Excitement filled the air as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish took the field for the Blue-Gold spring game on Saturday afternoon, as fans got their first look at the 2018 Notre Dame football team. Coming off of a 10-3 season, Brian Kelly’s squad looks to take the next step forward in 2018.
Going into the game, there were a lot of questions as to who the starting quarterback will be when the Irish take the field on September 1 against the Michigan Wolverines.
One option for Kelly is Brandon Wimbush, who played and started in 12 games last year. He threw for 1,870 yards, 16 touchdowns, and six interceptions through the air while completing 49.5 percent of his passes. Known by many to be his biggest strength, Wimbush also ran for 803 yards and 14 touchdowns on 141 carries last year.
Another option is Ian Book, who is known as more of a pocket passer than Brandon Wimbush, but definitely showed while he played last year that he could run the ball as well. Book played in 10 games and started one last year for the Irish. In those games, he threw for 456 yards, four touchdowns, and four interceptions and completed 61.3 percent of his throws through the air. On the ground, Book carried the ball 37 times and rushed for 207 yards.
Other areas fans were keeping an eye on were the running back and receiver positions, as Notre Dame’s top running back and receiver both declared for the NFL Draft.
Although Notre Dame has depth at the running back position, Josh Adams productivity last year will certainly be missed for a team still trying to find a number one guy at quarterback. Adams was a workhorse that head coach Brian Kelly could always lean on when the Irish had the football. Adams had 206 carries last year and rushed for 1,430 yards and nine touchdowns. He also caught the ball out of the backfield, hauling in 13 passes for 101 yards.
Leading receiver and big-play threat Equanimeous St. Brown will also be missed in a big way for the Irish offensively. Last season, St. Brown had 33 receptions for 515 yards and four touchdowns.
As for the actual game, it began with Brandon Wimbush calling the signals for the Irish and on the opening play he completed a pass over the middle to tight end Alizé Mack for a first down. Tony Jones Jr. got the start for Notre Dame at running back and ran for six yards on his first carry of the game. After two good opening plays, though, Jones Jr. lost three yards on a second down carry, and an attempted pass from Wimbush to Miles Boykin on third and seven was incomplete as cornerback Julian Love had tight coverage on Boykin.
Then it was Ian Book’s turn to lead the Irish offense, which was pinned in their own territory. On his opening play, he kept the ball himself and gained no yardage. Then, there was a flag that put the Irish in a second and fifteen situation. On second and fifteen, Book faked a run to Dexter Williams, scrambled to his right, and overthrew wide receiver Chase Claypool. Book looked for tight end Brock Wright over the middle on third down but the pass was broken up.
While it was certainly not the start that either quarterback was hoping for, both would settle down as they saw more time on the field.
Wimbush looked much more comfortable in the pocket than he did last season. One thing that really impressed me about Wimbush is how he responded to adversity. On one drive, he made a poor throw that was intercepted by Jalen Elliott. Then, on his very next possession, Wimbush responded by throwing a beautiful ball downfield to Miles Boykin for a touchdown. Overall, Brandon Wimbush finished the game 19-33 for 341 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
On the other hand, Ian Book completed 17 of 30 passes for 292 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. On his second drive of the day he threw a jump ball to wide receiver Chase Claypool who avoided the tackle by Shaun Crawford and took it to the end zone for a touchdown.
Wimbush had four carries and Book had nine carries, but neither of them had much success running the ball today.
Although I thought that not all of the passes from Wimbush and Book were great, both quarterbacks looked decisive in their decision making. However, sometimes their decisiveness was to their detriment, as some of their passes were overthrown and both got lucky as the defense dropped interceptions.
Outside of their quick decision making, I loved how whenever either quarterback saw one on one coverage on the outside they were aggressive in looking to pass the ball to their receivers. Also, the offense allowed Wimbush and Book to throw a wide variety of passes, such as deep, underneath routes, and crossing routes.
Dexter Williams really stood out from the rest of the running backs, finishing the game with 11 carries for 117 yards and one touchdown, including a 72-yard run at the beginning of the third quarter.
One player who did a lot of things today was Avery Davis. He saw action both carrying and catching the ball. Davis finished the game with 11 carries for 30 yards and had two receptions for 24 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, Alohi Gilman really looked impressive today. He is a very smart player who reads routes very well. Gilman had a total of six tackles, three solo and three assisted, to go along with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He also had a few pass breakups as well.
In one of his opening post-game press conference statements Brian Kelly said, “I think at the end of the day when I walk away from this, our guys competed,” Kelly said. “We got a lot of young players an opportunity to go in there, and we worked on some of the things that I think I had mentioned in a couple of other press conferences. We needed to throw the football more effectively. We needed some receivers to step up and make plays, and I thought we saw that today.”
There were a lot of positives shown today in the spring game, and Irish fans should be excited about the potential of their team this year.
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