A sense of desperation descends upon Notre Dame Stadium Saturday at the 2017 Notre Dame football Blue & Gold spring game. Head coach Brian Kelly sits firmly on the hot seat after a disaster of a 4-8 campaign and needs to replace a departed starting quarterback and break in a new defense.
In other words: Notre Dame boasts one of this year's most interesting spring games for a handful of noteworthy bad reasons alongside plenty of great ones.
Despite the negatives, the Fighting Irish have key returning players to lean on and continue to slap together one of the better 2018 recruiting classes behind the scenes.
This all-over-the-place feel to the Fighting Irish is something Kelly will need to weave into a cohesive approach before the season begins. The process officially starts in the public eye Saturday.
2017 Notre Dame Spring Game
When: Saturday, April 22 at 12:30 p.m. ET
Where: Notre Dame Stadium
TV: NBC Sports Network
Live Stream: NBCSports Live Extra
Kelly first has to figure out the quarterback position in the wake of DeShone Kizer taking his talents to the NFL.
Kizer had an up-and-down year and was even benched at one point, but he threw 26 touchdowns against nine interceptions and ran for a team-high eight scores.
Kelly told SiriusXM NFL Radio he wanted Kizer back (via ESPN.com), but early hype suggests the offense will be in great hands with Brandon Wimbush, who looks like an ideal fit to run the fast-paced attack schemed up by new offensive coordinator Chip Long.
"His presence," Kelly said of Wimbush's quality, according to Laken Litman of the Indianapolis Star. "He runs that offense like he's been running it for years. There's no panic. There's a calmness. There's an organization to it."
Fans will get to see Wimbush up close and personal Saturday as he works with an offensive line returning four starters and a cast of weapons led by Equanimeous St. Brown.
St. Brown is the guy consistently pegged for a major breakout season a year removed from reeling in 58 catches for 961 yards and nine touchdowns. Off the field, he's assumed a leadership role and noted how different this year feels compared to last, according to Tim O'Malley of Scout.
"The major difference is everything is much more serious," St. Brown said. "Since we came back from winter break, everything has been way more serious than last year. There's no tolerance for anything. Being late, anything like that. Everyone is on point. It shows."
The same fresh approach applies to the opposite side of the ball under the guidance of new coordinator Mike Elko.
He has a tough task in front of him after Kelly fired Brian VanGorder last year after 149 points were allowed over the team's first four games. On paper, Elko will run something of a 4-2-5 hybrid front, though given the catastrophe that was last season, fans would understand if all he's doing so far this spring is hammering home the basic fundamentals.
Here's a taste of his interviews, which seem generic until adding the above context, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN.com):
The biggest thing we want to achieve is we want them to understand how we want to play defense. It's not scheme. We want to be able to run to the ball hard. We want to be able to come off blocks. We want to be able to tackle. We want to be able to disrupt the football and create turnovers. Those things are as important as anything we're doing right now, and [we're] making sure we don't lose sight of that stuff.
The dynamics at play across the Notre Dame roster make for one of the year's more interesting spring games.
On one side is a veteran cast of weapons surrounding a quarterback executing a faster-than-usual attack. On the other, there's a defense getting back to the basics in order to execute a diverse scheme designed to create turnovers and combat the high-flying ways of most collegiate offenses.
Saturday is a good time to study up on this Fighting Irish team. A sense of urgency, starting at the top with Kelly, looks like it will create more than a few new household names in 2017.