NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Ten games down and two to go. The Notre Dame football team has wrapped-up the bulk of its work in preparation for its final home game of the 2012 season. The Fighting Irish have more at stake in preparation for this mid-November game than it has at this time of year in nearly two decades.
“November, as you know, can be a very interesting month relative to where you are as a football team,” head coach Brian Kelly said as he began his Thursday post-practice media session. “It could be one where your guys are just checked out, about to check out, trying to get through it, or there’s a great deal of energy and positive vibes around your team. We’ve got that right now. We had a very spirited practice. (It was) very upbeat.”
Thursday’s practice was under the lights and back inside Notre Dame Stadium in preparation for Saturday’s Wake Forest game. Kelly had begun the tradition of practicing in the stadium the Thursday before home games, but had spent the last couple Thursdays back in the LaBar Complex after the heavy rains that fell during the Stanford overtime game a month ago.
Kelly commented that he would be a “very happy guy” if he could remain a college football coach based on what his teams do on Thursdays, adding that the practice that had just ended was about as close to perfect as it gets.
“We’re getting really close to practicing and letting it go,” Kelly said. “In terms of guys making good decisions, correcting themselves (and) playing the game the right way – (it was) a perfect practice Thursday. This was a good one.”
Kelly bristled a little bit when asked if his 2012 squad is more of a “player-driven team” than his first two at Notre Dame. “Player-driven” might not be the words he would choose, but he has acknowledged since before the season began that there is better player leadership and accountability in the Irish ranks than he had in his first two years.
“The guys that are now taking that lead had to see it for a couple years,” Kelly evaluated. “Now that they know what is expected on a day to day basis they can kind of lead. That allows it to filter down into the ranks now.”
“They really didn’t know what it looked like when we started. Now they know what it looks like. Now the freshmen understand what it looks like, so it becomes easier for us.”
Kelly says he had to spend his first two years in the program being overly hands-on at practice and essentially teaching everyone on the roster how to practice the way he wanted them to practice. As time has gone on he has been able to do less of that, while his veterans do more.
“The first couple years we had to show them how to do it and demand it,” Kelly stated. “I think I made it pretty clear they knew what I wanted from them and I had to be demonstrative about it. I don’t have to be that way this year with this group, because we’ve got so many of them that understand.”
The head coach is still involved in the process, but says his players are now much more consistent with their roles as well.
No Limit For Golson
When Kelly was asked which of his regulars has shown an ability to continue to improve their game it did not take much thought for him to answer.
“Everett Golson – it starts and ends there,” Kelly quickly responded. “He’s doing all the things that we were hoping. What we had to live through were some ups and downs, but there’s no question he’s there.”
Golson has now passed for 1,572 yards with eight touchdowns, while rushing for 258 yards and five more scores. He had both a rushing and passing touchdown in last week’s win over Boston College.
Kelly also mentioned receiver Chris Brown and cornerback KeiVarae Russell, both freshmen, as players who will “continue to climb”.
Golson’s helmet has come off his head in Notre Dame’s last two games. Kelly had never thought about it as a problem, but did say the clear visor Golson wears in his helmet could affect his quarterback’s ability to properly buckle his chin strap.
Protecting The Home Turf
Various things are in play for Saturday’s game. The Irish obviously need a win to stay in the hunt for the BCS Championship game, it is the last home game which also makes it senior day and the Fighting Irish also have the chance to finish a season without a blemish at home.
“They want to go undefeated at home. That’s really important to this group,” Kelly said. “They don’t talk about 11-0 or 12-0 or national championships or bowl games or any of those other things. They want to win this last home game, because they want to be that group that went undefeated at home. That’s important to them.”
The last Notre Dame team to go unbeaten at home was the 1998 squad. The current ND team has won seven straight home games. It’s the longest home winning streak for an Irish squad since the 1997-’99 teams won 10 consecutive games.
Reserve offensive lineman Matt Hegarty had what Kelly would only refer to as a “medical procedure” and will be out of action this week. Kelly cited privacy issues and would not reveal what actually happened to the sophomore from Aztec, NM.
“It wasn’t a situation where he got hurt in practice,” Kelly said. “This was (an) outside practice situation that caused some concern. He’s had some testing and he’s doing well, but we have to shut him down for football until we get some further testing.”
Kelly said Hegarty is expected to miss Notre Dame’s last two games, but his potential status for a bowl game is up in the air right now.
Safety Matthias Farley continues to do better after having screws and a plate inserted in his hand two weeks ago prior to the Pittsburgh game. Farley did much better with the hand last week against Boston College after playing tentatively against the Panthers and Kelly says he has continued to make strides.
“This week he’s catching the ball,” Kelly said. “He’s actually moving his hand and catching the football, so I would say that it’s a very small impediment to where he is right now.”
Kelly said the health of the team is very well right now, adding that Kona Schwenke, who injured his shoulder in the Pitt game, is much better now.
Safety Austin Collinsworth is able to do more activity now than he has all year. The junior had shoulder surgery in June and has been working with strength coach Paul Longo in the weight room. Collinsworth has not been cleared yet for contact, but Kelly expects him to practice next month when the team is in bowl preparation.