NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The last 35 days have crawled at a leisurely pace for both the Notre Dame football team and its fans alike, but the Irish are back to business as they prepare for their Jan. 7 date with Alabama in the BCS Championship Game.
“Today and tomorrow will be really probably the two most contact days that we’ve had with our football team since the USC game,” Brian Kelly said Saturday night in his last media briefing before he and his team leaves for Miami. “That’s a long time. We’ve been working at getting our football team as close to January 7th being in (as) game ready condition as possible.”
Kelly went on to say that Saturday’s practice would have been comparable to an “Intense Tuesday” practice during the regular season, while Sunday’s upcoming practice would compare to a Wednesday practice, which is typically the last full contact day of the week. The team will practice on Monday as well before taking New Year’s Day off and then departing on Jan. 2.
The Fighting Irish went first team offense against first team defense on Saturday inside the Loftus Center to try to get both sides closer to game speed. Kelly estimated that of 90 minutes of practice time his team went live for about 10 minutes. His biggest hesitation in going live more is offensive line depth.
“It’s been a big of a limiting situation for us,” Kelly said of his o-line concerns. “If there’s probably one thing that has affected some of my thought process relative to engaging our o-line live against our d-line it’s been that we’re a little thin on the offensive line.”
All Business All The Time
Bowl games, especially the excess of bowl games that currently exist, are generally seen as rewards for a good season. At least that is how Kelly says he has approached bowl trips with teams at both Notre Dame and Cincinnati in the past. That thought process is out the window though as he prepares to attempt to lead the Irish to the program’s first national title in nearly a quarter century.
The Orange Bowl is a bowl game. The Gator Bowl is a bowl game. The Champs Sports Bowl is a bowl game. However, Kelly says his team’s next game is not a “bowl game” and the approach will be different in their daily preparation.
“We’re there on a business trip,” Kelly said. “That’s how we’ve kind of approached it. I told them that it was going to get to this. You have to let me know if you want to do this, because when we go down there ‘here’s the rules’.”
“They all understand what it’s all about going down to Miami,” he continued. “It’s not enjoy South Beach. This is about preparing for a national championship game.”
Kelly has had a 2 a.m. curfew for his team at the start of previous bowl trips, but he said the Irish will have an 11 p.m. curfew for the duration of their stay in Miami.
More Time For Playmakers
It is no secret that Notre Dame’s special teams units have lacked luster throughout the 2012 season. The most glaring special teams deficiency is the 2.4 yard punt return average. That facet was less than stellar last year too before Kelly put Michael Floyd back to return punts in the Champs Sports Bowl. Floyd responded with a 41-yard return against Florida State, which was the longest for the Irish all season.
Expect to see some higher profile players on the field for punt returns and other special teams on Jan. 7 in what Kelly says is an “all hands on deck” situation.
“We’re gonna put all guys on deck in terms of trying to get the best players on the field, because it’s a one-shot deal,” Kelly said of his championship game special teams philosophy. “I don’t have to worry about the next week or the week after and them getting too many reps in terms of S.T.”
Kelly would not specify which players might be candidates for new special teams positions in the BCS Championship Game, but running backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick both took reps there during fall training camp before freshman Davonte’ Neal was named the team’s punt returner.
Kelly candidly commented that while his team has not been spectacular, it has also not “stunk the joint up” on special teams this season. He said he is simply looking for his team to “take great care of the football” and flip the field at the appropriate time with special teams against the Crimson Tide.
Looks Who’s Back
Wide receiver DaVaris Daniels is a full go at practice after breaking his clavicle on Nov. 10 at Boston College. While the last month has been a seemingly eternal state of limbo for the Irish in their championship preparation, it has meant extra time for Daniels to recover.
Daniels had actually been in Notre Dame’s last eight practices prior to this week, but he was wearing a red “no contact” jersey.
“I usually don’t put jerseys on guys,” Kelly began on his thinking. “But I wanted him to be involved in all the timing work, but nobody could touch him. Now he’s off the red jersey.”
Daniels had surgery the day after suffering his injury. He had five screws and a plate inserted to hold his left shoulder together, but he has no physical limitations now. Daniels was ND’s second-leading wide receiver with 25 receptions for 375 yards in 10 games this season. Kelly expects the sophomore to be a contributor against Alabama.
Kelly and his staff had planned on Austin Collinsworth to be able to practice with the team during this bowl preparation period after the safety had shoulder surgery last summer. That was still the plan as late as October, but Collinsworth had an unexpected setback that derailed that idea.
“He had a second surgery,” Kelly announced on Saturday. “He had back surgery as well.”
“He had a discectomy,” Kelly continued. “Kind of like (Tyler) Eifert had. (It was) very similar. I can’t give you whether it was right or left, but he needed that attended to. He got that taken care of (and) he feels great, so we feel like we’ve got him put back together.”
A discectomy is a procedure that is generally performed to repair a herniated disc. Kelly expects Collinsworth to be ready for spring practice. The junior’s collegiate eligibility will run through the 2014 season.