Five things for Notre Dame football to accomplish in Saturday's Blue-Gold Game

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Repeat after me: This is only a test.

Branding requirements and roster drafting aside, Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game is essentially a glorified practice. It gives NBC’s Peacock some offseason programming, and Year 2 of the Marcus Freeman Era gets a two-hour recruiting promotion with the season opener in Dublin, Ireland a little over four months away.

Here are five things for Notre Dame football to accomplish on Saturday:

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Play clean football

After the offense won last Saturday’s 90-play jersey scrimmage, which was closed to the media, Freeman admonished his team for incurring too many penalty flags.

“We’ll take aggressive penalties all day long,” he said. “We can’t be perfect. But if you’re undisciplined and you’re getting penalties … that can’t happen.”

Notre Dame football head coach Marcus Freeman speaks to the team Wednesday, April 12, 2023, during spring football practice on the Notre Dame campus.

While praising the offense for avoiding pre-snap penalties, Freeman lamented a couple of holding infractions and dinged the defense for jumping offsides and getting whistled for a personal foul.

'Respect the ball'

Sound decision-making and mistake-free possessions remain atop the marching orders being relayed through first-year offensive coordinator Gerad Parker.

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Notre Dame offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Gerad Parker calls out instructions as tight end Mitchell Evans (88) goes through drills Saturday, March 25, 2023, at Notre Dame spring football practice in South Bend.

With quarterbacks Sam Hartman (Gold team) and Tyler Buchner (Blue) still vying for the starting job, keeping the ball off the ground is paramount. Something as simple as the QB-center exchange was a challenge early in spring practice, but that has improved and there were no reported interceptions in the jersey scrimmage.

“We’ve respected the ball way better,” Parker said. “If we’re operating at a high level and not having to burn timeouts and we’re honoring the ball, we can fix the rest.”

Stretch the field

This might seem counterintuitive after the previous entry, but the audience must be entertained.

Hartman didn’t become the ACC’s career leader in touchdown passes and passing yardage by playing it safe at Wake Forest. His ability to launch the ball downfield and give his receivers a chance to make a play was a large part of his offseason appeal as a graduate transfer.  

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Freshman wide receiver Jaden Greathouse (19) makes the catch during drills Saturday, March 25, 2023, at Notre Dame spring football practice in South Bend.

If Hartman and Buchner can connect on some chunk throws to game-breaking targets such as Tobias Merriweather, freshman Jaden Greathouse and newly converted slot receiver Chris Tyree, Saturday will feel like a success for an emerging group hungry to make an impact.

“Sometimes you get in a lull where it’s a deep pass and you don’t expect it,” wide receivers coach Chansi Stuckey said. “The expectation now is that, ‘Hey, every route is alive.’ If they get it, they’re throwing it deep.”

Generate pass rush

Career sacks leader Isaiah Foskey and the Ademilola Twins are gone.

It’s up to “vyper” ends Jordan Botelho and Junior Tuihalamaka to fill that void along with QB-chasing holdovers Rylie Mills and Nana Osafo-Mensah and Ohio State grad transfer Javontae Jean-Baptiste.

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Notre Dame defensive lineman Nana Osafo-Mensah (31) and linebacker Junior Tuihalamaka (44) go through drills Wednesday, April 12, 2023, during spring football practice on the Notre Dame campus.

Despite anecdotes of a blitz-heavy spring in team periods, defensive coordinator Al Golden knows the importance of creating disruption up front with a four-man pass rush. If the Irish have to blitz an extra linebacker or safety on obvious passing downs, that leaves the secondary exposed.

“JJB has made a big difference at end,” Golden said. “He and Nana are doing a great job there. Baptiste is doing a great job learning the defense.”

Avoid injury

Last year’s Blue-Gold extravaganza saw tight end Kevin Bauman limp off in the first half and running back Logan Diggs exit upon grabbing his left shoulder as he completed a carry along the sideline.

A week later, Diggs underwent shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. It was a race against the clock to get him healthy in time for the season.

Bauman, coming off a broken leg from the previous fall, was ready for fall camp but ultimately suffered a torn ACL in his knee in September and missed the rest of 2022.

Notre Dame running back Logan Diggs (22) gets pushed out of bounds by defensive back Philip Riley (25) during the Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football game on Saturday, April 23, 2022, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

This year’s spring injury list already includes freshman cornerback Christian Gray (right knee cleanup), freshman safety Ben Minich (right thumb) as well as the rehabbing group of defensive backs Cam Hart (shoulder), Thomas Harper (shoulder) and Adon Shuler (shoulder); tight ends Eli Raridon (knee) and Bauman (knee); and freshman defensive lineman Devan Houstan (shoulder).

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Diggs was able to return after missing more than two weeks of drills with a “lower-body tweak,” but he's already been ruled out ahead of Saturday's event.  

Also among those ruled out: linebackers Jack Kiser and Prince Kollie (concussion); tight ends Mitchell Evans, Justin Fisher, Barret Liebentritt and Charlie Selna; running backs Jadarian Price (Achilles surgery last June), Skip Velotta and Chase Ketterer (thumb); offensive tackle Ty Chan; wide receiver Jack Polian and safety Eddie Scheidler.

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.

Notre Dame Blue-Gold Game scrimmage

  • When: Saturday, April 22, 2 p.m.
  • Where: Notre Dame Stadium
  • TV: Peacock (streaming only)
  • Radio: WSBT (960 AM)
  • Tickets: Available at Tickets or call 833-NDIRISH