Notebook: Notre Dame QB Phil Jurkovec will learn from 'terrible' Blue-Gold Game

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Phil Jurkovec couldn’t hide his displeasure.

His performance in the Blue-Gold Game on Saturday didn’t meet his standards. The sophomore-to-be quarterback completed 15 of his 26 pass attempts for 135 yards and was sacked 12 times. Then he had to answer questions from reporters for the first time this spring.

"It was a helpful day,” Jurkovec said. “It was terrible for me, but at least it was helpful.”

Any hopes of a true quarterback competition with returning starter Ian Book this season had been squashed throughout spring practice. The 14 practices and the Blue-Gold Game, a 58-45 victory for Gold (defense) over Blue (offense), became more about development for the former four-star recruit. Jurkovec is Notre Dame's backup quarterback.

But that doesn’t mean Jurkovec has lowered his expectations for the way he should perform. He wants to push for playing time. Instead he’s beating himself up about his accuracy.

“Not the way I've wanted to throw,” Jurkovec said of his up-and-down spring. “It's just not good enough for me."

Head coach Brian Kelly has preached patience with his young quarterback.

“Look, quarterback is a position where everybody wants to see them ascend to this position immediately, and he’s like that as well,” Kelly said. “He wants to see it happen, but it’s got to take some time for him, and he’s got to understand that, too.”

Before Jurkovec and Book entered the postgame interview room, Book had already talked with Jurkovec about his performance. Book knows Jurkovec wants to be better than he was on Saturday.

They push each other in practice, but Book wants to support Jurkovec, too.

“Phil's hard on himself and that's good,” Book said. “It just shows he cares. He's learning. We've all been there. I didn't think he had that bad of a day, honestly. I know from what I've seen in the spring he'll be ready to step up.”

The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Jurkovec came to Notre Dame ranked as one of the top five dual-threat quarterbacks in the country for the 2018 class. He threw for 8,202 yards and 71 touchdowns in his career at Gibsonia (Pa.) Pine-Richland High and finished his senior season with a state championship.

Jurkovec is used to winning and succeeding. He’s hit a speed bump at Notre Dame.

“The game’s a little too hard for him right now and you can see (that),” Kelly said. “He never played like that in high school. He made it simple, and he’s making this game way too hard. It’ll come. He’ll wake up one day and it’ll be a lot simpler for him.

“Right now it’s hard, and we’ll get him to the point where it’s simpler.”

Jurkovec, who rushed for 2,942 yards in his Pine-Richland career, likely wouldn’t have been sacked each of the 12 times he was ruled sacked on Saturday. The quarterbacks weren’t live in Saturday’s scrimmage, which takes a bit away from his game.

Jurkovec wasn’t tackled by the pass rushers, though he was taken to the ground inadvertently once by former high school teammate Andrew Kristofic, a freshman left tackle. The backup offensive line certainly didn’t make it easy for him. But he needed to make quicker decisions.

That’s why Saturday’s scrimmage was helpful, even if it was terrible in Jurkovec’s words.

“There's a lot that I can learn from it,” Jurkovec said. “At the same time, it was not real football just the way that it's set up. I'm not going to put too much emphasis on it, but I'm definitely going to use it to learn from.”

And what’s left to learn?.

"I have a long way to go,” Jurkovec said, “with everything — physically and mentally."

Live actions for LBs

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah didn’t have to keep track of which sessions were full contact in Saturday’s scrimmage. After tackling wide receiver Chris Finke in a practice earlier this spring when he wasn’t supposed to be taking offensive players to the ground, Owusu-Koramoah has been teased by teammates and coaches about the mistakes.

“Coach Kelly always jokes with me,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “Even when we had no shoulder pads on the other day, he's like, 'It's tag off.' ”

Being in live action wasn’t a joking matter for the linebackers Saturday. As the group tries to establish an identity, tackling will be a priority in the limited opportunities in which they’re allowed to do so.

“At Notre Dame, we try to build on physicality,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “Being live (Saturday) is a stepping stone and an evaluation to see where we're at. We're going to go back and watch film and see what the physicality is like and take a step forward."

Owusu-Koramoah lined up next to mike linebacker Asmar Bilal and buck linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath to start Saturday’s scrimmage, but the Irish aren’t close to solidifying a starting lineup with the group. Defensive coordinator Clark Lea has been experimenting with different combinations and rotations throughout the spring.

“Honestly, it's the best thing that we could have done,” Genmark Heath said. “Even now, we don't really have a set depth chart. There's no ones and twos. We'll rotate.”

Six different linebackers finished with at least five tackles Saturday: Paul Moala (9), Owusu-Koramoah (7), Shayne Simon and Bo Bauer (6) and Asmar Bilal and Genmark Heath (5). Sophomore Jack Lamb, who has been competing with Genmark Heath at buck linebacker, missed Saturday’s scrimmage with an ankle injury.

The linebackers will have to wait until August until they can tackle again.

“Yeah, we'll go live in practice, but you can't emulate what happens on the field when everybody's live and everybody's going 100 percent,” Genmark Heath said. “(Saturday) was definitely valuable, because now we got to see what type of unit we are and we can take the next step from there."

No captain, my captain

Head coach Brian Kelly isn’t quite ready to name captains for the 2019 season. After the Blue-Gold Game on Saturday, Kelly said he probably won’t announce them until preseason camp in August.

“We need more time,” Kelly said. “Guys are doing a nice job, but we need some more situational kind of scenarios for our guys to lead through.”

By the end of the Blue-Gold Game last year, Kelly had already named four captains for the 2018 season: linebacker Drue Tranquill, punter Tyler Newsome and offensive linemen Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher. Tranquill Newsome and Mustipher received the titles in March with Bars being added to the list at the end of spring practice.

The Irish have been operating with eight “SWAT” team captains leading offseason workouts: quarterback Ian Book, wide receiver Chris Finke, offensive linemen Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey, safeties Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman, and defensive ends Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara.

“They just need a little bit more seasoning,” Kelly said without referencing any specific players, “but I think we’ve got a good group.”

McKinley status

Wide receiver Javon McKinley was given a conditional reinstatement to the football program for spring football following a February arrest, but his future with the program isn’t certain yet.

“We’re going to re-evaluate his status at the end of spring,” Kelly said Saturday.

McKinley, who’s next scheduled court hearing is Monday, is charged with two Class A misdemeanor counts of battery resulting in bodily injury and one Class C misdemeanor count of illegal consumption of alcohol. McKinley reportedly punched two Notre Dame police officers who were trying to help him to his residence hall, according to court documents.

McKinley, who has dealt with a groin injury this spring, caught one pass for 13 yards in the Blue-Gold Game. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior hasn’t been able to climb the depth chart much during his time with the Irish.

“We’re clearly trying to figure out what he can do. He’s been here too long for us to still have a question mark about him,” Kelly said. “So we’re going through our exit interviews. We’ll evaluate his performance and make some decisions.”

Notre Dame’s Phil Jurkovec (15) throws the ball during the first half of Saturday's Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame.