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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 15 Phil Jurkovec, sophomore quarterback

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 13 Notre Dame Spring Game

SOUTH BEND, IN - APRIL 13: Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Phil Jurkovec (15) throws the football in action during the Notre Dame Football Blue and Gold Spring game on April 13, 2019 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 ½, 225 pounds.2019-20 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Jurkovec has four seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019, after appearing in only two games last year.Depth chart: Jurkovec will be one snap away from becoming Notre Dame’s starting quarterback. Senior Ian Book will start while freshman Brendon Clark should split his time between the third-string and the scout team.Recruiting: The consensus four-star prospect, U.S. Army All-American and the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the class, per, Jurkovec did not leave much hope for the likes of Ohio State, Alabama and Clemson when he committed to Notre Dame in May of his sophomore year.

The Irish inability to put away Ball State, Vanderbilt or Pittsburgh kept Jurkovec from seeing more than mop-up duty against Wake Forest and Florida State, attempting two passes in only the former, completing neither. He also rushed twice, once in each game, for nine yards.

An up-and-down spring for Jurkovec, his first spring session, concluded with an abysmal showing in the Blue-Gold Game. Jurkovec completed 15-of-26 passes for 135 yards while getting sacked 12 times.

After Jurkovec’s showing in the spring game, praise became rare and hedged criticism became prevalent. In reality, though, that had somewhat been the modus operandi throughout Notre Dame’s spring. Consider Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s mid-March comments on Jurkovec:

“He’s seeing the field a lot better and there’s a learning curve for him. Consistency in throwing the football — he gets a little bit low with his mechanics. His elbow drops and (he) has a tendency to push the ball. He’s cleaning that up and it’s going to come with repetition.

“... We’re really high on him. He’s not at a championship level yet, but we can win with him. We’ll get him to the point where he can play at a high level.”

Not exactly applause from Kelly, but not overly harsh, either. Jurkovec was progressing, but had/has much more development ahead of him before he would/will be ready to take over for Notre Dame. Frankly, nothing in that should be shocking. Kelly offered another version of that summary immediately following the Blue-Gold Game.

“[Jurkovec] is still cooking,” Kelly said. “He’s still growing.”


LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 24: Notre Dame (15) Phil Jurkovec (QB) warms up during a college football game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the USC Trojans on November 24, 2018, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

At the end of his first year of college, the spring game performance left Jurkovec appearing worn down.

“I’m not happy with where I’m at right now,” Jurkovec said. “I need to get a lot better in terms of everything. I was hoping to be further along, and I need to be.”

He at least kept in mind one unique piece of the intrasquad scrimmage, something consistent throughout spring practices, and something that cut in half his natural assets.

“I just felt like I wasn’t playing real football out there with the red jersey and touch,” Jurkovec said. “I guess I got that in my head and I was just playing differently than I usually would going live.”

RELATED READING: Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s tale of two QBsWhere Notre Dame’s QBs were and are

The NCAA changed Jurkovec’s immediate future and erased the fine line Kelly would have needed to toe regarding Jurkovec’s 2018 playing time when the governing body granted freshmen four games of playing time before it impacted their eligibility. Kelly no longer needs to debate developing the touted quarterback in game situations; he can do it without pause in preferred situations.

“Thus, fully expect the Irish offense to keep the gas pedal down against Ball State in the season’s second week through the third quarter, looking to build enough of a lead that Jurkovec can lead two or three series in the fourth without worry about the game’s fate. If a similar spot developed a week later against Vanderbilt, or perhaps in October vs. Pittsburgh or November with Syracuse, then Jurkovec could again lead multiple series with upperclassmen at his disposal against genuine Division I defenses. Such development without losing eligibility is literally unprecedented and is something most-obviously applicable to quarterbacks.

“The odds are Jurkovec does not see a fifth game. If (Brandon) Wimbush is starting and Book ably backing him up, Notre Dame does not gain much by playing Jurkovec that often. Furthermore, five blowouts in the season would be a bit of a surprise.

“Nonetheless, Jurkovec could end up with 300 passing yards and four total touchdowns, all while having four more seasons at his disposal if so desired.

While those projections a year ago could not have been much further off-target, that was as much a reflection of Jurkovec’s opportunities as it was of him, if not more so. This time around, there is no need to be so complicated. Jurkovec will be the Irish backup, even if his spring did not establish much trust in him in that role.

An argument can be made Clark could leapfrog Jurkovec with a stellar preseason, and that is true in theory, but that is asking a lot of a true freshman in his first days of college practices. How did it work out the last time Notre Dame fans hoped for such?

If Jurkovec makes any progress this preseason, it will both put that Clark possibility to bed and establish an upward trend for the presumed Irish quarterback of the future. The list of improvements begins with — but does not end with — establishing faith in his offensive line so as to keep himself from retreating past the back of the intended pocket, trusting his receivers and putting his passes within their reach, and working through his progressions confidently enough to take a good option rather than continuing to look for a better one.

Is that a lot? Absolutely, but with no reason to limit Jurkovec to four games or fewer, there should be chances to show off such development.

Given the last sight of Jurkovec featured him getting sacked three times after his last Blue-Gold completion, it may be difficult to think he is still Notre Dame’s future quarterback, but it should remain the case. Clark or even class of 2020 consensus four-star quarterback Drew Pyne (New Canaan High School; Conn.) could give Jurkovec competition, but until they arrive and show that quality, Jurkovec gets that much of a benefit of the doubt.

That status will not merit more than a vague acquiescence until Book heads to the NFL. That could come as soon as this spring if Book leads the Irish through another strong season with stats reminiscent of 2018. In that scenario, Jurkovec and Clark will go through a position competition in the spring of 2020, one with a redemption opportunity available in the 2020 Blue-Gold Game.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Isaiah Foskey, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90: Hunter Spears, defensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver
No. 85: George Takacs, tight end
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 80: Micah Jones, receiver
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right guard, three-year starter
No. 77: Quinn Carroll, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive guard
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive lineman
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, left tackle, two-year starter
No. 73: Andrew Kristofic, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle, three-year starter
No. 71: John Olmstead, offensive lineman, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 69: Aaron Banks, left guard
No. 60: Cole Mabry, offensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, veteran backup offensive lineman
No. 57: Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle
No. 56: John Dirksen, offensive lineman
No. 56: Howard Cross, incoming freshman defensive lineman, consensus four-star
No. 55: Jarrett Patterson, starting center
No. 55: Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle returning from injury
No. 54: Jacob Lacey, consensus four-star defensive tackle, early enrollee
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, senior defensive end
No. 52: Zeke Correll, consensus four-star center, early enrollee
No. 52: Bo Bauer, linebacker, sophomore
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, junior defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, senior inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, senior defensive end
No. 42: Julian Okwara, senior defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, junior defensive tackle
No. 40: Drew White, junior inside linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, junior kicker
No. 35: TaRiq Bracy, sophomore cornerback
No. 35: Marist Liufau, Hawaiian freshman linebacker
No. 34: Jahmir Smith, sophomore running back
No. 34: Osita Ekwonu, inside linebacker, consensus four-star
No. 33: Shayne Simon, sophomore linebacker
No. 31: Jack Lamb, sophomore linebacker
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, junior linebacker
No. 29: Ovie Oghoufo, sophomore linebacker-turned-defensive end
No. 27: J.D. Bertrand, consensus four-star linebacker
No. 25: Braden Lenzy, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 24: Tommy Tremble, sophomore tight end
No. 24: Jack Kiser, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Mr. Indiana Football
No. 23: Litchfield Ajavon, four-star safety, freshman
No. 23: Kyren Williams, early-enrolled freshman running back
No. 22: Kendall Abdur-Rahman, quarterback-turned-receiver, freshman
No. 22: Asmar Bilal, the only returning starting linebacker
No. 21: Jalen Elliott, three-year starting safety
No. 20: Shaun Crawford, defensive back returning from yet another injury
No. 20: C’Bo Flemister, sophomore running back
No. 19: Jay Bramblett, freshman punter
No. 19: Justin Ademilola, sophomore defensive end
No. 18: Joe Wilkins, sophomore receiver
No. 18: Nana Osafo-Mensah, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 17: Isaiah Robertson, junior receiver
No. 16: K.J. Wallace, freshman defensive back, three-star
No. 15 Isaiah Rutherford, freshman defensive back, consensus four-star