On a beautiful South Bend afternoon, Brian Kelly's offense burst out of the gate and ran away from Brian VanGorder's defense, with the 85th annual Blue-Gold game ending in a 63-58 win for the offense.
With our first extended look at new coordinators Mike Denbrock and Brian VanGorder, let's go through our final game grades and analysis as we critique a new depth chart on both sides of the ball.
First, here's the unique scoring system Brian Kelly established for each team.
Field goal: 3 points
Touchdown: 6 points
Extra Point: 1 point
2-point Conversion: 2 points
Big Chunk Pass (20+ yards): 2 points
Big Chunk Run (15+): 2 points
Two consecutive first downs: 2 points
Defensive Stop Before 50-yard line: 4 points
Defensive Stop After the 50-yard line: 2 points
Turnover Forced Before 50-yard line: 7 points
Turnover Forced After 50-yard line: 3 points
Forces a Field Goal (Make or Miss): 1 point
Three-and-out: 2 points
|Notre Dame Halftime Blue-Gold Game Grades|
|Positional Unit||First-Half Grade||Final Grade|
|85th Blue-Gold Game|
Final analysis for the Fighting Irish
Pass Offense: If there's a big surprise it's been the productivity of Malik Zaire. Looking more composed and poised than veteran Everett Golson, Zaire completed 15 of 19 throws for 259 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half.
He looked good checking the football down. He made a very nice long throw to Will Fuller that set up a touchdown. He showed touch and then a great fastball when hitting Amir Carlisle on a short slant for a red zone touchdown.
In the second half Zaire slowed down, but still finished the afternoon 18 of 25 for 292 yards and two touchdowns, making it known that Zaire wasn't living in a parallel universe when he thought himself capable of winning a starting job.
In his return to the football field after a season away, Golson was far from bad, but did miss a few early throws and found himself abandoning his reads and fleeing the pocket. Golson finished the afternoon 13 of 24 for 154 yards, an average day at the office for a quarterback playing behind mostly backups on the offensive line.
If there was a positive that matched the quarterback's production it's the multitude of receiving options that the quarterbacks had. Rising junior Chris Brown caught five balls for 105 yards. Corey Robinson made another highlight reel catch on a deep throw. CJ Prosise and Amir Carlisle looked at home in the slot, with Prosise supplying one of the game's "wow" moments when he showed off his sprinter speed and ran away from the Irish secondary for a 39-yard touchdown.
An uninspired second half—not to mention a running clock—kept the yardage totals mostly flat after the first half. But a combined 31 for 49 for 446 yards between Golson and Zaire, with zero turnovers, is a great day at the office.
Rush Offense: After splitting series in the first half, Greg Bryant exploded after halftime, breaking loose on a 51-yard run and hitting his stride to power the ground game. Bryant's run helped him pace the rushing attack, with 12 carries for 101 yards leading the way.
Folston looked very smooth as well, running for 38 yards on seven carries, but exploded in the passing game with 54 yards on five first half catches, including a few very well executed screen passes.
Cam McDaniel was his reliable self, rushing nine times for 33 yards and a touchdown while catching two passes, including a clutch third down reception on a back-shoulder throw. But Saturday's performance highlighted the youth on the roster, with Bryant and Folston looking like both the present and the future of the Irish's ground game.
Pass Defense: It's hard to be too kind to a defense that gave up 388 yards in one half of football, but there were some nice moments. Cole Luke had a nice breakup on a deep pass to Torii Hunter Jr. Elijah Shumate made a solid hit on Amir Carlisle, causing an incompletion.
Walk-on cornerback Connor Cavalaris was beaten by Corey Robinson on a long ball that didn't seem fair. Josh Atkinson was victimized a few times as well, but also broke up two passes.
If there's a plus, it doesn't appear that the Irish pass rush is lacking. Romeo Okwara paced the pass rush with three sacks (though with quarterbacks untouchable, it was a subjective measurement). Andrew Trumbetti, Isaac Rochell, Jacob Matuska and Chase Hounshell were credited with sacks as well.
One of the stories of spring was John Turner, and the safety-turned-linebacker added six tackles as an athletic coverman. Matthias Farley looked good after a shaky start in the slot, tallying five tackles. James Onwualu had three tackles, his first game playing defense for Notre Dame.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly chuckled during the broadcast when Alex Flanagan asked him if Brian VanGorder's defense was showing his offense a lot on Saturday. So while the stats don't look too pretty, there's reason for optimism.
Rush Defense: The rush defense stood strong outside of Bryant's long run. And while we didn't see much of Sheldon Day or Jarron Jones, senior Kendall Moore had a strong game in run support.
Perhaps the defensive highlight of the day was a beautiful tackle by Jaylon Smith. With Tarean Folston having the corner, Smith used his elite speed to close ground on Folston and wrap him up for a short gain.
Tallying in sack yardage, the defense held the offense to a meager 2.7 yards per carry on 47 touches. Against the trio of Bryant, Folston and McDaniel, the defense gave up 4.5 yards a carry. A solid but not spectacular performance by the rush defense.
Special Teams: The good: Kyle Brindza made a 50-yard field goal. The bad: Everything else. Brindza clanked a 33-yarder off the left upright and then missed badly when given a chance at a 58-yarder as the half ended. His punts looked no better, with both landing short without a return.
Coaching: Outside of miscalculating what would make for a competitive game (in the first half), there's nothing to complain about from a coaching perspective. You've got to like the fact that the Irish screen game, terrible last year, looked really good.
After talking about spreading the ball around to multiple weapons, the Irish have done exactly that. There were 14 different players with catches. Ten players caught two balls or more.
Down by 50 at half, the defense used the running clock and a better pass rush to close the gap to a respectable 63-58. And while it's too soon to tell about Nicky Baratti's shoulder injury, it looks like the Irish might have gotten out of the Blue-Gold game without any major injuries, either.