SOUTH BEND – A year ago, Notre Dame looked sloppy offensively in its Blue-Gold spring football game at Notre Dame Stadium. There were miscommunications; bad snaps, dropped passes and no one knew exactly who the best of a mediocre bunch of quarterbacks would ultimately prove to be.
Many sportswriters ripped the Fighting Irish coming out of the spring sessions (ahem, cough, cough). A dozen victories later and an appearance in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game in January, perhaps it isn't prudent to overreact to yet another ugly offensive performance by Notre Dame in front of 31,652 fans on Saturday.
“I think if there's any concern, if there's anything that I would like to do better, is to make certain that we don't fall back into some of the mistakes we made last year,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “And I thought we, at times, we fell back into some of the mistakes we made last year offensively.”
Notre Dame only scored one touchdown (a 35-yard strike from early enrollee Malik Zaire to classmate C.J. Prosise) against its defense on Saturday. However, there were actual positives to point out if you looked closely enough.
Here is a breakdown of the Irish offense:
Everett Golson will be starting for the second consecutive season next fall and he showed the ability to keep plays alive on Saturday, while also possessing the ability to make all of the throws.
“Everett's knowledge base of the offense and the things that he needs to use to run the offense efficiently, he's got all that down,” Kelly said. “He probably has a little bit too much knowledge and we have got to pull back some of those things. In other words, he's got so much going on in his head; he wants to do too much. It took him away from some progression reads today; that he didn't make those mistakes last year as a freshman.
"It's great, we've got a lot to teach off and it's going to be very positive for Everett.”
Worry factor: None
George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel showed glimpses of potential, but obviously are a far cry from the talented tandem of Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick of a year ago.
Atkinson rushed for 49 yards on 10 carries.
“George, you can see, is a big, physical kid,” Kelly said. “I mean, he ran hard, he's got obviously some speed, we have seen that. We've just got to get his pads down a little bit.”
Second-year runner Amir Carlisle will also be in the mix in the fall after recovering from a broken collarbone.
Worry factor: Some
What Notre Dame showed on Saturday was the fact that this program has depth. Eight different players caught at least a pair of passes, and T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels showed that they are every bit as good as they showed against Alabama in the BCS title game.
McDaniel made a sweet catch out of the backfield and freshman Prosise demonstrated the athletic ability that will get him on the field a lot next fall.
“C.J. is very athletic kid,” Kelly said. “He didn't fight the ball; it seemed to come very natural. But he's very raw. He's got a lot of work to do. But we feel very confident that if we stick with him and continue to work with him that we can see a finished product as we move through the season.
“He's got a lot of really high end traits in terms of speed and size, and he's got to run better routes. He's got to track the ball consistently. But I'd rather work with a guy like that that has those traits and just know that he's a work in progress.”
Worry factor: Not much at all
Tyler Eifert is gone and he's not coming back. Well, he did return to campus Saturday, but it was just to watch. But that is OK. As Notre Dame has shown in the past, this is a program that can graduate NFL-caliber players at tight end and survive.
Troy Niklas showed athletic ability and soft hands on Saturday and he's huge. He'll be a factor next fall.
Worry factor: If Niklas stays healthy, none.
If there is a group that needs time to gel, it is this one. The Irish lost a pair of veterans (Braxston Cave and Mike Golic Jr.) and it showed on Saturday. Quarterbacks got hurried and running backs had little room to run. But there is time for this group to improve and Golson gives this line a margin for error. Also hindering its performance on Saturday was the fact that veteran starter Chris Watt did not play due to a sore neck.
Worry factor: Some