Noie: Saturday just a stopover on the way to regular season

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Out of the drizzle and the chill they jogged, up the tunnel, into the locker room, into dry clothes and out the other door and back out into a rather rotten April day, even for these parts. 

They left Notre Dame Stadium one last time this spring, some toting Styrofoam containers of Raising Cane’s chicken fingers for a late lunch/afternoon, into the soggy/foggy/dreary day after the final “practice” of spring concluded with the annual Blue-Gold game in front of 32,942 (no way) brave/silly souls. 

Who would pay to sit through that? That being a 24-0 victory by the Gold. And who scripted the game plan for the Blue team? That was a rough watch, but that’s the spring game. 

Final scoring summary: Gold 24, Blue 0 as new Notre Dame Football QB Sam Hartman shines

Everything officially ended just before 4 p.m., but make no mistake about it — despite the 106 plays, despite the three touchdowns, despite the work of veteran Sam Hartman (good) and newbie Jaden Greathouse (really good), spring practice 2023 for this Notre Dame football team really ended the previous Saturday. 

The day of the week was the same, but the weather was way nicer. It was sunny. It was warm. After that one, head coach Marcus Freeman talked of some of his guys having to handle the heat as temperatures crept toward 80 degrees. He even had the look after that one of a head coach who had to sweat out a full four quarters. 

On Saturday, Freeman had the post-spring game look of someone who just wanted to get through his presser and get somewhere warm. While the Blue-Gold game was more for show, the previous Saturday was all substance. 

THAT was a scrimmage worth watching. Except no one outside the Irish inner circle saw it. That one featured first-teamers against first-teamers. Dudes against dudes. It had loud noise pumped through the stadium sound system and game-like situations and plays that needed to be made at the end for one team to win. 

Notre Dame football Blue-Gold Game: What the numbers tell us

Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman (10) greets teammates prior to the start of the second half during the Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football game on Saturday, April 22, 2023, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Basically, nothing like Saturday’s snoozer. But again, that’s spring. Get through it — get through it healthy — and get to the offseason with good feels all around. 

Saturday was more dress rehearsal for the guys who don’t always dress on fall Saturdays. It was for the recruits on the sideline to dream about doing what one former recruit did and the die-hards sitting at home watching (honey, what channel is Peacock???). It was for the hard-scrabble armchairs who think they know (they don’t) what pieces to place where for Notre Dame to have a special season. 

We saw some dudes Saturday. The most prominent was someone who’s already done THAT. Been there. That’s Hartman, the sixth-year guy who came to campus the expected starter and did nothing in a little more than a quarter to curb that enthusiasm. Notre Dame just might have the kind of quarterback this season that it’s NEVER had in Hartman. He’s that good. Was Saturday 

Hartman completed his first five passes. He connected on nine of his first 10. First two times his team — the Gold team — had the ball, they found the end zone. Easily. Hartman completed 13 of 16 passes for two scores and 189 yards. He ran for a third touchdown. He played the way a veteran should play. The way a starter should play. 

That’s the last time Hartman leaves the field at Notre Dame Stadium in a “visiting” jersey. Next time it matters, it’s navy blue for him. 

Freeman wasn’t going there afterward, especially not after fellow quarterback Tyler Buchner didn’t have the best of days. Blame it on dividing up the offensive line. Blame it on the head coach, whose wrong read of a coverage — that's not Cover Two! — lead to a Buchner pick.  

Freeman downplayed any notion of a … pause … quarterback controversy — a quarterback competition — brewing over at the Gug. 

“We still have a quarterback battle,” Freeman said. “You can’t determine a winner or loser based off one practice.” 

Fair enough. So think of it more like a quarterback curiosity. At least until we don’t have to use binoculars to see the season opener. Deal? 

Let's see where it all leads. We know where it’s going (cough, cough, Hartman, cough, cough). But this much we do know — Hartman's better after these 15 practices. So is Buchner. Right there made the spring worth it. 

“Both of them,” Freeman said, “are tremendously talented.” 

This time last year, wide receiver Jaden Greathouse was in the stadium stands watching the 2022 spring game. Little did he know that 12 months later, he’d be on the FieldTurf earlier than expected as an early enrollee and running wild. He'd be catching passes from Hartman. He’d be having a few of those whoa moments. He caught 11 passes for 118 yards, stats that surprised even the head coach. 

Notre Dame wide receiver Jaden Greathouse (19) gets tackled after a catch during the Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football game on Saturday, April 22, 2023, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

“When the lights are on, you want to see who will step up and make plays,” Freeman said. 

Now make them when the lights are on and Ohio State and USC and Clemson are on the other sideline. That would be nice. 

Defensive line coach Al Washington, certainly in line for a salary bump after moving to 2-0 lifetime as a spring game head coach, called out Greathouse in the interview room afterward as the game’s most valuable player. He wouldn’t be wrong. 

Freeman praised his guys afterward for getting better, but really, what would he say? No head coach has ever looked back on spring and admitted that his guys had gotten worse over 15 practices. That they didn’t maximize the time allotted. 

Of course, Notre Dame had a good spring. Nobody has a bad one? 

What does Saturday all mean? Really, not much. Some guys played well. Some guys struggled. Some guys didn’t play at all. We didn’t see one vs. ones. Nobody got hurt (at least nobody we know of). There were a few standout guys, a couple of whoa moments. That’s spring. That’s the best we’re going to get, at least until it starts for real in late August. 

“It’s really good to see,” Freeman said. “It was good work.” 

We’d have liked to have seen a little more and didn’t learn all that much from Saturday’s spring soaker. Questions/concerns remain at tight end and safety and the kicker, who’s still in school in Florida. Still, it’s all we’ve got to carry us through the rest of spring and early summer. We’ll see those guys again in August, when everything really matters. 

“It’s going to be here before we know it,” Freeman said. 

Not soon enough. 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.