring Game is going to make a defense look bad and exposed at times, so it isn’t entirely fair to look at the numbers put up by the Notre Dame offense and say that the defense was horrible. But the fact does remain the defense gave up 659 yards passing, and another 254 on the ground.
The Notre Dame defense did look vulnerable more often than not. Corners were burnt deep, when playing zone coverage they played it too soft, gaping holes were to be found by running backs.
Brian Kelly’s opinion of his defense differs a bit from mine, as he said his only concern on defense is at the linebacker position.
Despite some ugly numbers, there were two stand-out players on defense, linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill, and D-lineman Adetokunbo Ogundeji. Tranquill was flying everywhere, racking up nine tackles, seven of which were solo, and one sack. Ogundeji looked strong and dangerous, recording two sacks, four solo tackles, and two tackles for a loss.
It remains to be seen how good or weak this Fighting Irish defense is, but they have concerns at all three levels in my opinion.
Hurry Up, Man
Notre Dame’s offense is a no-huddle scheme, and they get to the line of scrimmage in a hurry. The time it took from a play to the next one was swift and smooth. This is an area Michigan will surely be preparing for their air-raid type attack. Notre Dame had over 60 pass attempts today, so on any given week ND could pass a to in a hurry up type fashion.