Notre Dame Football: Complete Spring Game Preview
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Finally.
It took forever, but it finally feels like spring is here. Saturday’s forecast predicts temperatures in the 70s with a zero percent chance of rain.
I can’t think of better conditions to close out spring practice with Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium. It’s technically the 15th and final practice for the Irish, and it’s our last public look at them until August.
So what should we be on the lookout for on Saturday?
Let’s get to it.
Event: The 85th annual Blue-Gold Spring Game
Location: Notre Dame Stadium
Time: 12:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN (and NBCsports.com)
- Play-by-play: Paul Burmeister
- Analyst: Mike Mayock
- Sideline: Alex Flanagan
Format (via Notre Dame media relations)
- The first half will have two 12-minute quarters with normal clock stoppages.
- The second half will feature two 15-minute quarters with a running clock.
- Clock stoppages will occur only due to injuries or timeouts.
- No play clock.
- Offense will wear blue; defense will wear white.
- Each team will be allowed three timeouts per half.
- Quarterbacks will not be live.
- Each possession will begin on the 25-yard line.
- There will not be any kickoffs.
- All punts will be fair caught.
- A scoring point system will determine the winner of the game.
Offense (in addition to normal scoring rules)
- Big Chunk Pass (20-plus yards) = 2 points
- Big Chunk Run (15-plus yards) = 2 points
- Two consecutive first downs = 2 points
- Defensive stop before 50-yard line = 4 points
- Defensive stop after 50-yard line = 2 points
- Turnover forced before 50-yard line = 7 points
- Turnover forced after 50-yard line = 3 points
- Field goal forced (make or miss) = 1 point
- Three-and-outs = 2 points
Position Battles to Watch
How could we start anywhere else?
While it seems that most are expecting senior Everett Golson to be Notre Dame’s starting quarterback this season, Irish head coach Brian Kelly hasn’t announced a decision, and last we heard, he doesn’t have a timetable for doing so.
Still, it's hard to see sophomore Malik Zaire starting over Golson. That being said, I think Zaire has shown enough to make the two-quarterback discussion legitimate, even if that just means a few packages or situations per game will be designed for him.
Kelly recently said that neither Golson nor Zaire has graded out with 2.0 grade-point averages in their spring evaluations, but Kelly did say that was, at least in part, because they’re taking some “500-level classes” in the form of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s exotic and multiple looks.
The last time we saw Golson and Zaire in a game setting was this time last year—357 days ago, to be exact. Golson looked primed to roll into his second season as the Irish signal-caller, and Zaire, then an early enrollee, turned heads with his dual-threat performance.
We’ll see how they look this year, although it’s important to note there’s still a long way to go until the season opener against Rice.
Who knows how long we’ll see some of the first-teamers; some of the established veterans could only log a few series.
But at wide receiver, where the list of possible contributors is deep and undetermined, the competition should be persistent for much of the game. We’ll get to see how each of these receivers looks individually—who shows explosiveness, hands, breakaway ability, etc.
The sophomores—Will Fuller, Corey Robinson and Torii Hunter Jr.—bring plenty of raw ability: Fuller with his top-end speed, Robinson with his hands and catch radius, and Hunter Jr. with his overall athleticism.
Junior Chris Brown has drawn praise for improved route running, so we’ll see how that translates with his solid speed and athleticism. Then there are the slot guys—senior Amir Carlisle and junior C.J. Prosise. Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock mentioned this week how those two are lodged in a competitive position battle.
We’ll also get to see who looks in sync with the quarterbacks. Now, with such a small sample size, it’s tough to read too much into the chemistry between Golson, Zaire and their receivers, but those connections have been an important topic this spring, and Saturday is our first look at how they'll play out.
How the quarterbacks look: Will either Golson or Zaire come out and blow us away with his playmaking ability, whether that’s through the air or on the ground?
Defensive differences: New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder brings with him a new attacking, aggressive defense. The Irish also want to be more “multiple” defensively, bringing different looks and putting players in various spots in certain situations. Will Notre Dame be able to bring more pressure and, in turn, create more turnovers?
What does the offense look like with mobile QBs: Not to take anything away from Tommy Rees, but Golson and Zaire add an outside-the-pocket dynamism that Kelly and Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock discussed in late January. We expect to see a more uptempo offense.
The three-headed monster at running back: Brian Kelly has praised this unit’s work in the spring, and running back is probably Notre Dame’s least concerning position on offense. We’ll get to see how Tarean Folston looks after ending his freshman season on a high note, and we’ll get our first extended look at Greg Bryant.
What the Experts Are Saying
Chemistry will have to wait for the Notre Dame offensive line, JJ Stankevitz writes over at CSN Chicago.
All hands on deck for punt returns, Matt Fortuna writes at ESPN.com.
The running backs develop as receivers, Andrew Owens writes for Blue and Gold Illustrated.
Notre Dame’s defense creates pains, gains for Irish QBs, Eric Hansen writes in the South Bend Tribune.
BK notes the key to the RBs this spring is to improve their pass protection. "On whole, all 3 have had a good spring." says unit is solid.— Tim O'Malley (@timomalleyND) April 9, 2014
Jarrett Grace: The senior linebacker recently had another surgery to stabilize his leg.
Nick Martin: The senior center is returning from his torn MCL, and we saw him work his way back into some of the noncontact drills in recent practice sessions. He figures to have the starting center job when he’s 100 percent.
Christian Lombard: The graduate student dislocated his right wrist in March.
Ben Councell: The senior outside linebacker is on the way back from his own knee injury and has been out all spring.
Tony Springmann: The senior defensive lineman battled through a knee injury and then an infection, and he too has been out this spring.
Devin Butler: The sophomore cornerback is noncontact while returning from offseason shoulder surgery, but he has been working with defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks after practice.
No surprises on the list here, and we expect Martin, Lombard, Councell, Springmann and Butler to be ready in plenty of time for the fall. The big injury question mark is Grace, whose progress will be reconsidered six weeks after the surgery. At that time, Notre Dame should have a better sense of his potential availability in 2014. After the surgery, Brian Kelly did say, however, the team is “cautiously optimistic” on the inside linebacker.
*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco on Twitter.