Notre Dame will play its annual Blue-Gold Game today, giving Fighting Irish fans their first chance to see the 2021 version of the football team. Notre Dame must replace a lot on offense, and that side of the ball has the most question marks as we look ahead to the 2021 season.
Below are the five things I’m looking for on offense today and our Notre Dame spring preview podcast.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR - NOTRE DAME OFFENSE
1. Scheme/Philosophy Changes
Notre Dame isn’t going to look like a completely revolutionized offense, but I am curious to see if we’ll see the philosophical and scheme changes that I’ve been advocating for the entire offseason.
Will we see a more aggressive offense? Will we see an offense that is more effective getting players in space? Will we see a more diverse use of personnel? Will we see more RPOs? Will we see Will we see a faster tempo offensively? Will the offense have more of Tommy Rees’ DNA on it?
The more yeses we see to those questions the more excited I will be about the Notre Dame offense heading into 2021.
2. What Offensive Linemen Step Up?
There are two major question marks along the offensive line, and the first involves how specific players perform. Notre Dame’s offensive line has been a problem all spring, something I’ve seen in the limited practice clips and also something I’ve been told by multiple sources. It’s expected to a degree when you consider what was lost, but now we need to see specific players start to emerge and step up.
Is Zeke Correll ready to lock down the center job? Will veterans like Andrew Kristofic, Quinn Carroll and Dillan Gibbons be able to finish the spring off with a bang, or are they destined for backup duty? Will the freshmen - Blake Fisher and Rocco Spindler - impress?
Notre Dame needs Correll to emerge, at least one of the freshmen to standout and the veterans have to finish the spring on a strong note.
3. Offensive Line Style Of Play
The second major question mark about the offensive line is how will it play from a style standpoint. Notre Dame’s line was dominant in 2020, playing a physical, punishing style of football. That was not the case in 2018 and 2019, which were years without Chris Watt working as the GA. Some don’t want to accept this reality, but Watt was not your typical graduate assistant, just like Tommy Rees wasn’t your typical graduate assistant in 2017.
So the question must be asked, was the 2020 emergence and shift in style of play more about Watt, who is a Harry Hiestand disciple, or was it Jeff Quinn finally finding his groove?
I want to see the offensive line be physical today. I can live with the line not necessarily playing well, and I don’t expect the line to be more advanced than the defense right now. But there is no excuse not to be physical, to fire off the line and to play with attitude. If the line shows that I’ll be confident that the unit will eventually get caught up to speed as it looks to replace four starters from last season. If it doesn’t, if it plays passive, I’ll be concerned that we are going to see the line reverting back to its 2018 and 2019 form.
4. Playmakers Making Plays
I’ve contended all offseason that Notre Dame has a lot more offensive talent than most think. The playmakers were held back in 2020 for a variety of reasons. For some it was injury related, for some it was inexperience, for others it was not fitting the scheme. We know that Kyren Williams and Michael Mayer are standouts, but will the other talented skill players step up?
Are we going to see Chris Tyree more involved in the game plan? Will Avery Davis become more productive and be more of a focal point? Is the playmaking we’ve seen from Lawrence Keys III in the highlights going to translate? Can Braden Lenzy stay healthy? Will Jordan Johnson and Xavier Watts get their shot, and if they do will they take advantage? What will Lorenzo Styles Jr. look like?
The weapons are there, but now they need to be put in position to thrive, and if they are put in position they need to make plays.
5. Quarterback Battle
I’m not overly concerned about the quarterback position. I’m quite confident in both Jack Coan and Drew Pyne, and Tyler Buchner is a five-star talent. That confidence is based on talent, but Saturday gives us a chance to see the quarterbacks on an extensive basis, and I’m curious to see how they look.
I don’t care much about result of a spring game, and history has shown it has no bearing on fall success, but I’ll still be looking to see how the ball comes out with Coan and Pyne, to see if Coan and Pyne are willing to be aggressive attacking down the field, if Buchner can be a playmaker and how each handles running the offense.
BLUE-GOLD PREVIEW - OFFENSE
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