The Brian Kelly era is finally ready for live game action — even if we’re still four-plus months away from the opening kickoff of the regular season.
Notre Dame will hold its 81st annual spring game on Saturday afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium with a new head coach, a new quarterback and new-look offensive and defensive sides of the football.
And for the Fighting Irish faithful, there’s renewed hope in the program.
The game will feature a fairly standard scoring system for the first time since 2007 when a large crowd attended quarterback Jimmy Clausen’s debut in an Irish uniform. With Clausen moving on to the NFL, how many fans will be in attendance to see Dayne Crist, the new leader on offense?
According to Kelly, who succeeded Charlie Weis last December, the 6-4, 235-pound Crist will play every snap in the contest — a stunning development in that it was uncertain whether Crist would be available for spring practice after tearing the ACL in his right knee during the team’s 40-14 victory over Washington State in late October last year.
Following reconstructive surgery in early November, the initial prognosis for Crist was that he’d be able to participate in limited action in four to six months. However, the signal-caller had other ideas.
While he is not yet 100 percent, Crist said he will take the field on Saturday with no doubts about how the knee will hold up. The training staff has cleared him for full participation, and he’s ready to begin his tenure as the face of the offense. He also believes that he’ll be 100 percent come the fall.
In addition to Crist, backups Nate Montana and Tommy Rees will also see action under center. All three quarterbacks will be off-limits for contact while they don their red jerseys — in part because the Irish are experimenting with new combinations on the offensive line.
Also protected as they recover from injuries will be flanker Theo Riddick and tight end Kyle Rudolph, who have been recovering from shoulder surgery. Starting outside linebacker Darius Fleming will participate — but on a limited basis. All in all, the Irish go into Saturday’s game relatively healthy with every player on the roster being available for game action.
Kelly stated that his goal was to have a competitive game, so he divided the teams up as evenly as possible — particularly by keeping together specific positional groups and not having a game of ones vs. twos. Normal game rules will be in play for the most part, with some exceptions on special teams:
- All punts will be fair-caught.
- There won't be any kickoff returns or efforts to block punts or kicks.
- Normal clock stoppages will occur during the first half, but a running clock may be employed in the second half if the game or weather dictates it.
Kelly said that an emphasis will be placed on offensive execution and cautioned that the defense may not stand out, as the unit will run basic schemes. He was, however, impressed by the progress of the defensive unit throughout the spring.
Below are some of the standout names on the Blue and Gold rosters for the game that kicks off at 12:30 p.m. CT on Saturday.
Note: Some players will play on both teams because of depth issues at certain positions:
Blue: Dayne Crist, Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph, Armando Allen, T.J Jones, Anthony McDonald, Brian Smith, Gary Gray, Trevor Robinson, Ethan Johnson, Cierre Wood.
Gold: Darrin Walls, Manti Te'o, Shaquelle Evans, Theo Riddick, Nate Montana, Harrison Smith, Jonas Gray, Duval Kamara, Darius Fleming, Kapron Lewis-Moore.
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