Coming off a 10-win campaign and an appearance in the College Football Playoff last season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish enter 2021 with a lot of questions.
Saturday's Blue-Gold Game was the first step toward finding answers. The Blue squad came out on top 17-3 thanks to a potential breakout performance by true freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner.
Quarterback is one of the marquee positions that head coach Brian Kelly will be keeping an eye on. Ian Book, a fourth-round draft pick by the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, was the Irish's starter for the past three seasons.
Buchner enrolled in school early after committing to the Fighting Irish in 2019. The Californian is a 4-star recruit and the No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the 2021 class, per 247Sports' composite rankings.
Jack Coan is a new addition to Notre Dame's roster after transferring from Wisconsin in January. Drew Pyne was a 4-star recruit coming out of Connecticut last year.
Both offenses started slow in this game, with neither quarterback lighting up the defense. The score was 3-3 at halftime.
Pete Sampson @PeteSampson_
End of the first half at the Blue-Gold Game. It is a spring game. Blue 3 Gold 3 Safe to say Notre Dame's defense a few steps ahead of the Irish offense, although Jack Coan missed an open Avery Davis for a touchdown in the second quarter. Will be an interesting rewatch tonight.
Despite some sluggishness from both quarterbacks, The Athletic's Pete Sampson did note that Coan's ability to move on the pocket could serve him well in the competition moving forward:
Coming out of the intermission, the Blue team put together its best drive of the game when Buchner stepped in. He went 3-of-3 for 68 yards and capped off the drive with a seven-yard touchdown run to help give Blue a 10-3 lead.
After the Gold team missed out on an opportunity to tie the score after driving down the field, Buchner once again took the reins of the Blue offense. He hooked up with senior wideout Braden Lenzy twice, including on a deep pass that was stopped just short of the goal line.
Leo Albano capped off the drive with a touchdown that helped put the Blue up 17-3 early in the fourth quarter.
Coming into the game, Coan and Pyne were expected to be the top options at quarterback. That could still be the case, but Kelly now has a third player to take a look at over the next four months.
Lenzy's connection with Buchner was also a positive sign for the offense. Notre Dame's receivers really struggled in 2020 without Chase Claypool. Javon McKinley was the only player on the team with more than 450 receiving yards last season.
The offensive line is also going to need a makeover because four of the five starters from last season are no longer with the Irish, with Liam Eichenberg, Aaron Banks and Robert Hainsey being drafted in the first three three rounds. Jarrett Patterson was the starting center in 2020, but there's speculation about him possibly being moved to left tackle.
One area of the team that was strong last year and looks like it will be again in 2021 is the defense. The Fighting Irish ranked 14th in FBS with 19.7 points allowed per game last year.
The defenses for the Blue and Gold teams played well on Saturday. Defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, who had a career-high 5.5 tackles for loss last season, was a disruptive force for the Gold defense.
If Notre Dame has an elite defense and a dynamic playmaker at quarterback, Kelly could become the first head coach in program history with five consecutive 10-win seasons.
The Irish will open the 2021 regular season on Sept. 5 at Florida State.