Greason: Offensive depth sets Notre Dame up for success
Elizabeth Greason | Monday, April 24, 2017
In a matchup between Notre Dame’s first-string offense and defense, the defense — and second-string offense — came out on top. And while scores don’t mean much in spring games, the offensive efficiency displayed by the second-string offense, led by sophomore quarterback Ian Book, bodes well for the Irish.
Junior starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush passed for 303 yards, completing 22-of-32 attempts to nine different receivers, most of whom will be the faces of the offense when the season begins. Junior wide receivers Miles Boykin and Equanimeous St. Brown, junior tight end Alize Jones and sophomore receiver Chase Claypool all proved they will be playmakers for the Irish with long receptions and broken tackles. That was to be expected.
But it was the faces in the white jerseys — the supposed backups — who are setting Notre Dame up to rebound from last season’s offensive woes. The backups who combined to score 27 points. Junior receiver C.J. Sanders had 58 receiving yards, sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson centered around one of the game’s most exciting plays: a 58-yard reception to the 2-yard line and junior running back Dexter Williams rushed for nearly 100 yards.
Granted, these are names we heard making plays last season as well, as the Irish were forced to look further into the depth chart as the season wore on. But that extra year, or even extra couple of games, gives Notre Dame an advantage. Having a second-string offense with significant experience is not an opportunity that comes along frequently.
And then there’s Ian Book.
The six-foot, 205-pound quarterback surprised many fans with his performance, passing for 277 yards and completing 17 of his 22 attempts, but Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Book performed exactly as he has throughout spring practice.
According to Kelly, there is no question that Wimbush would be leading the offense come September, and in my mind at least, there is no doubt that that should be the case. But Kelly also noted that, in recent history, Notre Dame’s second-string quarterback has been forced into the spotlight unexpectedly. So, the ability to compete that Book showed off Saturday is a definite positive going forward.
It’s these guys that lead me to believe Notre Dame will be successful this season. The defense had its ups and downs, leaving something to be desired in terms of tackling, but the offense remained successful throughout the game. And while the first-string offense stalled early, scoring on its first possession and then not again until the fourth quarter, the second stringers remained potent throughout, putting up 27 points. Sure, they were playing against the second-string defense. But they showed poise and talent. Add the experience that most of the offensive players possess into the equation, and you could have a recipe for success.
The Irish have lacked depth in the past. Injuries or slumps have proven problematic. But the depth this program proved it has offensively in the Blue-Gold game demonstrated that this may not be the case next season. The next man up on the offensive side of the ball will always be a good option.
I have faith that Wimbush will live up to the hype and that the Boykin, St. Brown and company will continue to play well. But the idea that Williams, Stepherson and Sanders are clearly fully prepared to take the field as well gives Notre Dame a cushion, should it need one. They prove the Irish offense have completed the turnaround from last season and will be ready to play in September.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.