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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, April 13, 2019 1:00 am

Irish getting their final early test

Game-day feel of Blue-Gold Game big aid to development

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Blue-Gold Game

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend

When: 12:30 p.m.

Tickets: $15 for adults, $10 for under 18, children under 3 are free

Rules: Two regularly timed 15-minute quarters. Two 15-minute quarters with a running clock. Normal play clock 15-minute halftime. No overtime. Quarterbacks will not be subject to live tackling. Each possession starts at offense's 25-yard line No punt returns. Defense scores three points for a turnover, three points for a three-and-out, two points for a defensive stop and one point for a sack or a tackle-for-loss.

SOUTH BEND – There are 142 days until the Notre Dame football season begins, but fans will have a chance today to see an early, work-in-progress version of the team that will take the field in the fall.

The Irish will hold their 90th annual Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium this afternoon, closing out the spring practice schedule and sending the players officially into the long summer offseason. 

Notre Dame has been practicing since March 2 and held 14 full workouts in that time. The coaches have learned plenty from the practices, but offensive coordinator Chip Long said the game-day environment provides a better testing ground for some young players who haven't played at the college level.

“Those young guys, I want to see what they're going to do (today) under those lights in that stadium,” Long said. “It's one thing to go out there and practice in the indoor or the outside, but what are you gonna do when you walk in that stadium and there's people watching you.

“That's different. Some guys will flourish, some guys will be a little camera-shy. At least we'll get to know.”

There are nine early enrollees from the 2019 recruiting class that will be taking the field at Notre Dame Stadium for the first time.

Defensive tackle Jacob Lacey, a 6-foot-2, 295-pounder from Kentucky, has been particularly impressive in practices and will get a chance to shine in a live game situation.

The one early enrollee who won't play in the game is 2018 Indiana Mr. Football Jack Kiser, a linebacker from Pioneer. Kiser could be in the mix for playing time in the fall, according to defensive coordinator Clark Lea, but is recovering from a February surgery on a torn labrum.

Long is hoping to see his offense put together what the Irish call “explosive plays.” It's hard to create those plays in a practice setting without live tackling, but the offense has put an emphasis on getting yards after the catch and being able to create in space. The Irish are trying to have some “one-play drives” in the coming season.

Defensive coordinator Clark Lea said there is plenty to learn from performances in the Blue-Gold Game, but ultimately the teams that take the field today are far removed from those that will line up against Louisville on Sept. 2 for the season-opener.

Lea cautioned against getting frustrated with particular aspects of the Irish's play today because there is still so much time before the season begins; identifying areas for improvement from the game will be just as important as actually executing well on the field.

It was a lesson Lea, who is entering his second season as the defensive coordinator, learned the hard way last season, when he felt his defense underperformed in the spring game.

“The spring game was my worst day, other than the Cotton Bowl, of my first year,” Lea said. “In some ways, I'm like a player, I want results.

“It's hard to stay in the process sometimes.”

Lea wants to see his players get through the game healthy, have fun and tackle well, but he recognizes there will be mistakes.

“(Today) is just going to be a bar for us,” the coordinator said. “It's not the final sentence. It's, 'Hey this is where we are' and it will show the ground we need to cover before we play Louisville.”

dsinn@jg.net