A guide to what to watch for at the Fighting Irish Spring Game
Although the Fighting Irish football season officially kicks off on August 30 against Rice University, Notre Dame Football will play its annual Blue-Gold spring game on Saturday, April 12. Marking the 85th year of the traditional game, the day features the Notre Dame offense versus the Notre Dame defense in a fun game where fans, players, and coaches get a glimpse of the team that they will be cheering on in the upcoming fall.
Last year’s game turned into a 54-43 victory for the defense, including a late game two-point conversion from defensive tackle Louis Nix. As the offense and the defense attempt to claim victory in this year’s game, Notre Dame fans will enjoy a fantastic opportunity to see the work of the new offensive and defensive coordinators. Mike Denbrock and Brian VanGorder, offense and defense respectively, will have their first chance to unveil their styles of play as coordinators, also giving them significant time to set the playbook from which they’ll call next season.
On defense, Head Coach Brian Kelly hinted at adjustments in an interview, stating “I think you’ll see Coach VanGorder’s personality come out a little differently than Coach Diaco’s [Notre Dame’s 2013 defensive coordinator].” Meanwhile on the offensive side of the ball, Denbrock is charged with organizing and developing the offense while Kelly will take on the play calling. “I want to be back involved,” Kelly said during an interview, “I think we’re at that point now where the offense is in a position … players that we can be much aggressive offensively.”
While Denbrock and VanGorder will certainly make the strategic game mesmerizing to watch, the action on the field is definitely going to be well worth an Irish fan’s attention. In almost every position, players are jockeying for position in the depth chart—competition that promises to yield results on the scoreboard in 2014.
One of the important positions to watch on April 12 will be the Notre Dame running backs. With several running backs on the roster, the Blue-Gold game will be a great opportunity to see who might emerge as Notre Dame’s premier ball carrier. Senior Cam McDaniel appears to be leading the pack as Notre Dame’s leading returning rusher, right alongside sophomore Tarean Folston who too saw a good amount playing time last season. But also definitely worth watching is Greg Bryant. A sophomore five-star recruit who took a medical redshirt last season following a knee injury, Bryant is actively looking to show the intensity and drive Coach Kelly desires in order to get into the forefront of Notre Dame’s game plan. “I thought I was going to come in and jump in the mix right away, but it didn’t happen like that,” Bryant said. “I’m so hungry right now, it’s crazy.”
Another backfield position to keep an eye on at this year’s game will be the quarterback position. Former Irish starter Everett Golson is hoping to put behind him the 2013 season, during which he was ineligible to play due to academic reasons. Instead Golson seeks to lead another charge like he did in 2012, when Notre Dame finished with a perfect regular season en route to an appearance at the BCS National Championship Game. However, the starting quarterback job is far from locked down. Malik Zaire, a four-star recruit who redshirted for Notre Dame last year, is ready to take on the challenge of playing as the starter. “Without a doubt…there will be only one guy out on the field,” Zaire has said, “and I believe that will be me.”
“I think it’s awesome how much Zaire wants the job” said sophomore Ray Michuda, long time Notre Dame Football enthusiast. “I really respect his competitiveness too. There’s nothing better than seeing that drive to succeed in your players—it makes that person and everyone else around them play better.”
On the same strain of watching players hunger to succeed and driving players to succeed, one cannot go without watching linebacker Jaylon Smith. The rising sophomore pulled 67 tackles and an interception while starting every game last season, and Kelly and VanGorder will continue looking to him to be a playmaker next year.
“The next thing that we’ll be working with Jaylon is to bring some guys with him,” explained Kelly, “The Larry Bird rule that I use all the time is, make others around him better.” This year’s Blue-Gold game will offer Smith a chance to take on those begin taking on that leadership role.
When April 12 rolls around, all eyes should be on the 85th annual Blue-Gold game. While it is a fun day where the Fighting Irish showcase their football program, this game will certainly be an important indicator of what the team will look like when they run out on the field next season.
Kyle Mulholland is a current Junior residing in Duncan Hall studying computer science and economics. He believes that some words, like “scare,” “scuba” or “scarves” could be better off by replacing the “c” with a “k.” Contact Kyle at firstname.lastname@example.org.