Notre Dames Blue-Gold Game didnt answer all of the teams questions going into next season, but the end of the spring practice session did give plenty of reasons for excitement for the future.
Defensive end Aaron Lynch, an early-enrollee freshman, lived up to his recruiting hype by matching the game-high seven tackles and recording 1 1/2 tackles for loss. Quarterbacks Andrew Hendrix, a sophomore-to-be, and Everett Golson, another early-enrollee freshman, flashed potential to run the offense by combining for 204 passing yards, 99 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Although the 17-14 win by the Gold Team created a buzz for players who need to contribute this season, Notre Dame kept the workload for last seasons starters at a minimum and didnt play some key contributors, such as linebacker Manti Teo, on Saturday.
We tried to create that competitive consistency of what game day is like, coach Brian Kelly said. It was another opportunity to kind of cement down what our routine is. ... Other than that, I dont know that we learned that much about our team.
Notre Dame is still shaping its team, but coming out of the spring game here is a strength and weakness for the offense, defense and special teams.
Strength: Because of the rainy conditions and musical-chair quarterbacks, the Irish never got in a rhythm in the passing game Saturday. Notre Dame was a combined 32-of-62 passing (51.6 percent) for 311 yards with two interceptions and a touchdown. If Michael Floyd – who avoided a semester suspension from the university after his third alcohol-related incident with the law since 2009 – meets the requirements to return to the team, the receiving corps will get a big boost. And there were some flashes of quality play from the receivers with former Bishop Dwenger star John Goodmans 15-yard catch for the scrimmages last touchdown, Robby Tomas game-high six catches for 64 yards and Deion Walkers five catches for 56 yards. Plus, Alex Welch (four catches for 34 yards) looks like another receiving tight end option to complement former Dwenger standout Tyler Eifert.
Weakness: Depth could be an issue going into the season at running back. Cierre Wood (seven carries for 39 yards) and Jonas Gray (five carries for 16 yards) looked good in limited time in the spring game. But with Cameron Roberson recovering from a leg injury and incoming freshman Cam McDaniel going to need time to develop, Wood and Gray are the only scholarship backs ready to contribute. The Irish may need to turn to Golson – who had 62 rushing yards on 11 carries, including the scrimmages longest run of 23 yards – and Hendrix – who had five rushes for 42 yards with touchdown runs of 15 and 10 yards – to supplement the running game.
Strength: Lynchs performance stole the show, but plenty of players showed they are ready to contribute. Nose tackle Louis Nix III had only two tackles, but the 6-foot-3, 340-pound sophomore-to-be was a nuisance to block all game. Linebackers Danny Spond (7 tackles, 1 for loss) and Prince Shembo (6 tackles) are good fits in the Dog outside linebacker spot opposite Darius Fleming. Linebackers Dan Fox (7 tackles) and David Posluszny (3 tackles) can give could depth inside, and after early-enrollee freshman Ishaq Williams (5 tackles, 1 for loss) got into a groove he made some nice plays, including forcing a fumble that led to the Gold teams game-winning touchdown.
Weakness: The 5.4 yards given up per carry Saturday will hurt Notre Dame in the regular season. While some of that total can be explained by the absences of Teo (knee) and nose tackle Sean Cwynar (foot), the Irish need to stop the run in all forms. Notre Dame did OK against conventional run plays, but the defense was burned by a 21-yard reverse by Theo Riddick and Golson, and Hendrix picked up big chunks scrambling. With last seasons starters playing more and the young players who stepped up at the end of spring getting more comfortable, the Irish shouldnt have much problem cleaning this up.
Strengths: Even with David Ruffer, who made 18 of 19 field goals last season, sitting out, kicking was a strength. Nick Tausch hit field goals of 22 and 45 yards, and early-enrollee freshman Kyle Brindza connected on a 32-yarder. Brindza averaged 42.7 yards on his three punts with a long of 46 into a strong wind, and Ben Turk nailed a 48-yard punt after starting with a 38-yarder.
Weakness: The return game remains a mystery with no kickoff or punt returns in the scrimmage. Goodman continued to show he can easily field punts, but the Irish need more than the 5.4 yards average on punt returns they had last season. Riddick said he was working out on punt and kick returns and could add a dynamic threat in the returning at both spots, and Bennett Jackson needs to build on his 645 kick return yards if he is called upon in the role again.