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ND looks to build depth as defense trumps offense in Blue-Gold game

| Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Notre Dame defensive unit bested the offensive unit in the annual Blue-Gold spring game 58-45, shutting out the offensive team in the second half. The game was formatted so that the blue team contained solely offensive and the gold contained solely defensive player, with turnovers having offensive point value equivalents.

To start the game, Irish senior quarterback Ian Book showed he hadn’t lost his touch over the past couple months, rapidly racking up yards and eventually throwing a touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Michael Young.

“[I] just stepped up, my chemistry with [Michael Young] is just getting a lot better knowing where he’s gonna be at certain times, and really trusting the O-line, just going through my second, third reads,” Book said of the play. “And I knew Mike would be there and it worked out.”

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Irish graduate student wide receiver Chris Finke tries to escape the pursuits of sophomore cornerback Houston Griffith and junior linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah during Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold Spring game on Saturday afternoon.

Young posted three receptions for thirty yards on the game, while senior wide receiver Chase Claypool led all receivers with 92 yards and four catches. Book went 16-21 for 220 yards and one touchdown in essentially one half of action, and he was satisfied with some of the things he was able to do during the game.

Book said one of the main takeaways for him from Saturday’s game was in developing the team chemistry.

“Just getting through all my reads, trusting everybody, and really [developing] chemistry with everyone — receivers, running backs, O-line. Knowing exactly where everyone’s gonna be at the right time,” Book said.

Irish sophomore quarterback Phil Jurkovec was also on display. Though he showed promise in the pocket, going 15-for-26 on 135 passing yards, he struggled along the line, recording -71 rushing yards as he was sacked 12 times. The fault was not solely Jurkovec’s though, as the second-unit offensive line struggled to contain a deep defensive line.

“You know [the offensive line is] going against two really good edge rushers,” Kelly said. “And I thought by and large they did a pretty good job, gave Ian a chance to get the ball out. They do bring pressure too, obviously, and force a quarterback to manage his pocket. But I thought all-in-all they looked pretty good up front.”

Kelly also noted that even those edge rushers, specifically seniors Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem, have room to improve.

“We put together a highlight video for Julian where had 27 missed sacks last year. 27. If he has just half of those, he leads the country in sacks. So, finishing for Julian, plays where he can be the leading sack guy in the country,” Kelly said. “So he can be a menace to teams, we want that. Khalid, I think just cleaning up his overall game in all areas. The little things. … He’s a dedicated player, but we just want to clean up all the little things in his game. He’s a guy who can do a lot for us, in the run game and the passing.

Kelly also mentioned that everyone made mistakes that require adjustments, which is the purpose of a spring game.

“You know [there’s] obviously a number of things out there that we can certainly get better at,” Kelly said. “But you’re looking for competition, you’re looking for opportunities for guys to grow and learn after a month of practice. … This is about ‘How do they perform; how do they react when it’s a game-like situation versus a controlled situation?’ So all those things, that’s why you play these games. … You know a lot of people say, ‘Well there’s not a big deal about playing a spring game.’ It is a big deal. They give you another measuring stick when you’re evaluating the individuals that haven’t played a lot of football and then those guys that are looking to take that next step for you into championship-level football. I think there’s a lot of those instances out there today.”

Book echoed Kelly’s sentiment, commenting on how he plans to improve his game based on Saturday’s performance.

“I’m happy with the spring and with the game today,” Book said. “But, you can go watch film and there’s gonna be a play that I want back and we’ll talk about. Yeah, there’s already a play that I can think about. So, there’s no perfect day. So we’ll get in the film room and we’ll know exactly what I want to get better at.”

Book said that his ultimate goal in this game was to prove himself to his teammates after all the work they’ve put in following the season’s end.

“Just pushing the tempo, leading the guys, and just showing those guys that they can lean on me when we put it into a game situation after practicing so long,” Book said. ”The message [to the team] is we know that we can get there. So [last year] obviously wasn’t enough. We want to get there now; we want to win it this time. … The guys that have been here know what it takes, and the new guys, we’re just preaching that to them every day. What it took to get there obviously wasn’t enough. We just gotta do that much more, do the little things right, and we’ll get there and win it this time.

In the end though, Book was glad to be out there in front of the Irish fans with his teammates.

“It feels like Spring practice is really long and it feels good, even though we’re playing ourselves, to just put it all together in a game situation and really simulate what it’s like here on Saturdays,” Book said. “So, I’m just proud of the guys [and] glad it worked out the way it did. Nobody came out with any injuries. I think the whole offense in general was just having a lot of fun, a lot of smiles on everyone’s faces. That’s what we wanted to do today.”

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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