Saturday saw a number of spring games across the country, including the Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame, the Nebraska spring game, and a couple of powerhouses in the Pacific Northwest. While you never want to read too much into anything you see in the spring, we’re all a little desperate for football, aren’t we?
With that in mind, here are some quick takeaways from Saturday’s biggest games.
No standouts in Notre Dame QB competition
On the same day Ian Book was being drafted by the New Orleans Saints, Notre Dame fans were tuning into the spring game, hoping to get an idea of who would be inheriting Book’s starting job this fall. Well, unfortunately for them, nobody took the reins during the Blue-Gold Game.
Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan is the presumptive starter, and he was all right Saturday. Coan completed 18 of his 32 passes for 197 yards, while redshirt freshman Drew Pyne (the assumed competition) went 11-for-23 for 146 yards. Both threw an interception, neither threw a touchdown.
No, the only two touchdown drives in the 17-3 game were under the leadership of incoming freshman Tyler Buchner. The four-star from California had a nice day, completing six of nine passes for 140 yards, and he rushed for a touchdown. Buchner wasn’t seen as having a realistic shot at winning the job considering his inexperience, but you can bet fans will be making a case for him after Saturday.
Nebraska’s defense makes statement
Nebraska fans were probably paying attention to some key players who weren’t playing Saturday due to health reasons and are certainly worried about middle linebacker Will Honas who went down with a non-contact injury during practice on Wednesday. Coach Scott Frost told Husker 247 that it “doesn’t look good” for Honas.
As for the game, Husker fans will be glad to see Adrian Martinez looked solid. While he’s failed to live up to the promise he showed as a freshman, Nebraska fans would like to see some stability at the position, and Martinez flashed signs of that Saturday. While he completed only 12 of 20 passes for 127 yards, Omar Manning dropped a perfectly thrown deep ball that would have altered Martinez’s final numbers dramatically had he reeled it in.
Fans can also take solace in the first-team defense being as good as advertised. Of course, it wasn’t supposed to be the Nebraska defense everybody was confident in entering Frost’s fourth season.
Joyner stands out for Minnesota’s defense
Learn the name Jah Joyner. Joyner was one of the higher-rated recruits in Minnesota’s 2020 recruiting class but didn’t play last season. He made up for some lost time Saturday, finishing with two sacks. The Gophers already have a superhero on the defensive line in Boye Mafe, as well as other talented options. The addition of Joyner gives Minnesota an intriguing set of linemen heading into the fall.
Elsewhere, with a Rashod Bateman-sized hole in the receiver corps, there are some question marks. Well, Chris Autman-Bell finished with 100 yards and was named MVP, so he’s fine. There were encouraging signs from the rest of the unit too, particularly from Daniel Jackson.
Oregon’s defense looks impressive
The indication all spring has been that the quarterback job belongs to Anthony Brown, and that didn’t change Saturday. Oregon went with the Offense vs. Defense approach to its spring game, and while Ty Thompson, Robby Ashford and Jay Butterfield all saw reps, it was Brown taking the majority of them.
Still, the biggest takeaway for me was that, unsurprisingly, Oregon has dudes on defense. It felt like everybody had a sack at some point, including Kayvon Thibodeaux and Justin Flowe. The defense also managed to force turnovers, which is why the offense needed a late comeback to win the game 35-34.
Washington’s Huard cuts down on mistakes
Not surprisingly, the Washington defense looked to be a step or two ahead of the offense Saturday, but most of the attention was on the quarterbacks.
Last seasons’ starter Dylan Morris shared time with incoming freshman Sam Huard on the Purple team, while grad transfer Patrick O’Brien led the Gold team. All three made some nice plays, but what stood out to me was the lack of dumb plays from the five-star freshman Huard. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the young upstart come in and try to prove something, but Huard stayed within the confines of the offense and took what was given. That’s an encouraging sign. Still, this QB battle is far from settled.
Virginia WR Wicks stars for Wahoos
As Barrett Sallee mentioned earlier this week, there was a lack of explosive plays from the Virginia offense last season, which Bronco Mendenhall and the Cavaliers want to change in 2021. It’s a task that became more difficult when Lavel Davis Jr. tore his ACL earlier this spring, but Dontayvion Wicks provided flashes of hope, catching two touchdowns, including a 40-yard score.
There was also a clear effort to get former QB Keytaon Thompson more involved as a receiver. Both Thompson and Wicks were able to take advantage of extra snaps available due to Davis’ injury and receivers RaShaun Henry and Billy Kemp sitting out.