The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Commentary: Don’t take Blue-Gold results too seriously

Bill Brink | Thursday, April 16, 2009

How much stock can we place in the outcome of the Blue-Gold game? It depends what outcome we’re talking about.

It helps Irish fans not at all if Gold beats Blue 45-37. Two main interpretations of spring-game performance exist: the positional performance and the unit performance. Both get coaches and fans into trouble if they read too much into either, but the performances can also provide nuggets of information about the upcoming season.

Look at positional performance first. The fact that a second-string linebacker has 11 tackles, an interception and a blocked punt in the spring game means nothing. It’s like a pitcher throwing seven scoreless innings in spring training: you hope it carries over to the regular season but have no insurance that it will.

In fact, the spring game balances all praise or criticism for the players. Should a player struggle, they can chalk it up to pre-season rust that will wear off by the time Nevada rolls around. If they shine, the skeptics will point out that they shined in the spring game and who knows what will happen in the regular season. This catch-22 makes it impossible, therefore, to take too much away from individual performances.

It’s the same with the play of the units. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jimmy Clausen throws four touchdowns. In fact, facing a defense he’s watched play for two years and that he has practiced against all spring, I hope he has a good day. Conversely, if the defense holds Clausen to 7-of-24 for 87 yards and picks him off twice, it wouldn’t faze me. They’ve seen the man play for two seasons and practiced against him. His mannerisms and style should be well-documented.

So rather than look at the play of the individual players or the units facing their teammates, look for aspects of play that bode well for the season. For example, can the offensive line create holes for the running backs? New O-line coach Frank Verducci’s got the linemen working. Tackle Paul Duncan said the coaching staff has individualized instructions for all of the linemen. Expect the line to get off the ball this season.

Will the running backs make it through those holes, should they materialize? The team averaged 3.3 yards per carry last season, and that needs to improve to take pressure off of the passing game. Can Clausen look off his receivers, or will he still watch them down the field? Costly interceptions against North Carolina and Michigan State last year stopped drives and switched momentum, and Clausen’s helmet looked like it had a string attached to his receiver both times.

How will the linebackers adjust to the absence of five-year stalwart Maurice Crum Jr.? Can they effectively communicate plays and coverages? Watch them before the snap. If they’re running this way and that, wildly gesticulating to each other, they’re still learning the communication process. Harrison Smith’s move from linebacker to safety won’t help.

Same deal in the secondary, which lost safety David Bruton to graduation. Safety Kyle McCarthy is back for a fifth year, and cornerback Darrin Walls returns as well. In fact, the match-up to watch is between the receivers and the secondary. The Irish have the most talent in those units.

In spite of all my negative thoughts about the usefulness of the spring game in predicting performance next season, those aspects should provide a helpful hint. But finally, look at the team as a whole. It’s last time out, remember, the team traveled five time zones to face Hawaii in a bowl game and stomped the Warriors in their house on Christmas Eve. Confidence should be sky-high right now.

The players talk about having “good practices.” Receiver Robby Parris said the players are flying around at full speed. I bet that continues. Remember last spring game when running back Armando Allen got laid out down near the goal line? Something like that will happen again. Remember last spring game when the O-linemen got into it with some defensive guys after a touchdown? Wouldn’t surprise me if things got a bit tense.

The team has talent, the players know they can play better than they did some games last season and they’re on a roll after the Hawaii Bowl. Look for passion, excitement and big plays come Saturday.

The spring game can tell you all you need to know about Notre Dame’s prospects for the upcoming season – if you look for the right things.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of?The Observer.

Contact?Bill?Brink at wbrink@nd.edu