SOUTH BEND — Somehow C’Bo Flemister managed to stay on his feet.
The sophomore running bounced off tackle attempts from rover Paul Moala and safety Patrick Pelini, put a hand on the ground to keep his balance and finished the run for a 13-yard touchdown. It was a fitting end to Notre Dame’s ninth spring practice.
In the most physical of the four open practices reporters have attended this spring, the running backs showed they won’t be easy to take down this season. Notre Dame’s defenders were asked to tackle ball carriers in multiple scrimmage settings on Saturday, and that proved to be a tough task.
Fellow sophomore running back Jahmir Smith had a few tough runs, including a 19-yard gain in which he broke an early tackle attempt by linebacker Shayne Simon. Smith also delivered a big hit to safety Derrik Allen at the end of a 15-yard run. Allen managed to take him down at the point of the collision. Junior running back Jafar Armstrong was a tough cover, too. He beat linebacker Asmar Bilal down the seam for a long pass from quarterback Ian Book.
Most of the practice inside the Loftus Sports Center went in favor of the offense. It was clear that the passing game was in sync when Notre Dame’s quarterbacks connected on nine consecutive throws in one-on-one drills against defensive backs early in practice. When the drill moved near the goal line, the Irish scored six touchdowns with one each to wide receivers Kevin Austin Jr., Chris Finke, Joe Wilkins Jr., Chase Clapool and Lawrence Keys III and tight end George Takacs.
The battles near the goal line were more even in 11-on-11 matchups. The Irish went through a few short-yardage and two-point conversion scenarios. Book threw an interception to safety DJ Brown in the end zone. Book was pressured on the play, didn’t step into the throw and likely shouldn’t have attempted it.
Finke managed to score on a sweep on a two-point conversion, but he was also stopped short of the goal line on the next attempt when cornerback Troy Pride Jr. tackled him quickly on a slant route. Austin was the preferred target in two-point attempts for quarterback Phil Jurkovec. He caught one for a touchdown after previously dropping a Jurkovec pass in the end zone. Austin also caught a touchdown pass on a slant route in earlier goal-line work.
When the Irish were running through fourth-and-short scenarios, Jurkovec nearly threw an interception to cornerback Avery Davis. Davis jumped the short route on a run-pass option from Jurkovec, but Davis dropped the pass when he broke on it. Jurkovec converted his other two fourth-down attempts by scrambling when he needed three yards and completing a deep pass to Keys on fourth-and-5.
Book failed to convert a fourth-and-1 when he threw too far ahead of an open Brock Wright. On fourth-and-3, Book hit Armstrong on a swing pass. Armstrong picked up the first down with the help of a nice block by offensive tackle Robert Hainsey on the edge and Claypool downfield.
The Irish finished practiced with a long stretch of live scrimmage action with down-and-distance carrying over from play to play. The No. 1 offense made easy work of the No. 1 defense on the first drive thanks to Finke. The first four plays were passes to Finke for a total of 34 yards. Then Book ended the drive with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Claypool.
The No. 2 defense stopped the No. 2 offense on its first drive. The drive started over again and Jurkovec found Keys for a 29-yard reception and Austin for a 30-yard touchdown on a slant route.
Claypool gave Notre Dame’s No. 1 offense another touchdown drive on its next series. He put the offense in the red zone with a 35-yard reception then finished the drive with an eight-yard touchdown reception.
The final drive for the No. 2 offense ended with the Flemister touchdown run previously mentioned. Austin made a leaping catch over walk-on cornerback Temitope Agoro for a 34-yard gain on the drive.
Before most of the scrimmage action took place, Notre Dame’s offensive and defensive lines matched up for 1-on-1 pass rush drills while the rest of the Irish participated in 7-on-7.
The starting offensive line fared pretty well. Only left tackle Liam Eichenberg lost both of his reps against Julian Okwara. Left guard Aaron Banks (vs. Myron Tagovailo-Amosa), right guard Tommy Kraemer (vs. Jayson Ademilola) and right tackle Robert Hainsey (vs. Khalid Kareem) each split their pair of reps. Center Jarrett Patterson won both of his matchups against nose guard Kurt Hinish. Both Hinish and Kareem jumped offsides in the middle of their reps.
Backup offensive lineman Cole Mabry and Zeke Correll struggled in their reps. Mabry had a tough time against defensive ends Ovie Oghoufo and Kofi Wardlow. Correll couldn’t stop nose guard Jacob Lacey.
Notre Dame utilized the following players with its No. 1 offense: quarterback Ian Book, running back Tony Jones Jr., wide receivers Chase Claypool, Chris Finke and Michael Young, tight end Cole Kmet, left tackle Liam Eichenberg, left guard Aaron Banks, center Jarrett Patterson, right guard Tommy Kraemer, and right tackle Robert Hainsey. Running back Jafar Armstrong and tight end Brock Wright were also parts of the rotation.
The No. 2 offense used quarterback Phil Jurkovec, running back C’Bo Flemister, wide receivers Kevin Austin Jr., Lawrence Keys III and Joe Wilkins Jr., tight end Tommy Tremble, left tackle Cole Mabry, left guard Josh Lugg, center Zeke Correll, right guard John Dirksen and right tackle Quinn Carroll. Running backs Jahmir Smith and Kyren Williams and tight end George Takacs were also parts of the rotation.
Wide receiver Braden Lenzy did some work, but head coach Brian Kelly said he’s been dealing with a minor hamstring issue. Three offensive players remained sidelined: wide receiver Javon McKinley and offensive linemen Trevor Ruhland and Colin Grunhard.
Notre Dame’s field goal unit received quite a bit of action Saturday. The Irish started practice with field goal work. Jonathan Doerer made six of his nine kicks during that session. He missed a 30-yard attempt and a pair of 47-yard attempts. He made an extra point and kicks from 30, 32, 35, 40 and 41 yards.
Doerer made two of his three attempts later in practice with his miss coming from 39 yards. Long snapper Michael Vinson and holder Jay Bramblett worked with Doerer.
The Irish had several recruits attending practice on Sunday including a pair of 2020 targets: offensive lineman Tosh Baker and running back DeaMonte Trayanum. A pair of former Notre Dame offensive stars were also on the sideline: tight end Kyle Rudolph and wide receiver Miles Boykin.