Where Does Notre Dame Go from Here?
But before we’ve completely put spring ball in the rearview, here’s what I took away from Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold Game and where I think the Irish go from here.
The first word that comes to mind is progress. A mere five years ago, who would have imagined Notre Dame would have alternate uniforms that strayed from the traditional style, that Notre Dame Stadium would start playing music and receive a major renovation, that the Irish would affiliate themselves with the ACC, and perhaps the most drastic yet, did anyone ever think they would see helmets with a logo?
When I was a student during the golden days of legendary coaches Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis, I often dreamed of such changes coming to the football program but never imagined I would ever see them happen. The most I could hope for was a green jersey appearance once every year or two.
Then Athletic Director Kevin White bolted for Duke and Jack Swarbrick arrived with a vision to make Notre Dame competitive in the modern landscape of college football and he knew that meant pulling the program out of the 1940s and implementing the aforementioned nuances.
During the game, Swarbrick took another step in that direction with the announcement that Notre Dame would be replacing the natural grass football field with artificial turf. This change will bring stability to both play and appearance. There will be no more divots, inconsistent grass lengths and we should see less turf monsters tripping up players and blowing up plays in the backfield.
The other big news of the game was Malik Zaire. I still believe Everett Golson will be the starter when the Irish open the season against Rice but his leash just got a whole lot shorter. Zaire looked sharper than Golson and had more of a penchant for big plays, going 18-of-23 for 292 yards and two touchdowns vs Golson’s 13-of-24 for 154 yards and no passing touchdowns. If Notre Dame can build a big lead in against Rice, we will probably even see Zaire in the second half of the opener.
Wide receivers Chris Brown, Corey Robinson, and C.J. Prosise all made some big plays but no one seemed to step up to take on a go-to role so there is still plenty of opportunity for the young receivers before the season begins.
The new defense looked sharp and the pass rush looked as good as can be expected with no contact to the quarterback. Assuming we got the vanilla version of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s playbook, we should see a lot more complex looks once the season is underway.
Not surprisingly, linebacker Jaylon Smith seemed to begin solidifying himself as a defensive leader. The surprise comes in the other defensive leader, which is counterpart Joe Schmidt. Schmidt is a former walk-on who earned a scholarship and has become such a valuable and consistent member of the team that he is now the starter opposite Smith. He is intelligent, grasps VanGorder’s new scheme and can help the rest of the defense get in position.