Goshen News, Goshen, IN

April 13, 2014

NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL: Observations and predictions from the Blue-Gold game

By DANIEL RIORDAN daniel.riordan@goshennews.com
Goshen News

---- — SOUTH BEND — Making any sweeping pronouncements about untested talent based on a performance in the Blue-Gold game can be foolish.

Case in point, Junior Jabbie was the MVP of the 2007 Blue-Gold game after running for 87 yards on 13 carries. Jabbie, heading into his senior year at that point, didn’t do much on the field for Notre Dame. He came to South Bend as a defensive back, didn’t play his first two years and was exclusively a special teamer his junior year.

He finished his Irish career with 35 yards on 10 carries before transferring to Delaware.

While the Blue-Gold game may not be the litmus test to determine what kids will contribute next year, it can provide some insight.

Heading into Saturday’s scrimmage the big question was Everett Golson or Malik Zaire? Coach Brian Kelly has spent spring practices evaluating which quarterback will start against Rice Aug. 30 in Notre Dame Stadium.

All signs point to Golson being the opening day starter. Though after Zaire’s performance Saturday it would be a huge surprise if he didn’t factor into the game plan in some significant way.

- No signs of a sophomore slump for Jaylon Smith. The Fort Wayne product played weakside linebacker Saturday and showed his insane physical skills. He’s 6-foot-2, 230 pounds and moves as well as any linebacker in recent Notre Dame history. And that includes Manti Te’o who was in attendance for Saturday’s scrimmage.

- Prediction: Corey Robinson will be the top receiver for Notre Dame this fall. Robinson is big, 6-4, 205, and catches anything thrown in his general direction. He had nine catches for 157 yards during his freshman campaign. Regardless of what happens to currently exiled receiver DaVaris Daniels, Robinson will rack up close to 1,000 yards this season.

- Defensive end Romeo Okwara’s name was called a lot Saturday. The converted linebacker made a lot of nice plays for a defense that kept things pretty simple.

- With all the talk of Golson and Zaire on Saturday, it was the play of the running backs that took center stage. The Irish have an embarrassment of riches at that position. While they have just three in Tarean Folston, Greg Bryant and Cam McDaneil, they could all start for most major college football programs. McDaniel lacks the game-breaking speed Folston and Bryant do but he is steady and reliable. Folston can move the chains as well as break a big run. Bryant looks the part. He runs violently and had a nice 51-yard run Saturday. That trio will keep ND in a lot of games this year.

- Prediction: Folston will lead the team in rushing yards. Bryant will have the longest run from scrimmage and McDaniel will lead the team in rushing touchdowns.

- Kelly has the pieces on both offense and defense to make some noise this fall. The problem is the amount of variables. Who will be QB1? How will new defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder get his squad to perform? I think the biggest question mark is special teams. Special teams at Notre Dame under Kelly have ranged from pedestrian to abhorrent. Kyle Brindza is handling both kicking and punting duties this year. He had his ups and downs Saturday He nailed a 50-yard field goal then missed a 36-yard try. He averaged less than 35 yards per punt.

- Final prediction: If Golson or Zaire thrive at QB, the defense gels under Van Gorder and the special teams cracks the top 40 in the country, the Irish will make some noise this fall. If everything falls into place, a 10-2 season is within reach. No matter how well things go, road wins at Florida St. and USC seem like tall orders.

We’ll have to wait and see until the new-look Irish step onto brand-new field turf in their brand-new Under Armour uniforms.