Author: Keith Arnold

Malik Zaire

Talking through the Blue-Gold game


With the Blue-Gold game set for Saturday afternoon on NBCSN, spring practice comes to an end with a rare opportunity to see Notre Dame faceoff against itself in a live scrimmage.

As Everett Golson and Malik Zaire go live against Brian VanGorder’s defense, we’ll get to see what 15 practices working with Mike Sanford looks like, as the offensive triumvirate of Sanford, Mike Denbrock and Brian Kelly figures itself out.

There’s so much to talk about as spring comes to a close. So I tracked down JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago and we talked a little spring game.

KA: What was your initial reaction to QBs being live? I’m trying to think back to the last time that’s happened. Ever?

JJ: I can’t remember QBs being live in a spring game, though my knowledge is limited to my time at Mizzou and the last four years with ND. They’ve been having Golson/Zaire be live during scrimmages this spring, and since this is a glorified scrimmage, it makes sense.

KA: Still, it’s a looong way removed from the hope-and-pray, don’t get within 10 feet of a red-jersey’d Dayne Crist. To that point — going live, and being televised. How vanilla do you expect the offense to be?

JJ: They usually go vanilla in these — no need to showcase anything Texas could pick up on. That being said, definitely watching for Golson’s ball security when he does take off and Zaire’s accuracy. Mike Sanford said earlier this week he’s worked with Zaire on tightening up his base when throwing, which should make him more accurate.

KA: After seeing Zaire out-play Golson last year in the spring game, what’s realistic to expect out of this game? Do you think their performance will weigh heavily on ultimately determining who the starter is versus Texas?

JJ: It’s just one practice, so no, I don’t think it’ll carry extra weight. Kelly made mention of it today — Golson hasn’t had a good spring game since he’s been here, while Zaire has had two good ones. Obviously, that hasn’t really changed either player’s standing.

KA: I also think this will be the first time where you can actually go apples to apples with Zaire and Golson. To be fair to Everett, he was facing blitzes and defensive schemes last year. Zaire’s big numbers came when he likely would’ve been sacked (on one throw) and against a really vanilla defense.

Moving away from QB — any position groups or battles interest you? I’ll throw one at you: The pass rushing DE spot, with a group led by Romeo Okwara and Andrew Trumbetti.

JJ: I’m interested to see just how much blitzing BVG’s group does given it’s just the spring game. But on the pass rush — it’s going to be a collective effort, and there isn’t going to be a Stephon Tuitt type racking up sack after sack. Okwara’s a great answer to the trivia question: Who led Notre Dame in sacks last year?

Easy to forget he led the team with 4. How about the safeties? What are you looking for from Redfield and Shumate?

KA: And it’s the lowest grand total for a sack leader since Ethan Johnson in the long-hoped forgotten Tenuta years. As for the safety duo, I’d just like to see some general competence. I’m being honest with what we’re going to see — I just don’t think it’s going to be anything close to what we’ll (hopefully) see in the fall, and I don’t know why Redfield or Shumate should get more than a cameo. You absolutely don’t want those two getting hurt, as they’re plan A, B and C at the position.

JJ: Yep. They’ve been the subjects of awfully high praise from Brian Kelly & Brian VanGorder this spring. We’ll get an extended look on Saturday to see how worthy of it they are.
KA: What do you make of that praise? Is it closer to “Kona Schwenke has pulled even with Louis Nix this spring” or is it legit — a la Joe Schmidt last spring?

JJ: I’d wager it’s somewhere in the middle. On one hand, BK & Co. don’t want to risk ruining their confidence by publicly challenging them (like he has with Justin Brent), but on the other hand…Redfield was a five-star recruit and Shumate a four-star. They’re talented players who, if they can ever figure out the communication aspect of the position, can be a strong duo. And according to the coaches, they’re figuring out that communication.

KA: I think they’re both going to be very good players. I just think the light comes on a little later for safeties, and luckily for this duo that they haven’t been pushed by any young talent, as it’s literally not on campus yet.

What do you expect to see out of C.J. Prosise this Saturday? A dark horse RB candidate continue to emerge?

JJ: He’s the guy I’m most interested in watching. He ripped off a 75-yard run during the scrimmage we watched last Saturday and Mike Denbrock said Monday he’s “as good a player as we’ve got on the offensive football team right now.” I’m not sure he’s quite up to the Theo Riddick comparisons, because Riddick was as tough a runner as you’ll find, but he could be a sneaky good weapon that’s awfully tough to cover this fall.

After all, Prosise did lead Notre Dame in explosive plays last year. (More trivia!)

KA: ND’s leading rusher (YPC) and receiver (YPC)!

I tend to think he’s going to be a lot more explosive than Theo, who basically just got Reggie Bush tossed from Detroit — take that Bush Push! But think about what Prosise’s numbers would’ve been if he hadn’t dropped that 60-yard TD against Rice early in the game?
Is Prosise the Percy Harvin this offense — or ND fans — have been coveting from this offense? If I’m patting myself on the back for my Will Fuller is going to explode call (had him going for 1,000 yards) then Prosise is my guy this year, though I feel like I’m not alone.

JJ: I don’t think we can crown him Percy Harvin — the former No. 1 recruit in the country — but he’s a guy who has really good vision and quickness with the ball in his hands. Should Notre Dame have thrown to him three times with the game on the line at FSU? Prooooobably not. But he’s a guy who can really be a factor between the 20’s.

KA: Good point. I had forgotten that happened.

So let’s stay on Red Zone to wrap this up.

If we’re being honest with ourselves — or are reading between the lines, especially from Mike Denbrock’s comments this spring — I feel like we can kind of guess how this offense is coming together. Golson will be the guy asked to carry the passing game. Zaire will be the guy asked to punch it in or keep the running/power game moving, with the option to hit the home run throw over the top. Are you on the same page?

JJ: If both quarterbacks are still here on Sept. 5, yeah. So in this scenario, Golson is the starter and Zaire subs in for goal line spots where he can read-option opposing defenses to death.

JJ: I do wonder if going with Golson carries more risk than Zaire, though. There’s gotta be the allure of “if we can cut his TOs in half, we have a Heisman candidate” with Golson, but with Zaire, you operate a run-based offense that doesn’t turn the ball over much but maybe isn’t as dynamic as one led by Golson. It’s not an easy call.

KA: Doesn’t that depend on what type of defense ND is going to field?

JJ: Absolutely.

KA: For all the credit Zaire got for the LSU win — and he deserved it — it was Golson on the field driving the Irish for the win at the end and the D on the field turning Leonard Fournette into Techmo Bowl Bo Jackson

JJ: Yep. Going conservative on offense would put a lot of pressure on a defense that was awfully flawed last year. The defense will be better with so many guys returning and better depth, but how much better?

KA: I think the D is going to be closer to the first-half unit than the second-half one, though. Personnel is just too talented.

KA: The best I saw this defense play was the first half of the Florida State game. Bottle that up and figure out how to get that on the field for 12 regular season games and it’s a great unit (plus, adding KeiVarae Russell will be a nice luxury).

KA: Okay, some quick ones about Saturday:

Offensive MVP?

JJ: Tarean Folston.

KA: I’m going with Everett Golson.

Defensive MVP?

JJ: Is it a cop-out if I say Jaylon Smith?

KA: If you think he’s playing for more than one series, no cop-out.

JJ: valid point.

KA: I’m at the same position — but going with Greer Martini.

JJ: I’ll go with Isaac Rochell then.

KA: Victor: Offense or Defense?

JJ: /flips coin…


(The spring game is brought to you by Whose Line Is It Anyway, where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.)

KA: I agree — Offense it is, based mostly on the strength of the 2nd string OL, who dominate the second half.

We’ll close with this: Spring football is over, and it was one of the most highly anticipated since the 4-way QB battle leading up to the 2012 season. Did it live up to your expectations?

JJ: My expectation was that there wouldn’t be much clarity on the QB situation emanating from the Gug by Saturday…so yeah, it lived up to that. If I had to bet, Golson starts Sept. 5 against Texas, but get back to me in August on that one.

KA: Feeling the same way. But credit Mike Brey for helping BK keep the QBs off the national radar.

JJ: Who would’ve thought basketball could ever take precedence over football at Notre Dame, even if only for a week or two?

KA: It sure was fun. They managed to get me to watch college basketball. The surprise of the spring.

With roster still in flux, Kelly plans on being at 85 by Texas

Rice v Notre Dame

For the first time in over a decade, Notre Dame has a roster crunch.

As Notre Dame’s fifth-year candidates submit their applications to the university, Brian Kelly plans on moving forward and using every minute he has to figure out his roster.

“You have to be at 85 when you kick off,” Kelly said of his maximum-capacity roster. “We’ll be at 85 when we kick off.”

That’s a far cry from the team’s of recent memory, when coaching transitions, recruiting washouts and roster holes left many Notre Dame football teams involuntarily working with far less than a full allotment of 85 scholarship players. (By rough count, Notre Dame’s 2007 squad—where Tyrone Willingham’s recruiting woes had officially caught up to Charlie Weis—had just 74 scholarship players.)

But after seasons of coming close, it appears that the Irish will have a full 85-man roster come the Texas game. And how they get there remains to be seen.

Kelly confirmed that all seven fifth-year players—Nick Martin, Joe Schmidt, Amir Carlisle, Chase Hounshell, Jarrett Grace, Everett Golson and Matthias Farley—have submitted their paperwork to return. Who ends up back with the Irish in 2015? We’re not quite there yet.

“They’ve all turned them in. They were due last Friday and they were all turned in. We should have an answer on whether they’ve been granted a fifth year,” Kelly said.

There are givens: Martin, Schmidt, Farley and Carlisle all are in the staff’s plans for 2015. It appears that Grace is as well, a miraculous return from injury all but complete. Add to that graduate transfer Avery Sebastian, the Cal safety has signed a letter-of-intent and will play out his eligibility at Notre Dame.

Golson, the team’s most important fifth-year player, looks to be returning as well, though Kelly acknowledged that he isn’t 100 percent certain what the quarterback will be doing until he’s enrolled in summer school. Even Hounshell, working as a reserve tight end after spending four seasons as a defensive lineman, is doing his best to earn a spot as a blocker.

As Kelly discussed the situation, it didn’t sound like a man facing difficult decisions. And after poking around with some contacts in the program, it’s certainly on the radar, though hardly the concern that it is amongst the hard-core fanbase.

That’s because Notre Dame’s head coach is well in control of his roster. And he has been doing his job long enough to understand that every year, unplanned attrition hits.

Tim O’Malley of Irish Illustrated did the digging, but in every season since 1980, the Irish have had a football player transfer out of the program. (A media guide change made any additional searching too difficult to continue.) So while we’re not sure who it could be, 35-plus years of data points to Kelly and the Irish being just fine.

Speculating on transfers isn’t easy. Nor is it habit to put into print baseless speculation. But potential transfers could include younger players buried on the depth chart. Or veterans in a similar situation. It’s not hard to see who those players are, and it’s likely they’re the ones doing their due diligence this spring, ready to make a move when classes end.

We already know that KeiVarae Russell is set to return this June. Ishaq Williams‘ return isn’t as clear, though Kelly said he’ll have a conversation with Williams after spring practice ends as he looks for clarity inside the program and Williams needs to be readmitted to the university. In all likelihood, Williams is on the bubble.

One thing may be changing inside Notre Dame’s program. After keeping certain malcontents on the roster and allowing them to stay through graduation, there’s reason to suspect that the tightened numbers have Kelly and his staff reconsidering that policy.

While we’ve seen the ugly side of oversigning—just look at what’s going on at Ohio State as Urban Meyer tries to shed scholarships before next season and what’s gone on in the SEC the past decade. But as Kelly gets his roster capable of competing with the elite in college football, he takes an NFL approach to the process.

“It’s a salary cap. You’ve got to get to your salary cap,” Kelly said. “We’ll get to 85.”

Blue-Gold Game: Rules and Format for 86th annual spring game

Louis Nix, Steve Elmer

Notre Dame released the official rules and format for the 86th annual Blue-Gold game. As the LaBar Practice Fields transform to house an intimate live viewing audience, an elite group of recruits and a NBCSN television production, let’s get the basics down as we begin to dig deeper into the spring finale.



* First half will be two 12-minute quarters with normal clock stoppages.
* Second half will have two 15-minute quarters with running time.
* No play clock.
* Clock stoppages for injuries and timeouts. (Each team will get three time outs.)

Kelly estimated that last year the Irish ran roughly 30-plus plays while the second half averaged 19 plays per quarter. So look for something similar on Saturday.



The offensive players will wear blue while defense will wear white. That includes quarterbacks Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, who last year wore red with the rest of the quarterback depth chart.

(It will not include defensive tackles Jarron Jones and Sheldon Day, who hoped to get action in the “Irish Chocolate goal line package.” Kelly killed those dreams this morning.)



* Each possession begins on the 35-yard line.
* No kickoffs.
* All punts will be fair caught. (There’s a John Goodman joke here somewhere.)
* No overtime.




Touchdown: 6 points
Extra Point: 1 point
2-point Conversion: 2 points
Field Goal: 3 points
Big Chunk Pass (25+ yards): 2 points
Big Chunk Run (20+ yards): 2 points



Touchdown: 6 points
Turnover Forced Before 50-yard line: 4 points
Turnover Forced After 50-yard line: 2 points
Defensive Stop Before 50-yard line: 2 points
Defensive Stop After 50-yard line: 1 points
Safety: 2 points
Sack: 1 point