Notre Dame Football: A Realistic Look at Jurkovec’s Spring Game Performance

Jason Onye(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Jason Onye(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Notre Dame football fans were excited to see the progress of backup quarterback Phil Jurkovec, but left Saturday’s spring game underwhelmed.

Phil Jurkovec’s performance in the Notre Dame football spring game was tough to watch. His post-game interview was perhaps even tougher to watch. An obviously downtrodden Jurkovec answered questions relating to a multiplicity of issues in his game, all of which were magnified in his first game donning the blue and gold.

He seemed to struggle to string the right words together in response to the more specific aspects of his problematic outing. The lack of confidence he exhibited in his responses to reporter questions echoed the same lack of confidence that he exhibited on the football field minutes before. In short, Jurkovec came across as disappointed and overwhelmed.

He had every right to feel disappointed. He completed 15 of 26 passes for a paltry 135 yards. He took 12 sacks. Granted, the rules of the spring game prohibited Jurkovec from utilizing his legs to the fullest, thus taking away an integral part of his game. Yet, in most cases, it looked like he would not have escaped the pressure anyway, waiting too long to make a decision and striking the typical “deer in the headlights” pose that has come to characterize quarterbacks who struggle to think quickly.

He had every right to feel overwhelmed. He knew his high school system well—to the tune of over 8,000 yards in the air and nearly 3,000 yards rushing. But now he is learning a new system–a system that looked every bit of foreign to him on Saturday as he never displayed a consistent ability to adequately read the defense and find the open guys.

Jurkovec spent the majority of his high school career being wildly successful as a quarterback. He was highly recruited out of high school. He was comfortable and had every reason to be. The Blue and Gold game was arguably the first time in a long while that Phil Jurkovec was uncomfortable in his role as quarterback. His frustration was evident in his interview. He wanted to be better. He wants to be better in the future. And like any player who has had a history of success, he wants to be able to compete at the highest level again as quickly as possible.

Brian Kelly referenced this frustration of Jurkovec in his post-game interview saying, “Quarterback is a position where everybody wants to see them ascend to this position immediately…[Jurkovec is] like that as well. He wants to see it happen.” Kelly went on to say, “But it’s going to take some time for him. He’s pushing himself a little too hard. He’s a little too hard on himself. You can see that. He’s got too much going on right now. He just needs to get the ball out of his hand.” In other words, Kelly is being patient.

While it may be tough for Jurkovec remain patient in light of how well he played the position in high school, he must do so in order give himself a chance of getting better. He can’t focus on where he wants to be when he doesn’t understand where he is right now. He needs to meet himself where he is each day, master what is in front of him, and then move on to the next level of mastery.

It might be easy for fans to react irrationally to the dismal performance of Phil Jurkovec in the spring game. We heard so much about him on the recruiting trail. We heard about how he lit the high school football world on fire. But these things do not always translate into success at the collegiate level. It is rare for these things to translate immediately as the collegiate level. Even rarer is it for these things to translate immediately as a freshman.

What does not do Jurkovec any favors is the skewed perspective resulting in unrealistic expectations that is fostered by the the elite execution of players like Trevor Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa in their freshman seasons. There’s no two ways about it: these guys were absolutely phenomenal in their freshman seasons. But it is important to remember that they do not represent the mean. They are the deviation from the mean. Most quarterbacks don’t start as freshmen. Even fewer of those freshmen who do start yield any kind of substantive success. And even fewer of those freshmen who start and are successful go on to win a national championship.

Did Phil Jurkovec play perfectly in Notre Dame’s spring football game? Absolutely not. Did he even play half decently? In truth, not really. But these are the facts:

  1. He is a freshman
  2. He is a quarterback
  3. He is both of these things at one of the most recognizable and scrutinized collegiate football programs in the country.

Knowing these three things, I expect to witness growing pains in Phil Jurkovec. I expect to see overwhelmedness in his eyes. I expect to see him being tough on himself. It was not long ago in the spring of 2015 that a young DeShone Kizer completed just one of five passes for three yards and took a sack in the Blue and Gold game. He was also quite hard on himself calling that game “rock bottom” for himself. He grew up rather quickly not long after that.

As fans we need to be patient and supportive until it is obvious that enough time and opportunities have past that to be supportive any longer would be to do so rather blindly. Players develop at different rates and when they finally do rise to our standards, it often seems that it happened overnight. They have that singular moment that proclaims to us they have arrived.

I am not saying that we can’t learn something from a spring game. But a moment of this caliber does not happen during a spring game. It happens in a  comeback win against Virginia or in a route of Wake Forest in your first collegiate start.

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There will be a time when Phil Jurkovec’s performance each time he steps on the field should be heavily scrutinized. There will be a time to make sweeping generalizations about his future based off these performances. But the spring football game of his freshman year is not the time for any of this.