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QB Sam Hartman, offensive line progress will highlight next week’s Notre Dame Blue-Gold Game

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 12 Notre Dame vs Navy

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 12: Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Chris Tyree (25) catches a touchdown pass during the Notre Dame game versus the Naval Academy Midshipmen on November 12, 2022 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Notre Dame will conclude spring practices in 11 days with the annual Blue-Gold Game (April 22 at 2 ET, exclusively on Peacock). As that day nears, the only chance for the world to get a look at the Irish until they take the field in Dublin (138 days), excitement will focus on Notre Dame’s offense, now led by Wake Forest transfer quarterback Sam Hartman.

New Irish offensive coordinator Gerad Parker and head coach Marcus Freeman will continue to insist Hartman is engaged in a starting competition with rising junior Tyler Buchner, but make no mistake about it, Hartman will start for Notre Dame against Navy no matter how he fares in next week’s intrasquad scrimmage.

That excitement will be understandable leading into next week. Unavoidable, in fact. But it should be tempered, as any success in the Blue-Gold Game comes at the expense of the other side of the ball, and any offensive failure could instead be viewed as a defensive improvement. These are the dichotomies of any intrasquad scrimmage.

For today, let’s consider the most important offensive possibilities …

Hartman shows off with an efficient first half featuring at least one downfield completion.

For all Drew Pyne mustered to push Notre Dame to eight wins in his 10 starts last fall, he struggled to combine efficiency with downfield success. Statistically, he averaged 8.0 yards per attempt — a number that surprisingly rises to 8.11 if removing his 89 passes to star tight end Michael Mayer — a strong average overall. But it was boosted by short passes turning into significant gains and an overall completion percentage of 64.6 percent, not by deep shots down the field.

Anecdotally, the three longest passing plays of Notre Dame’s 2022 — to Logan Diggs (75 yards), Lorenzo Styles (54 yards) and Braden Lenzy (44 yards) — all came when Tyler Buchner was throwing passes. He was less accurate than Pyne, but he could throw a better deep ball as well as spot chances for simple passes to become big chunks, perhaps partly because his running ability created more vulnerabilities in opposing defenses.

Hartman should offer the best of both worlds. He will presumably play only the first half of the Blue-Gold Game before reserves enjoy a running clock, but if Hartman completes more than 60 percent of his passes while connecting for a long touchdown or two, then the offseason hype around him and Notre Dame will gain ample steam.

That was Hartman’s tendency for years as he became the ACC’s all-time touchdown passes leader. Across 26 games in the last two seasons, he completed 60.8 percent of his passes while averaging 8.47 yards per attempt. No matter the pocket situation, Hartman remained a deep threat.

A long Hartman touchdown would elicit the most summer-long anticipation if it were to running back-turned-receiver Chris Tyree. With some of the best speed on the team, perhaps thee best speed on the team, Notre Dame needs to find ways to keep Tyree on the field, hence the move to receiver. He has reportedly struggled in limited media viewings of spring practices, so a surge in public view would provide a needed boost to the position change’s perception.

If Hartman struggles next Saturday, completing only half his passes while throwing two interceptions, the knee-jerk reaction will be to panic about Parker’s promotion, overlooking the fact that it was an intrasquad scrimmage.

In front of Hartman, eyes will be on rising junior Michael Carmody and fifth-year Andrew Kristofic as they step into the two guard positions. Carmody is holding off rising sophomore Billy Schrauth at left guard while Kristofic looks to have a few steps on rising junior Rocco Spindler at right guard.

With Carmody and Kristofic, the Irish should have five veterans along its offensive line, joining preseason All-American left tackle Joe Alt, three-year starting center Zeke Correll and right tackle Blake Fisher. Both Carmody and Kristofic have started in the past, and a strong spring game would work hand-in-hand with an offseason of reciting the stat that Notre Dame has 67 starts returning on its offensive line.

But if Carmody and/or Kristofic struggle at all, the critiques will focus on elevating the more inexperienced players, Schrauth and Spindler. The offseason will be spent reciting the worry that the Irish return only 57 starts among just three clear offensive line starters.

Either way — and this pertains to both Hartman and the offensive line — the reality will be the intrasquad scrimmage is less than 6.7 percent of Notre Dame’s spring. “Less than” in that the starters will play for only one half, not the full two hours of the 15th practice. And their every struggle could just as easily be represented as defensive successes, something to discuss later this week.

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