NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The weather in South Bend this week has been nothing like what Hurricane Sandy wrought on the east coast, but the remnants of the storm made the area around Notre Dame cold and wet the last few days none the less. As a result, the Irish football team spent most of the week practicing indoors, but they got outside for practice for the first time this week on Thursday.
“You always like to finish your week in preparation outdoors in the elements,” Brian Kelly said in his post-practice media address inside the Guglielmino Athletics Complex. “We’re gonna have to play in them on Saturday.”
Kelly praised the week of practice his team had in preparation for this weekend’s clash with Pittsburgh. On Tuesday he said he wanted to see his team run more offensive plays during games. They have been averaging about 66 plays-per-game, but he wants to see that number climb above 70. Kelly said Thursday that the number of plays run during practice jumped from 80 on Wednesday to 118 on Thursday.
The Irish are back home this week and a home game is a supposed advantage, but it has not appeared to be one based on the first eight games of the season. ND has won its four home games by an average of just 5.0 points, while winning the four games away from Notre Dame Stadium by an average margin of 28.0 points.
“We want to make sure that Friday and Saturday are not the Super Bowl,” Kelly said of his team’s lead up to a home game. “(For example) parents asking for tickets (and) friends wanting…when I was here two weeks ago and we had two or three players giving tours of The Gug. We just have to kind of bring that in a little bit.”
Kelly added that the reason the start of Friday’s pep rally was moved up an hour was to get the team to their hotel an hour early to give them additional “down time” prior to Saturday’s game. He says he is continuing to find ways to keep his team from being “distracted” before their home games.
Bothered By The Bug
George Atkinson III missed last week’s game at Oklahoma due to a bout with the flu. Kelly said last week that there were other players who had the bug as well, but they were still able to go last week. Atkinson will be a full go this week according to the Irish head coach, but others have been afflicted by the virus.
“I don’t think we’ll have anybody miss the game,” Kelly began. “But we did battle through a couple days of practice with some guys with the flu. We think we’ve got it under control and it should not affect anybody.”
“Everybody will dress. We’ll see what happens on game day, but it’s not an epidemic. It’s not gonna knock out four, five or six guys. If one guy is affected by it at all it will be just minimizing some of his reps.”
Speaking Of Atkinson…
With Atkinson out last week Cam McDaniel filled his spot on the kickoff return unit. Kelly says Atkinson will be back in that role this week, but McDaniel will have some chances as well.
“We all know George has got the ability to go the distance,” Kelly said of the sophomore. “Let’s say we’re up in the game and I want to make sure we grind it out to the 25 – Cam’s gonna get you there, so I think there’s a time and place for Cam back there as well.”
McDaniel has averaged 20.4 yards on five kickoff returns this season, while Atkinson has a 19.4 average on eight returns.
Looking For a 6th For Slaughter
Kelly announced that Notre Dame will seek a sixth season of eligibility for safety Jamoris Slaughter, who tore his Achilles tendon early in the season. Slaughter did not play as a freshman in 2008 and was in his fifth year of eligibility this year. Kelly says Notre Dame’s compliance department has already begun the paperwork process.
“Nothing will happen on that until the end of the season, because the NCAA is gonna deal with immediate action eligibility stuff,” Kelly said. “But we’ve got all the paperwork (and) all the ducks in a row if you will to move that forward.”
Kelly is also hopeful for a return to the practice field by Austin Collinsworth. The safety had shoulder surgery over the summer and has not practiced with the team since then.
“He will not play under any circumstances,” Kelly said of the junior. “Because we want to preserve that additional year of eligibility if it surfaces.”
Collinsworth has been medically cleared to begin weight lifting and Kelly is hopeful he will be able to practice with the team during bowl game preparation.
Defense Gets No (Heisman) Respect
After his team-leading fifth interception of the season in last week’s prime time 30-13 win over Oklahoma Manti Te’o continues to find himself in the middle of Heisman Trophy discussion. Charles Woodson remains the only defensive player to ever win the coveted award, but he did it in large part to the fact that he returned kicks as well.
“I just think people that are voting are looking for game changers,” Kelly said of the possible rationale that has kept the award out of the hands of more defensive players. “Very rarely does a defensive player dictate the outcome of games as much as that skill player does. I think that’s been the tendency towards it – I think it’s a good year to break that.”
Te’o also has a team-best 80 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, three pass break-ups, and two fumble recoveries to his credit for the 8-0 Irish this season.
Kelly mentioned earlier in the week that his players are starting to hit their peaks physically rather than being on the decline at this point in the season. ND players made the same comments when they had their weekly chance to speak to the media on Wednesday. It’s a change from just a couple years ago when players were dropping weight and seeing their strength on the decline in November.
Kelly says the important change is due to a year-round training approach.
“We’re not killing them in January and February,” Kelly commented. “We have different stages of our weight training. January and February is building a lot of that mental toughness in those two months. We’re getting after you pretty good, but we’re not trying to put too much weight on your back.”
Kelly credited strength Paul Longo for keeping his players strong, but also having them in football shape.
“There’s a lot of levels to it,” Kelly continued. “I think Paul does a great job in making sure that we manage this out so we play our very best through strength and conditioning through November, December and January.”