On a beautiful day in South Bend, Indiana, the Notre Dame faithful saw plenty of reasons for optimism heading into the 2018 season. But then again, there also were several areas where the Irish need to improve or they will get exposed by quality competition next fall.
That is the nature of a spring game, though. It is never a finished product and the Notre Dame staff was able to see the good and identify areas where they are lacking.
Here are some thoughts on the 2018 Blue-Gold Game
1. Brandon Wimbush will be the starting quarterback
The senior from Teaneck, New Jersey, looked much more comfortable throwing the ball than he did most of last year. While it is true that it is easier to let it rip when you know you’re not going to be hit, he appeared much more decisive than last year’s Blue-Gold game played under the same rules. Plus, the quarterback run – which is a major part of Wimbush’s arsenal – is nonexistent in this setting. He still made a few poor decisions – one in particular that was intercepted and another that should have been – but he outplayed Ian Book, who played well at times as well.
2. A nice mix at receiver
There is concern about pass-catching production with Equanimeous St. Brown now chasing NFL riches and Kevin Stepherson dismissed from school. But Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin took the first step in proving that they can be reliable targets that can put up big numbers. The pair had a nice Saturday, combining for nine catches for 283 yards and three scores. Inside, Michael Young built off his strong Citrus Bowl performance and quarterback/running back/receiver Avery Davis showed some skills catching the ball. Plus, Chris Finke is back for what seems like his eighth season. At tight end, ND is still waiting for Alize Mack to really arrive and Cole Kmet showed his considerable potential.
3. Offensive line inconsistencies
It’s not the best format for the O-line. They did not get to run block nearly as much as they’d like and the whistle is blown whenever a defender gets near the quarterback. Still, it was an up and down day the offensive front. Dexter Williams did run for 117 yards on 11 carries, but 75 came on one touch. Jafar Armstrong had some room to run, which was promising considering his move from wide receiver. Plus, the quarterbacks were protected enough to throw for 659 total yards. But there were eight registered sacks and the defensive front seemed to win many of the battles. Plus, there were far too many illegal motion penalties called against this group. Considering the loss of Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson plus the departure of line coach Harry Hiestand to the Bears, this is not surprising. But the line is an area that needs to be cleaned up by the time Michigan comes to town for the Sept. 1 opener.
4. Drue Tranquill looked comfortable at linebacker
Taking your best defensive player and moving him to a new position is a risky move. But at least for a day, the fifth-year senior looked like a natural Buck linebacker. Tranquill (above, right) led the team with nine tackles and had a sack, but that doesn’t really tell the story. He not only knew where he needed to be, he also was effective in positioning everyone on the defense. The former rover has added strength which will enable him to take on offensive linemen. It may be different when the real bullets fly, but Tranquill did what he needed to do on Saturday.
5. Newcomers impress
This was especially true on defense. It was expected that Navy transfer Alohi Gilman would make an immediate impact at safety and he often around the ball with six tackles and a fumble that he forced and recovered. Early entry freshman Houston Griffith was another defensive back that also was involved, but the biggest surprise was linebacker Bo Bauer. The Harborcreek, Pennsylvania, product was second to Tranquill with seven total tackles, including one that resulted in lost yardage. On the other side of the ball, freshman running back Jahmir Smith pushed his way to 29 yards on five carries.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.