While the rest of Irish Nation focused its attention on weather-related matters, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and his squad went about their business of preparing for No. 12 Clemson – with wet footballs, of course.
(For a full review of weather-related preparations, read Tim Prister’s update from Thursday night)
“We’re not really concerned about the weather as long as it’s not lightning. Our guys are ready to play.”
Among those deemed ready is junior safety Max Redfield, now a month removed from suffering a broken thumb in a Sept. 5 win over Texas.
“Max was taking all first-team reps. Fully engaged in what we’re doing,” said Kelly. “Will be a major part of our defensive structure.”
Redfield struggled in his first outing (Virginia) playing with a cast on his left hand then was withheld from action against run-heavy Georgia Tech. He returned in a non-starting role against UMass last week, finishing with four tackles and a quarterback hurry.
IN, OUT, AND UNCONCERNED
Notre Dame’s offense will retain the services of one of its walking wounded from last week while another key member, sophomore tight end Tyler Luatua, remains out of action.
“He’s much better,” said Kelly of his best blocking tight end. “He was out there today practicing but we’re not gonna play him this weekend. We’re gonna keep him out. We’re certain that we’ll have him back for Navy.”
Luatua suffered a concussion during practice preparations for the Minutemen last week.
Back in the fold after a mild knee injury (suffered in pre-game warm-ups, no less) is junior target Corey Robinson.
“He had a really good week,” said Kelly. “Took all of his reps. Moved around very well. Expect him to have an active role in what we do.”
Robinson has been anything but to date, targeted just five times by Irish quarterbacks Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer through the first three games. Among those were a crucial chain-moving dig route against Virginia on the game-winning drive as well as a goal line interception against Georgia Tech one week later.
Also experiencing a mixed bag of early results is freshman kicker Justin Yoon. Though he’s connected on four of six field goal attempts with a long of 45 yards, Yoon has also missed a pair of extra points.
“A bit of a punch where he’s not getting his right hip firing through,” said Kelly of Yoon’s most recent missed chip shot. “But his routine was really good this week. We changed up our film the last week in that we have our inner cut (camera) now on him…What we noticed is when he misses he’s just not firing his right hip through. Kind of punching at it a little bit. Made the correction this week and he was 8-for-8 today on his kicks in rather windy conditions and every single one of them was exactly what we needed to see with his right side firing through.”
Kelly offered he has no reservations regarding his new place-kicker.
“His makeup is really good. He’s not a guy blaming anybody, it wasn’t a bad hold or I didn’t get the spot or any of that crap,” said Kelly. “He’s just like, ‘I gotta finish those kicks.’ He was the first one to say, ‘I didn’t finish those two kicks.’ He was the first one on it. I watched film with him. He saw it. Made some self-corrections. I feel really confident he’ll be on.”
THEY’VE SEEN IT ALL
Notre Dame’s players this week enacted their requisite business-as-usual approach to the schedule’s big game du jour.
Annual outings in college football’s most intimidating venues have a way of preparing amateurs to act as professionals.
“Their preparation this week, it’s a group that doesn’t have any excuses. They’re gonna play hard,” said Kelly. “They’ll lay it all out on the line for their teammates and Notre Dame and they’ll play their hearts out. They expect to win. They know they’ve got a great opponent in Clemson. They know it’s gonna be a tough atmosphere, but they’re looking forward to that.
“That’s the satisfying thing about playing this game, they get a chance to go on the road, play a ranked opponent in a very difficult environment and they’ve gotta overcome that and maybe overcome weather conditions…I really feel good about it. They’re excited.”
The environment Notre Dame is about to encounter in Death Valley offered a unique line of questioning this week. Though Clemson is all that matters to the Irish, the media wondered aloud what the toughest environment the current crop has faced to date.
The answer was easy, and unanimous among those in attendance. Michigan: 2013.
Kelly offered the same without hesitation.
“Michigan was without question the loudest,” he said. “I don’t think anything is gonna be able to top how loud that was that night. It was deafening.”
“I told our team the best way to quiet the crowd is to play well,” Kelly continued. “That’s what we need to do. If we play well, we’ll be able to control a lot of that. If we don’t play well, then (Memorial Stadium) should be one of the loudest places we’ve ever played and that’s not a good thing.”
That trust begins at the head of the table with a coach that’s been put through the fire since first taking the reigns in South Bend six seasons ago.
Asked if he’s more comfortable with the inherent challenges his position demands, Kelly quipped, “Did you see me against South Florida? That was a big game for me.
“Yeah, I think I’ve settled into it. Certainly the first year at Notre Dame you’re adapting to everything. When you do play just at Notre Dame before 81,000, it’s enough to acclimate yourself to all settings. You guys are probably a little bit immune to it yourself, being in front of 81,000.
“(But) It’s a pretty loud and I think now, a pretty eventful place (Notre Dame Stadium). It gets you ready for the other environments that you go into. We’ve been to Oklahoma and Florida State and Michigan State and Michigan. We’re kinda used to it now.”