tale of the tape offense Spoiler One couldn’t help but feel empathy for sophomore-to-be quarterback Phil Jurkovec after a scattershot performance in the 90th annual Blue-Gold Game. His post-scrimmage session with the media screamed of a shell-shocked football player who was overwhelmed not only by the competition on the field, but the tough questions asked of a Notre Dame quarterback-in-waiting. To be fair, there were times when it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. He completed 4-of-5 out of the gate and 7-of-10 for 77 yards. He led the No. 2 offense on two touchdown drives and a field goal. He actually completed all but four of his first 16 pass attempts for 117 yards before finishing 15-of-26 for 135 yards. Mixed in, however, were 12 touch sacks that looked as if he’s never practiced in a red jersey. His pocket presence looked to be that of a quarterback who has spent most of his time playing 7-on-7 football. He stared at receivers, was distracted by the pass rush to where he couldn’t see what was happening downfield, and was indecisive throwing to a corps of young receivers that had a distinct advantage over the No. 2 secondary all spring. THE GOOD The early connections seemed to be getting Jurkovec comfortable, but in retrospect, the body language did not ever indicate a comfort zone during his Blue-Gold Game experience. And yet he found Kevin Austin on a slant after a couple of easy throws to Jahmir Smith and Braden Lenzy and drew an interference penalty to set up a short rushing touchdown. He threw behind tight end George Takacs for a 10-yard gain and then got some help from Joe Wilkins, who spun away from Avery Davisfor a 27-yard gain to the three. That series ended in a short rushing touchdown, meaning Jurkovec was at the helm of two touchdown drives in the first three series. On the field goal drive that netted 42 yards, he completed the first six passes – one each to wideouts Lenzy and Austin and tight end Tommy Tremble, and three to running backs before misfiring on the last two throws of the possession. Later, he threw a nice long out pattern to Lawrence Keys III. Jurkovec generally is a good decision-maker in the read-option. He showed that all spring and again in the Blue-Gold Game. He made the right decision on 4th-and-1 read-option keeper after being coerced by offensive coordinator Chip Long to run the play quickly. Jurkovec absolutely needs to be live to fully maximize his skillset. For all the yards he threw for in high school, his game – when he’s at his best – includes his ability to use his feet, although that also allows him to abandon going through is progressions in the passing game. THE BAD AND THE UGLY Jurkovec played well in spurts, but even when he played well he was tentative. There were some swing passes where he looked like he was just happy to get it out of his hand. As the afternoon progressed, the sacks accumulated and his confidence started to erode. He began throwing passes just to get rid of the football, even when linebacker Shayne Simon was blanketing Keys on a quick out. Jurkovec either didn’t trust what he was seeing downfield or, reminiscent of Brandon Wimbush, he didn’t actually see what he needed to see when he stared downfield. Perhaps the “least aware” play of the first half came late in the first quarter when he was flushed to his right and had a wide-open Keys mirroring his movement across the field. Keys was open…and open…and open. He still might be open, that’s how open he was. But Jurkovec didn’t look as if he was ever going to deliver the football before forcing Keys to come to a stop along the sideline and then launching it over the head of the speedy 5-foot-10 receiver. NBC’s Doug Flutie inserted that the pile of bodies in front of him might have distracted him from throwing Keys the football. But that’s quarterback play 101. He can’t be distracted by what’s in front of him and has to deliver the football quickly to Keys to give Keys an opportunity to do what he does best after the catch. When Jurkovec backed his way into a sack by tripping over fallen offensive tackle Andrew Kristofic, it showed his unwillingness – or lack of vision – of a path to his left to step up into a throw. So how did Jurkovec throw for more than 11,000 yards in high school? He didn’t do it by working his way through his progressions and hitting the second and third options in a route. He likely threw for most of his prep yardage to the first read, the primary read that likely had a ton of space between himself and the defender, which doesn’t happen as often on this level. The shortcoming becomes glaringly acute when you watch Ian Book work his way through all of his passing options before deciding on the best of the bunch. One could argue that Book has eight starts under his belt from 2018, so he’s way ahead of Jurkovec in that department. Absolutely true and something that needs to be kept in mind. But think back to those early games with Book as the starter. He knew where every one of his receivers was going to be or needed to be in his first start against Wake Forest and built his way from there as he quickly ascended to the lead the nation in completion percentage. But that was red-shirt sophomore Book, not the true freshman Book. Jurkovec is in the infancy stage of his development, just like Book was in the spring of 2017. By the end of the scrimmage, Jurkovec was flustered as quarterbacks coach Tom Rees tried to feed him as much information as possible. Jurkovec completed just 3-of-10 for 18 yards after the 12-of-16 start. THE COMMENTARY Early on, Flutie commented on Jurkovec “dropping his eyes off the coverage and looking at the pass rush.” And that was with the knowledge that he couldn’t be hit. Flutie also immediately detected how late the football was coming out of his hand. At the end of the first quarter, Kelly told Flutie that he talked to Jurkovec about getting too much depth on his pass drop, which wasn’t allowing the tackles to do their jobs. Kelly later told Flute that Jurkovec had to simply let it go, a prevailing theme throughout the day. At one point, Flutie said he talked to Jurkovec, who indicated he was uncomfortable with the quick whistles and the inability to play it live, and that’s understandable. Much of Jurkovec’s success in high school was precipitated by his ability to run. At 6-foot-5, he’s a quality athlete who can hurt you with his feet as well as his arm. A day that began with promise turned into a pretty big mess and a lasting memory for Jurkovec that obviously left him pretty shook up with the media as his day came to an agonizing conclusion. STEADY AT THE HELM As expected the difference between starter Ian Book and his backup was stark. Book was an efficient 16-of-21 for 220 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown pass to Michael Young to cap the opening drive and a 43-yarder to Chase Claypool that traveled 47 yards on a line. Book was smart about the no-contact rule. When he ran the read-option and it was more beneficial to keep it, he kept it, ran it full speed and let the officials blow the whistle when it was necessary. Book carried himself like a veteran. Book stepped up in the pocket and delivered a strike to Michael Young in the impressive opening drive. His decision-making and run through his progressions was solid, although there remain times when he could step up in the pocket rather than spin and give ground away from the line of scrimmage. Book can create some wonderful things when he spins out of trouble, yields ground, and then gets his shoulders squared while moving toward the line of scrimmage. Where it becomes problematic is when an edge rusher presses the corner and forces Book to continue giving ground. It’s a fine line, but in general, it’s a bad habit to keep running away from the line of scrimmage. That’s why he’s being encouraged to step up in the pocket more often. Book missed a seam route to Cole Kmet on a throw that the big and majestically-athletic Kmet could have had. But for the most part, Book looked like the steady general of the offense and a prime candidate to be named one of the captains of the 2019 team when a decision is announced in August. BACKFIELD BRIGADE Notre Dame’s running backs – minus Tony Jones Jr. with a head injury – was one of the more impressive aspects of the Blue-Gold Game. Jafar Armstrong led the way with nine carries for 85 yards and a touchdown, including a 42-yard run. Jahmir Smith was next with eight carries for 56 yards and two touchdowns with a long of 27 yards. Kyren Williams was shifty – he made Shayne Simon whiff – with 22 yards on six attempts and a touchdown. C’Bo Flemister was pretty bottled up with the No. 2 unit. He had just 13 yards on eight attempts. NBC’s Chris Simms compared Armstrong to C.J. Prosise, which is a fair analysis because of the rushing-receiving package he offers, although Armstrong proved he’s much more inclined to want to run a defender over. Simms said he wanted to see Armstrong prove his physicality, although that was something the local media saw all spring. Armstrong flashed it early when he took a swing pass from Book in the open field and planted Elliott on his back. Everything we expected of Armstrong was on display in the Blue-Gold Game. He caught four passes for 71 yards. He broke an arm tackle attempt by Troy Pride Jr. and raced 42 yards. The disappointing part was the fumble caused from behind by Elliott where Armstrong has to have the awareness that defensive pursuit is sure to be on his tail on a slower-developing pass play. Smith was very impressive with his power mentality and tackle-breaking ability. When Paul Moalacouldn’t corral Smith in-line, Smith bounced it outside for a 27-yard game. His pad level his excellent and his thirst for contact is impressive. He played power football again on a nine-yard run in the red zone following the 43-yard pass to Claypool. He showed vision, quickness and elusiveness on that nine-yard run and made Elliott feel his wrath at the end of the run. He then scored when Daelin Hayes’ arm-tackle attempt was no match for the 5-foot-11, 207-pound Smith. Who’s Notre Dame’s No. 3 running back? It’s there for the taking by Smith. If Tony Jones Jr. can’t stay on the field and/or run with the power Smith showed, the No. 2 job ultimately could be up for grabs. Williams ended a solid spring on a high note. He showed elusiveness evading Temitope Agoro and left Shayne Simon in his wake. He ran through an arm tackle by Kofi Wardlow for a touchdown. His pad level is excellent because “he’s built from the ground up,” according to running backs coach Lance Taylor. Speaking of Taylor, this group is playing with great physicality, which is something Chip Long noted during the spring. OFFENSIVE LINE It’s almost as if the red jerseys that are placed on the quarterbacks is a detriment to the pass blocking of the offensive line. It’s as if in the back of their minds, they know they have an escape clause. While most feel pretty good about the run-blocking of this unit – Jarrett Patterson was excellent in both – the pass-blocking left a lot to be desired, particularly tackles Robert Hainsey, Liam Eichenberg, Andrew Kristofic and Cole Mabry. It was a jailbreak for Notre Dame’s defensive ends, and it didn’t stop once Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem retired for the day before halftime. Okwara destroyed Eichenberg off the edge in the opening drive. Hainsey also never had a chance on one pass rush by Okwara. Ovie Oghoufo ran right by early-entry freshman John Olmstead. John Dirksen was overrun by tackle Jayson Ademilola. Kristofic was overmatched by Oghoufo. Mabry was whistled for two holding penalties. One would be hard-pressed to find any positions that excelled in pass protection, except perhaps some of the interior guys. Patterson may have been the exception as well as guards Aaron Banks and Tommy Kraemer. Patterson absolutely stoned Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa’s pass rush. He squared him up and disarmed him. Patterson also squared up Jordan Genmark Heath in the open field on a 10-yard gain. Patterson stood up Kurt Hinish’s pass rush. You better be very good at getting leverage on Patterson because he’s going to extend his arms and lock you out of your pass rush. A credit to Josh Lugg at center, who ran Jayson Ademilola off the ball. Dirksen also turned Jacob Lacey around on a run block while Quinn Carroll peeled off Wardlow to seal Derrik Allen on Kyren Williams’ one-yard touchdown run. The pass rush almost always gets to the offensive line in the Blue-Gold Game. That’s understandable. This was acute, due largely to the fact the Irish have one of the best sets of defensive ends in the country. But Notre Dame’s tackles will have to be much better than they were Saturday. AROUND THE GRIDIRON (OFFENSE) For NBC to show Brian Kelly’s record as 60-34 is wrong. I mean, it’s right, technically, because of the 21 vacated wins in 2012-13. But his actual record on the field is 81-35…NBC’s SkyCam innovation – obviously driven by Jack Swarbrick and Notre Dame as Swarbrick’s halftime conversation with Paul Burmeister indicated – was interesting but terribly flawed. That happens in a trial-and-error situation. In an attempt to offer a different look, one very important thing was lost: You can’t see who’s making the plays. That’s kind of important. That’s ultimately the most important thing. It’s a unique perspective, but it’s just a mass of bodies until the camera swings parallel with the line of scrimmage and they zoom in. There’s work to be done, otherwise you’re just being different for the sake of offering a different angle. The viewer does not benefit if the individual players are not distinguishable. A false start on Robert Hainsey at the defense’s two-yard line in the opening series? That can’t happen to a veteran…A complete win for Braden Lenzy to play in this game following hamstring and head injuries. He caught two passes, which is a win for the up-and-coming Lenzy… Chris Simms made a great point, one that people in our business say all the time. If you’re a quality high school running back with Notre Dame’s offensive linemen and Chip Long’s desire to run it, why wouldn’t you come to Notre Dame? Chase Claypool looks like a big-timer. If he explodes this year – 75 catches – and becomes a real standout, it won’t be a surprise. This kid is dialing in and believing he can be great. He can be better than Miles Boykin was in ‘18…The athleticism of Cole Kmet on the late second-quarter drive when he caught three passes for 21 yards and nearly made the acrobatic grab on a high throw down the seam is always impressive when he puts it on display. Kmet also drew a pass interference penalty in the end zone to set up Jafar Armstrong’s score. He’s always had star potential. Chip Long needs to accentuate it and Book-to-Kmet need to make it happen.