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Monday’s Leftovers and Links: Notre Dame lands a punter; adds (another) late kickoff

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Notre Dame has its punter for 2018 in fifth-year captain Tyler Newsome. The Irish now also have their punter for the following four years with the Wednesday commitment from Jay Bramblett (Tuscaloosa Hillcrest High School; Tuscaloosa, Ala.). Bramblett became the 11th commitment in Notre Dame’s class of 2019 with an announcement on Twitter.

Recruiting punters can be tricky. The Irish coaching staff rarely wants to devote more than one scholarship to the position at a time, so a new punter is sought only every four or five years. This just happens to be that spot in the cycle.

Bramblett receives quite strong praise from Chris Sailer of Chris Sailer Kicking, the preeminent specialists training group in the country.

“Jay is a big-time high school punting prospect,” Sailer said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “A great looking athlete with an explosive leg. He has an ideal frame for a D1 college punter. Jay punts for outstanding distance and big hang time.”

5 p.m. PT … meaning a very early return to Notre Dame
CBS announced the Notre Dame vs. Navy game in San Diego on Oct. 27 will kick off at 8 p.m. ET and be broadcast on CBS. That sounds great: On national broadcast television at evening local time, the sun will set as the game ends.

And the Irish will not get home until 5 or 6 a.m. ET. Figuring the game ends shortly before midnight ET, Notre Dame will be in the air no earlier than 1 a.m. and the direct flight takes at least four hours. By the time the Irish make the 20-minute drive to campus from the South Bend International Airport, it will be pushing 5:30 a.m. ET in a best-case scenario.

The CBS decision guarantees Notre Dame has a minimum of four primetime games this season, with 7:30 p.m. ET kicks set for the three home games against Michigan (Sept. 1), Stanford (Sept. 29) and Florida State (Nov. 10). It is overwhelmingly likely at least one of the trips to Virginia Tech (Oct. 6) and USC (Nov. 24) adds another late kickoff, if not both.

Kelly remains vague re: running backs
The South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen spoke with Irish head coach Brian Kelly on Monday before a round of golf at the Kelly Cares Foundation Golf Invitational in southwestern Michigan. In discussing rumors regarding the eligibility of senior Dexter Williams, junior Deon McIntosh and sophomore C.J. Holmes, Kelly did not offer much clarity.

Summary: Williams may or may not miss much of September. McIntosh and Holmes remain off the team, but the figurative door might be open a crack, although it is not open wide enough for both to get through it.

On the need for a balanced roster
In a mailbag last week, The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel pondered why USC has been blown out consistently against top-flight opponents during head coach Clay Helton’s two years at the helm, including last season’s 49-14 loss to Notre Dame.

Irish fans could quickly ask a similar question of Kelly’s last few seasons. In a logical manner, Notre Dame’s shortcoming may be the exact inverse of what Mandel diagnoses as the Trojans’ issue.

“USC is not lacking for skill-position talent, but against those elite intersectional opponents, it’s often been exposed on the line of scrimmage,” Mandel wrote. “… USC, a program we generally think of as teeming with NFL talent, has produced 10 first- or second-round draft picks since 2013. Of those, six were offensive players. Another was all-purpose weapon Adoree’ Jackson. The only guy on the list who played on either line of scrimmage was star DT Leonard Williams.”

In that same time span, a dozen Irish players have been drafted in the first two rounds. Five of those were offensive linemen and two more were tight ends. Only one was a defensive lineman (Stephon Tuitt, 2014). The list also includes two generational linebackers (Jaylon Smith, 2016; Manti Te’o, 2013), but it lacks any other defensive presence.

While the Trojans manage to trot out the speedy receivers, a couple linebackers and the likes of Jackson, they don’t find success in recruiting and/or developing offensive linemen. Notre Dame, meanwhile, can only count Will Fuller as that type of a high-end receiver and struggles to come across impact defensive linemen. Those types of holes keep both programs from finishing the season in the top-five more than once apiece in the decade.

INSIDE THE IRISH READING
The Heisman odds of Brandon Wimbush & Notre Dame’s opponents
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle
No. 73 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, starting right tackle
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain
No. 70 John Dirksen, incoming freshman, offensive lineman

OUTSIDE READING
Kirk Cousins likes throwing the ball to Kyle Rudolph
How West Virginia is preparing its stars for the biggest year of their lives
While waiting for football, how about a little hockey?
A father-son rivalry disguised by a never-ending trip across the country

A competition in name only: Notre Dame’s ‘1A and 1B’ QBs, Wimbush and Book

Associated Press
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Ian Book understands the realities of football. Even though Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly described the sophomore as “1B” in the starting quarterback competition, a complimentary version of calling him the backup, Book knows the 1B passer will not see the field regularly. Only the 1A, senior Brandon Wimbush, will.

“It’s just the nature of the game,” he said after last weekend’s Blue-Gold Game. “Only one quarterback can play, which we both know. We both came here to be the starting quarterback, so time will tell.

“No matter what happens, this competition is making us both better. It’s really been fun, just competing and pushing each other.”

The scrimmage concluding spring practice seemed to end the quarterback competition in reality, though Kelly will continue to describe it as a competition moving forward partly out of habit, minimally out of strategy and mostly to keep both quarterbacks motivated. Wimbush finished the exhibition with 341 yards and two touchdowns on 19-of-33 passing while Book threw for 292 yards and one touchdown on 17-of-30 passing. The two stat lines may not seem too dissimilar, but it should be remembered Wimbush was working against more of the starting defense than Book was.

Book’s stock may have been at its peak following the dramatic Citrus Bowl victory over No. 17 LSU, a comeback win which Book led.

“After the bowl game, it was a great way to get some momentum,” he said. “But still a lot of work to do and I think we, as an offense, feel pretty good.”

The one strong half against the Tigers did not prove Book to be the best quarterback on Notre Dame’s roster. It did prove, without a doubt — or an asterisk acknowledging how many injured players North Carolina had when Book started there in October — the Irish can win with Book taking the snaps. Kelly said as much the sentence before he described Book as 1B.

“We know Ian Book can win for us.”

Wimbush also won for Notre Dame last season, starting 12 games and managing eight wins outright. The Irish were still competitive with him against LSU, too, before Book took over a stagnant-to-that-point offense.

Whether or not he surpasses Wimbush this summer or preseason, Book knows what he needs to do to make that a conversation. He will never match Wimbush’s overall athleticism or raw arm strength. Book can, however, improve his understandings of collegiate defenses and steadiness in attacking them.

“Really focused on being able to identify coverages from defenses and just dive to that next step of taking film work to the next level,” he said. “… My focus is just being consistent. No ups and downs. Just being consistent and really being able to read the defense, making things as easy as I can on myself.”

Senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

Meanwhile, Wimbush will be working on …
Yes, his accuracy and mechanics, but the returning starter has another facet to embrace. Kelly was pleased with Wimbush’s spring performance, especially the finale, but the completion percentage and coverage progressions were only a piece of what Kelly kept an eye on.

“I was much more interested in how [Wimbush] was going to handle pregame, how he’s been handling the game situations and getting his intensity up a little bit,” Kelly said. “He’s about as cool and calm as anybody.

“He needs that heartbeat to race a little bit more, and today he got it up a little bit. I thought it helped him in the way he plays. His intensity management was really good today and that was big for me.”

That may be Kelly’s want, but it is not necessarily Wimbush’s usual.

“I’m not that guy,” he said. “I can’t. I’m not going to fake it when I’m out there.

“… They want me to be like that, be more vocal, and I have been, but it’s nothing that everybody is going to see me and my face turning red, spitting out of my mouth. When I’m up there, I’m motivating the guys, motivating the receivers. Whether it’s in the huddle or lined up, I’ve worked on that.”

To interview Wimbush is to receive thought-out responses. When he describes the work he did with the trainers at 3DQB during spring break as “damn expensive,” it warrants a raised eyebrow only because he is not the Notre Dame player one might expect to publicly slip in a four-letter word, even one as PG as the one used. The idea of him approaching a huddle riding high on emotion and shouting above a crowd out of passion rather than function is a tough concept to fathom. That is not a criticism, simply an observation.

In a way, that calm demeanor may have an occasional benefit.

“I try my best to lead by example, and when the time permits, I do open my mouth and let my voice be heard,” he said. “I think the guys really listen when it is, because I don’t talk too much. I do need to start speaking more and getting on the guys more. I think they understand when I do.”

That is where the Irish quarterbacks are. Where will they be?
Incoming freshman Phil Jurkovec will join the quarterback competition this summer. For at least a week or two, Kelly will likely deem him some equivalent of “1C.” Whether that moniker is accurate, an understatement or an overstatement will depend on Jurkovec’s very first impressions in a college environment.

If Jurkovec is not in line to play in 2018, he will not even be the third quarterback on a non-existent three-deep depth chart. Notre Dame will still rely on sophomore Avery Davis for those emergency situations, even as Davis tries his hand at running back and receiver.

“He doesn’t want to give up his ability to play quarterback down the road,” Kelly said of Davis amidst his position switch.

Blue-Gold Game Leftovers: Notre Dame’s offensive ceiling is tantalizing, though also unlikely

Associated Press
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Immediately following the 2017 spring game, I walked by two much smarter, savvier and more veteran Notre Dame reporters on our way to post-game interviews. Our two minutes of exchange included them riffing on various hypothetical position changes that were eventually not seen come fall, including how much better of a guard than a tackle Tommy Kraemer could be. It should be noted, the junior began lining up at guard this spring.

My contribution to the conversation hinged entirely on repeating, “That offense just isn’t ready. It’s not close to ready.”

Of course, that assessment figured the spring game struggles were against a porous Irish defense, something freshly-arrived and since-departed defensive coordinator Mike Elko had already taken tangible steps toward fixing, far quicker than expected.

That evaluation also failed to recognize the potential of a running attack led by Josh Adams. Notre Dame knew it had a stalwart running back, and did not need to see more than eight carries for 39 yards and a touchdown from the lead back.

The point stood, though. The offense was not ready then or in November.

Driving away from this past Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game, the thought bouncing around my pickup’s two-seat cab was simple: This offense is unlikely to reach its ceiling, but if it did, it would be really, absurdly high-powered.

This time, that assessment offers some deference to first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s ability to turn nine returning starters into another strong defense, perhaps superior to last year’s.

The praise of the offense must be hedged thanks to IF after IF after IF after IF. If senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush displays those mechanics and that accuracy against opposing defenses …
If senior running back Dexter Williams (pictured above) decides it is worthwhile to play, and play well, through pain …
If junior receiver Chase Claypool maintains the necessary emotional equilibrium …
If senior tight end Alizé Mack offers a consistent performance, even if not stellar, but stable …

In those four upperclassmen alone, the Irish have unique talents whom opposing defensive coordinators should lose sleep thinking about. They will determine how high this offense’s ceiling is, while the likes of senior receiver Miles Boykin, junior running back Tony Jones and sophomore tight end Cole Kmet will set the floor, along with what looks to be yet another overpowering offensive line (with Kraemer at right guard).

Obviously, the most-promising players always set the height of a vaulted the ceiling. As they perform against Michigan, Stanford and Virginia Tech will determine how the season ends. However, to pinpoint four like this is an extreme end of the spectrum.

Exiting last year’s Blue-Gold Game, it was clear Wimbush needed to learn much more of offensive coordinator Chip Long’s scheme. Aside from that, the only possible ways to increase the offense’s potency was to teach receiver Kevin Stepherson self-discipline and figure out why Mack could not make a gameday impact. The rest was essentially known, even if the running game’s potential was overlooked after the spring exhibition.

Entering this summer, the gap between the offense’s floor and its ceiling is a vast one. To have four question marks of this magnitude speaks to the possible volatility awaiting in the fall. Logically speaking, it is most likely two of the four above IFs become realities. In that case, it will be a good offense, but not the utterly threatening one conceivable. The odds are slim all four come to fruition, but crazier things have happened, especially when discussing the rapid development of 18- to 21-year-olds.

Without Adams following two All-American offensive linemen, this rendition of the Notre Dame offense may take a step backward, but the talent is there for it to actually improve, to carry the day if/when an experienced quarterback picks apart the defense (see: the Seminoles’ Deondre Francois).

That could not be said in 2017.

OTHER QUICK TAKEAWAYS FROM THE BLUE-GOLD GAME:
Much of this will be discussed in greater length in the coming two weeks, but …
— The interior of the offensive line — fifth-year left guard Alex Bars, fifth-year center Sam Mustipher and Kraemer at right guard — is quite a physically-imposing trio. Some defensive ends may find success against first-year starter and junior left tackle Liam Eichenberg, especially early in the season, but the inside trio should at least create massive holes for the Irish running game.

— Ideally Long can deploy Mack and Kmet together, but the spring performance of the latter certainly eases the concerns about the maturation and consistency of the former.

Notre Dame may need an unexpected influx of production from senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery if the fifth-year tackle he is intended to line up alongside, Jonathan Bonner, does not recover fully from a wrist injury suffered in the beginning of 2017. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

— Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly insists fifth-year defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner’s fitness will not be overly-effected by the wrist injury that kept him out of most of spring practice and all of the Blue-Gold Game.

“He’s been doing everything (in weight-lifting) but at lighter weight, and now he’s only a couple of weeks away from being full-go,” Kelly said Saturday. “He was already physically really gifted, so we don’t think that’s going to be a big curve for him, and he’ll be able to start training aggressively when we get back here in June.”

Consider this scribe skeptical. Not only is Kelly often overly-optimistic about injury effects and timetables, but to think missing six months of strength and conditioning will not be noticeable along the defensive interior is idealistic at best. Bonner’s 2017 emergence was a direct result of the arrival of strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis.

Without more of that work, the Irish will need to turn to sophomore Kurt Hinish for an increase in snaps, perhaps pushing toward 50 per game with Bonner offering 20-30 and senior Micah Dew-Treadway filling in the balance. Hinish appears to be up to the task, which is necessary, because classmate Darnell Ewell is not.

Things We Learned: Wimbush’s and Claypool’s proven potential raises Notre Dame’s ceiling

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It may have just been an intrasquad scrimmage in April, but the Blue-Gold Game included the most-consistent performance seen by the public in rising-senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s career at Notre Dame. Looking through 2017’s game-by-game stats, no other showing comes very close to Saturday’s 19-of-33 passing for 341 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

His 57.6 percent completion rate was outdone only once, when he completed 70 percent of his passes, 14-of-20, for 173 yards and one touchdown at Michigan State. This weekend’s accuracy could have ended up a few points higher, too, if Wimbush had been allowed to scramble on broken plays, rather than try to force a pass into tight coverage.

Yes, it may have just been the conclusion to spring practices, but Wimbush proved he physically can put together an accurate day with more than his coaches and teammates watching.

“Obviously, I wasn’t too accurate last year,” Wimbush said. “I missed some balls that should have been completed. It’s the fundamentals and my footwork, emphasizing urgency with my footwork that will help me.”

The minutiae of fundamentals and footwork manifest themselves by throwing behind receivers on drag routes, making Equanimeous St. Brown reach behind himself to pull in a five-yard throw intended to turn into 10 or 15 yards. They result in hitting Alizé Mack’s shoes in the flat against Miami (OH) on a first-and-10 in the red zone. The simple change in arm angle turns simple pick-ups into lost downs and torpedoes any hopes of a tolerable completion percentage and efficient drives down the field.

Throughout the latter half of 2017, Irish head coach Brian Kelly acknowledged those mechanical mistakes, but put off rectifying them until the offseason, lest a week’s game planning be lost to rushed returns to basics. With an offseason working on those building blocks, Wimbush showed Saturday he can make those throws, finding Mack, Cole Kmet, Chris Finke and even Jafar Armstrong either crossing just past the line of scrimmage or in the flat. His completion percentage reflected it, and the offense moved down the field.

“Consistency in his mechanics was probably the biggest thing,” Kelly said. “His (arm) drop put him in a lot of compromising situations in terms of throwing the football, and so I think that was cleaned up. Started with his attention to those things, and being very coachable.

“Then repetition, doing it consistently, play in and play out. We’re not there yet, but we made a huge jump forward.”

Ian Book finished the Blue-Gold Game 17-of-30 for 292 yards and a touchdown, trailing Brandon Wimbush in all categories and likely solidifying the quarterback competition in Wimbush’s favor. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

This may all read as if through rose-colored lenses — and it needs to be again acknowledged this was in front of a generously-announced crowd of 31,729, far from the Stadium’s capacity of 80,795 — but the numbers are unprecedented in Wimbush’s tenure. He gained 10.33 yards per attempt. The closest he managed last season was 9.33 yards per attempt against Wake Forest, when he completed only 50 percent of his passes. Even last year’s Blue-Gold Game saw only 9.47 yards per Wimbush passing attempt, although it did include a 68.75 percent completion rate.

Then things changed in the season. Wimbush’s muscle memory vanished. He had it once. He may have it again.

“It was [committed to muscle memory] coming out of high school and going through a couple years of college,” Wimbush said. “Then, sometimes you just lose sight of what got you to where you are, and I think that happened to me last year. I went back to the details and the fundamentals and got it right.”

None of this means a thing if Wimbush returns to aiming at Mack’s shins against Michigan on Sept. 1, but it is now clear he should be able to avoid that habit. Another four months of this trend-line, and perhaps some of this spring Saturday’s stats could become figures seen on a fall weekend.

Of course, Wimbush had help. Two of his passes went to rising-junior receiver Chase Claypool for 25 yards, part of Claypool’s six total receptions for 151 yards and two touchdowns.

For a rising-senior with only 12 catches for 253 yards last season, Miles Boykin is rather established as Notre Dame’s top receiving option. One could be forgiven for assuming Claypool would have had those honors after catching 29 passes for 402 yards last season. Instead, he spent much of the spring working with the second set of Irish receivers, while Boykin, rising-sophomore Michael Young and rising-senior Chris Finke took the starting reps.

That did not sit well with Claypool.

“I was starting with the 2s there, and I kind of wanted to show that’s not my position,” he said. “… I think my potential is limitless. I like to think of it that way, that I’ll never peak.”

If Claypool’s potential has a limitation, it is due to his emotions, something Kelly has spent the spring harping on. When Claypool makes a first-down grab, his focus should be on the rest of the drive, not celebrating moving the chains. Likewise, after a dropped pass, he needs to ready himself for the next down, not dwell on the missed opportunity.

“He wasn’t one of our cool, calm and collected guys last year, but he’s really worked hard on that and the way he’s practiced has allowed him to be much more focused,” Kelly said. “… Since he’s found where that optimal zone is for him to be when he plays, he’s been so much more consistent.

“If he continues to trend this way, we’ve got another big, rangy, physical wide receiver that we can put on the field.”

Remove Claypool’s afternoon against Wake Forest to start November, in which he caught nine passes for 180 yards and a touchdown, and the then-sophomore never topped 60 yards or four receptions last season. As physically gifted as he very clearly is, inconsistent was just as apt an adjective when discussing the Canadian product.

Finding that “optimal zone” against the Wolverines will be a challenge, but it is one Claypool knows is ahead of him.

“I think I can do that every time,” he said. “I told [rising-junior quarterback Ian] Book and Wimbush, the only way they’ll stop me — with all confidence, I don’t want to be cocky — is if they [pass interfere with] me. … It kind of showed I can make plays, but I have to still keep working until I can give myself the opportunity.”

How many times can “Aloha, Alohi” be used before it gets old? Oh wait, it already is? Fine. So be it. Anyway, welcome Alohi Gilman as a starting safety.

The rising-junior transfer from Navy totaled only six tackles and did not break up any passes, but he also did not appear to blow any coverages or outright miss any tackles. (He can thank rising-junior cornerback Troy Pride for cleaning up a takedown of Finke which Gilman was on the verge of mishandling.)

Alohi Gilman, left, made a heads-up strip of rising-sophomore receiver Michael Young to further cement Gilman’s status as a starting safety for the Irish defense. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

When Wimbush connected with Young off a play-action fake early on, Gilman made the instinctual play to swat the exposed ball out of Young’s hands and then recovered the fumble. That nose for the ball has been missing among Notre Dame’s safeties in recent years.

“If you look at every time [Gilman is] near the football, there is high contact with him,” Kelly said. “That’s what we’re looking for at that position: High contact, plays the ball well in the air, a very smart football player.

“He’s what we thought he would be. He started a little slow in the spring. I think he’s really picked it up to the point where he’s making things happen back at that safety position.”

Unless incoming freshman Derrik Allen makes an immediate impression or early-enrolled freshman Houston Griffith shows great development over the summer, Gilman and rising-junior Jalen Elliott will likely man the Irish backline against Michigan. It is no coincidence they created a turnover apiece Saturday.

Notre Dame will need that new indoor practice facility when it is finished next summer.

Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game was one of only two practices the Irish held outdoors this spring, out of a possible 15. Such are the joys of a northwestern Indiana winter. The ceilings at the Loftus Sports Complex are too low to genuinely work on the kicking game, and it showed with fifth-year punter Tyler Newsome averaging only 40.5 yards per punt and rising-senior kicker Justin Yoon missing two of five field goals.

The new indoor facility is intended to have higher ceilings, allowing those specialists more offseason work.

Kelly was not concerned in the least by the kicking performances, and considering the veterans at his disposal currently, his calm makes sense. Nonetheless, the new practice facility is needed, even if it is another whole spring away from being completed.

Notre Dame’s 2019 recruiting received another boost with the commitment of rivals.com four-star safety Litchfield Ajavon (Episcopal High School; Alexandria, Va.).

Not much else needs to be said about Ajavon’s recruitment. Until further notice, safety play will remain a concern for the Irish, so pulling in a talent like Ajavon’s is vital. He is the fifth commitment in the Notre Dame class of 2019, following in the Friday footsteps of consensus four-star offensive tackle John Olmstead.

Wimbush’s mechanics, Notre Dame’s receivers shine in Blue-Gold Game

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. — The 64-yard touchdown pass to Miles Boykin in the Blue-Gold Game will be memorable, and with good reason, but Brandon Wimbush’s shorter completions — such as a 12-yard gain to Alizé Mack, a 10-yard reception by Chris Finke and a seven-yarder to Cole Kmet — hint at even more promise for Notre Dame in 2018.

A year ago, the rising-senior quarterback missed those underneath crossing routes, hitting the checkdowns in the shoelaces, if at all. During Saturday’s conclusion to the spring practices, Wimbush finished 19-of-33 for 341 passing yards and two touchdowns, leading the Irish offense to a 47-44 victory over the defense.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and his staff have maintained the party line of an open quarterback competition this spring between Wimbush and rising-junior Ian Book, but Kelly acknowledged the writing is on the wall after this spring.

“It’s pretty clear that Brandon went out and got a chance to go with the first group and Ian played with the second group,” Kelly said. “That’s not etched in stone, but that’s the way they have been trending.

“I don’t think there was anything today that changed that, but we know Ian Book can win for us.”

By no means did Book play poorly in the intrasquad exhibition, but Wimbush’s marked improvement in his accuracy and mechanics essentially ended any competition talk for the summer. Book threw for 292 yards on 17-of-30 passing with one touchdown, an 85-yard touchdown pass to rising-junior receiver Chase Claypool to open Saturday’s scoring in which Claypool dismissed a tackle attempt from rising-senior cornerback Shaun Crawford with nary a concern, in part because Crawfrod’s ball-hawk instincts kicked in and he went for a strip as much as for a tackle.

Claypool led the receivers with six catches for 151 yards and two scores, while rising-senior Miles Boykin added three catches for 132 yards and the aforementioned touchdown.

“We weren’t an explosive passing game last year,” Kelly said. “Miles changes that complexion. He’s very difficult to defend, and if you do, you have to roll a coverage up on him. You’re going to take a safety and borrow a safety. We think that’s going to give us the kind of running game that will be extremely effective, as well.”

PLAY OF THE GAME
Already embedded above, Boykin’s shedding of fifth-year cornerback Nick Watkins to pull in Wimbush’s pass, while maintaining enough balance to get to the end zone, showcases much of what could make Boykin a true all-around threat in 2018. He showed his leaping ability and overall athleticism in the Citrus Bowl dramatics/heroics. He also has the speed to get a step on a quality cornerback like Watkins, giving Wimbush the opening to launch toward.

While praising Wimbush’s short-game Saturday is pertinent and accurate, ignoring his ludicrous arm strength would be a mistake. From his own 27-yard line, Wimbush did not take a step into the throw, basically heaving it from his back foot, and still sent it 56 yards through the air on target to Boykin at the opposite 17-yard line.

RUNNER-UP PLAY OF THE GAME
The folly of an intrasquad scrimmage is every success comes as another teammate’s failure. Boykin’s and Claypool’s touchdowns did not result from blown coverages. In each instance, the cornerback had close coverage, but the receiver simply made an outstanding play.

Rising-senior cornerback Shaun Crawford may have gotten turned around a bit finding Book’s throw, but once Claypool came down with it, he simply broke Crawford’s tackle and headed toward the end zone.

“[Crawford] played, honestly, really good defense,” Claypool said. “He was right there with me. He never gives up on the play, which is what I love to see from the defensive guys. … No other defensive back really offers his hidden ability and his coverage ability with his speed.”

PLAYER OF THE GAME
In the days to come, more time will be spent looking at rising-sophomore Avery Davis’ public debut as a receiver/running back hybrid who happens to spend some time at quarterback. In fact, pondering those possibilities will undoubtedly be a recurring theme of the summer. His performance Saturday guaranteed as much.

Davis took 11 carries for 30 yards with a long rush of 11, adding two catches for 24 yards and completing two passes, on two attempts, for 26 more yards. He may have never found the end zone, but his fingerprints were all over the game, including a five-yard reception in the flat from Wimbush, another example of the starting quarterback properly diagnosing and hitting the easy throw, taking the yards where they are available.

“Avery is kind of a multi-dimensional guy,” Kelly said. “He can do a little bit of everything for us. [Davis and rising-sophomore Jafar Armstrong] give us more versatility than just having the two backs and the freshmen at that position. What we saw from them in the spring kind of showed itself today. Both of them are going to be productive.”

Armstrong, another running back/receiver hybrid, took five carries for 48 yards including a 25-yard touchdown, and had one catch for 21 yards.

Between the two of them, Notre Dame opens up a much larger inventory of possibilities within its playbook, and creates opportunities to rest the backfield mainstays.

STAT OF THE GAME
Rising-junior safety Jalen Elliott recorded an interception in the spring finale for the second April in a row. Between the two interceptions, no Irish safety managed such a takeaway. On top of that, Elliot missed another interception earlier, letting one bounce right off his hands. For that matter, so did Watkins.

In a game with 65 pass attempts, some are going to find defensive backs’ hands. Throughout 2017, the Notre Dame safeties tested that hypothesis, seemingly averse to attacking the ball in the air. By pulling in one interception and breaking up a pass, as well, Elliott offered a glimmer of hope that trend may change. Those two pass breakups would have been nearly half of the five managed by all Irish safeties in 13 games last season.

OVERLOOKED POINT OF THE GAME
Rising-senior running back Dexter Williams is known for his speed. His playmaking ability is why he sees the field despite deficiencies as a pass blocker and receiver. When he breaks away, he is not supposed to be caught.

Unless the defender chasing him from across the field is also a track star, at which point, rising-junior cornerback Troy Pride had little difficulty at all.

QUOTE OF THE GAME
Last spring, Wimbush played well enough, but not much better than that. He threw for 303 yards on 22-of-32 passing, finding the end zone only on foot. Kelly remembered it well.

“Last spring, I told him I went home, I didn’t feel so good about the way you played,” Kelly said. “I think I’m going to go home feeling a whole lot better today.”

UNRLEATED TO THE ACTUAL GAME …
Even a cynic has to acknowledge the genuine happiness displayed by fifth-year left guard Alex Bars about being named the fourth Notre Dame captain early Saturday morning after a team vote Friday.

“I was just elated,” he said. “I was so happy. Highest honor I’ve ever received.”

Bars did not bother to tell his family about being named captain, instead focusing on the exhibition at hand and letting the natures of modern technology inform them in good time.

SCORING SUMMARY
No, let’s not detail how the defense scored 44 exhibition points, even if one of them came from a supposed sack by rising-sophomore tackle Darnell Ewell. Instead, let’s be rational and simply note the offensive tallies:

Book to Claypool, 85-yard touchdown. Justin Yoon extra point good.
Yoon 28-yard field goal.
Yoon 40-yard field goal.
Jonathan Doerer 20-yard field goal.
Armstrong 25-yard touchdown run. Doerer extra point good.
Wimbush to Boykin, 64-yard touchdown. Yoon extra point good.
Dexter Williams one-yard touchdown run. Yoon extra point good.
Wimbush to Claypool, six-yard touchdown. Yoon extra point good.
Yoon 46-yard field goal.