At least BVG wasn’t on the sideline. Thank God.
If you think about it, spring football games are a strange occurrence.
You want to play and show the progress being made by your football team, but you don’t want to show how much you really are progressing.
You want to play hard, but no one better by God get hurt.
You feel good after watching the offense run up and down the field, and then realize your defense sucks. It’s a schizophrenic experience for sure.
For the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in 2017, the spring game Saturday did fall in this jungle gym of emotions. But I think we saw a few highlights and tendencies that give us an idea of what to look for in the fall. Let’s take a look at the offense first, simply because I’m an old quarterback and it’s fun. We’ll talk about the D soon. Oh, yeah, everybody looked healthy afterwords.
Let’s start with Brandon Wimbush and work our way around. I’m not going to spend much time with this because honestly, the red jersey hurt his performance. He still showed tremendous athletic ability and arm strength that we all know he has. His reads were on and off through the day, often forcing throws in places he shouldn’t.
The “no-touch” rule removed Wimbush’s greatest asset — his ability to move and create plays. He’s gonna be a guy that creates better throwing lanes by moving around. He just wasn’t allowed to do that Saturday.
If you noticed during the game, most of the snaps were taken out of the shotgun. I really believe that, in the fall, you’ll see more snaps under center. The shotgun is implemented in these type of settings to just simply give your QB more time without risk of being “touched,” which happens from time to time when you’re closer to the line of scrimmage.
Chip Long’s version in the fall will have more snaps coming from under center, along with the Pistol formation that will allow for play-action and run-pass option (RPO) progressions. Routes ran out of the shotgun are much more limited in what they can do with creativity. Again, it’s easier to cover and recognize on defense as you can align pretty sure three formations are all you’ll face.
Wimbush will be fine. In fact, he’ll take the college football world by storm in 2017. His backup, Ian Book, looked good as well. Book showed confidence and poise running the offense with more quickness than was expected. But this shouldn’t come as huge surprise. Going back and looking at his film again, you’ll see a player designed perfectly for what Brian Kelly and Long want to run. He’s got a good arm, nice touch and an ability to extend plays. Book will be a more than capable QB if needed.
The wide receivers are freaks. I can’t really think of any other way to describe them. They are big, agile and will create match up problems all over the field. Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool, Kevin Stepherson, Alize Jones (Mack) and Equanimeous St. Brown look like NFL projects and you can’t tell them apart easily. Stepherson has more straight speed and explosion. The other four are physically imposing and cover more ground than you think.
As a whole, they showed more confidence in running their routes and you can see more explosion in their burst out of their stance. They got a bit lazy running routes toward the end of both the second and third quarters. That’s really not to be unexpected in this type of game, especially when the QBs are already limited in how much they can move. Chris Finke will be Wimbush’s security blanket often; the guy just catches everything.
The tight ends were featured often in sets with motion involved. You can chalk up this up to a change in philosophy. In this offense, it appears Long has added this much needed element to the Kelly playbook. You’ll see even more of this in the fall when all the formations will be at his disposal to call without the limitations of a spring game.
Motion causes defenses to shift, often to keep from getting out flanked. At Memphis, Long used it to not only get one side leaning heavy, but he would often play action away to the other side where a one-on-one situation would occur.
Earlier in the year, Long used the H-Back to motion across the line right behind the tight end. Off the play fake, the H-Back just released down the middle of the field as the coverage was focused on the TE. The result? A wide open 55-yard touchdown. Motion does wonders, but only when it’s used to create an advantage and not just for window dressing. It was good to see what little bit we saw on Saturday.
Now, the offensive line was definitely a mixed bag. I re-watched the game (kudos to my dedication to watch it again), trying to figure out what was going on. I’ll start out by saying the left side looked effective. If I was grading film, the most success the Fighting Irish had was running off center angling left.
The right side, no matter who was in, just looks stiff. They play standing straight up be it a run or pass play. There’s not much movement on either occurrence. It reminds me a lot of what we saw last year with a bunch of reaching and leaning without getting into the block. Again, some of this is because it’s a spring game and the level of intensity just won’t be the same as on a Saturday in the fall. But it’s definitely something that’s noticeable, and something Harry Hiestand will have to work on heading into the fall.
I love the running back situation. Josh Adams right now is your most complete back and the bell cow. Dexter Williams is the most explosive back in the Fighting Irish stable, hits the hole quick and gains speed once he’s through the lane.
Tony Jones Jr. is a combo of the two. He might not have the burst of Williams, but his blend of power and downfield running style makes him an exciting prospect. I’ve written and told everyone that’ll listen to me that Jones will be the feature back by the end of the year. The guy is built for a long season, looks like an SEC back physically, and is one I think that’ll get stronger with the more carries he gets. Liked the way the backs caught the ball out of the backfield and looked to turn it up field.
All in all, it was a good day for the Notre Dame offense on Saturday. It was about what you’d expect in a spring game setting, but you see the makings of a prolific group.
I’m telling you now, and will again in an article coming up: Brandon Wimbush is the man. I think you’ll see this fall an offense unlike anything we’ve seen from the Fighting Irish, in terms of diverse ways to score and so many weapons to utilize. I think records will fall this fall. The offensive line will get better, but as an old coach told me once, “When you have a team full of athletes and your line sucks, just teach ’em to get run over slow.”
That sounds like a plan.