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Bye weeks have been kind to Irish

Oct 12, 2009, 7:30 AM EST

With Notre Dame coming off of a bye week, I decided to do some digging into the Irish’s history of playing after a week off. There is good news: the Irish have had great success after a week off — a 61-14-2 record since 1900.

The extra week of practice and preparation should help the Irish against Southern Cal. The Irish will have had time to familiarize themselves with the pared-down Trojan attack, and after five seasons of facing Pete Carroll’s squad, there is little schematically that Carroll can do that will surprise the Irish coaching staff.

Outside of the X’s and O’s, the Irish will need to make great strides psychologically if they want to win on Saturday. The last outings against the Trojans have been disastrous. 38-3, 38-0, and 44-24 blow-outs have been monumental throttlings that make it seem like the divide between the Trojans’ talent level and the Irish’s have never been larger.

Thanks to a tip from our friends at Blue-Gray Sky, we stumbled upon a great article of theirs written by a former player who discussed the strategic moves former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz made during the bye week of the 1993 season as the Irish team prepared to play the vaunted Seminoles of Florida State.

Here are some highlights:

The beginning of the bye week was different than most weeks during the
season, in that the game plan was not yet finalized. As such, we did
not practice on Mondays. Rather, we spent the afternoon in film
sessions, getting treatment and working on conditioning. In total, it
was a rather light day – this set the tone for the rest of the week.
Although we returned to a normal practice schedule on Tuesday,
Wednesday and Thursday, we were working more on fundamentals of the
game, footwork, balance, positioning, and accurate reads, rather than
focusing on our upcoming opponent. If it wasn’t for the media (and a
few of our teammates) there would have been no mention of Florida State.

In
hindsight, this was one of the most powerful tactics that Coach Holtz,
and the rest of the coaching staff, employed to prepare us for the game
– it was a matter of pacing ourselves for the emotion that would
undoubtedly build in week two. In week one, there was no hype – it was
back to basics, Football 101.

However, as the bye week came to a close his strategy began to unfold.
Coach Holtz normally played to the media, giving them the sob story of
how every team has a legitimate chance at beating us each week; in
internal discussions, however, he was always adamantly clear that we
would win without a shadow of a doubt. Strangely, as the game with
Florida State approached, the message to the media and the team was
fairly similar – Florida State was faster and more athletic than we
were. We wondered why he felt the need to remind us of this fact so
frequently. But as we continued through our daily practice schedule it
slowly became clear that it was Florida State’s speed and athleticism
that would eventually be their downfall. The new offensive schemes for
FSU were based on misdirection and cutbacks – “let their whole team
swarm to the ball and over pursue, then we’ll go the other way.” Our
offensive linemen had dark visors added to their helmets to give them
an advantage on eyeing angles and gaps without being noticed – even the
slightest advantage would equate to a magnitude of success. Slowly we
began to see the total picture of the plan – and we now believed we
could win.

Coach Holtz often repeated the phrase “games are won on Monday through
Friday, not on Saturday.” He was an avid believer that “you practice
like you play.” He demanded focus and perfection every day, on every
play. Unfortunately, the Wednesday before the Florida State game was a
practice that, if translated into game execution, would have resulted
in an embarrassing loss to the Seminoles. For some reason our timing
was off – the execution of the new strategy was simply not there.
Coaches were frustrated and the confidence that we were beginning to
build was turning into doubt.

Suddenly, the legendary offensive
line coach, Joe Moore — as old-school and rugged a football coach as
there ever was — lost his cool. He had had enough of misdirection and
cutbacks – he was tired of the thought of playing Florida State
football in order to beat Florida State. Yes, there would be the time
and place to employ this strategy in order to keep them off-balance,
but he believed that the best way to beat Florida State football was to
play Notre Dame football. In the middle of practice Coach Moore huddled
with Coach Holtz…and then exploded. “Get
me the managers! Get these f*cking visors off these f*cking helmets! We
don’t need this bullsh*t! We’re going to look them right in the eye,
tell them where we’re running the ball, and kick their f*cking asses
all over the f*cking field!”

** snip **

The team went through the usual post-rally schedule: returning to the
Loftus Center for a team meeting and then into our relaxation routine.
Our team meetings on Friday night were more administrative than
anything, covering logistics for the weekend and so forth.
Additionally, we would always watch a short film comprised of
highlights from the previous week’s game and highlights from the
previous year’s game vs. the upcoming opponent. However, with no game
over the bye week and having not played Florida State in several years,
there really wasn’t anything to show. At least that’s what we thought.

Instead
of a game film, Coach Holtz had arranged to show highlights of the 1988
Miami game. As music pumped through the speakers and highlights of
Zorich, Stonebreaker, Rice and Rocket filled the screen, we began
cheering for the players whose performance influenced us to join ND in
the first place. We started to think about the magnitude of the event
at hand. We began to realize that we were about to write another
chapter in the history books. Then, the music stopped, the screen went
blank, and a picture of the 1988 National Championship Ring went up…
and the team went crazy! The sounds of the pep rally were silent
compared to the uproar that filled the meeting room at Loftus – it was
literally an out-of-body experience.


Weis and his coaching staff already told us a stress on fundamentals was at the forefront of practice last week. You’ve also got to believe that Weis has had his team thinking about the Trojans since the moment the Irish squeaked their way past Washington two weeks ago, and probably spent parts of the past few weeks game-planning and preparing for this mid-October date with their rivals.

It was the truth 16 years ago, as it is truth today: This Saturday’s football game will be predicated on many of the same things that resulted in the Irish winning the game of the century.

As was designed, the game would be about execution, Holtz said. Florida State could not win
if we executed the game plan. It was simple: hit them in the mouth and
get them on their heels, then we’ll work misdirection, and they will be lost.
Holtz then talked about what the media believes, what the critics
believe — and how none of that matters. Inside these walls and inside
your hearts was a belief that victory was imminent. Then he said: “Let
there be no doubt… this sucker doesn’t have to be close!” And with
that, we stormed out of the locker room.

Well, we all know what happened on that unseasonably warm November
Saturday. It was a great game against two pretty evenly-matched, albeit
very different teams. This “Game of the Century” definitely delivered
on the hype. The game, though, was not won simply on Saturday. The
foundation had been laid by Coach Holtz over the previous two weeks: a
skillful balance of gameplanning and emotional management that made us
believe we could beat the #1 team in the country. Notre Dame catapulted
to the top of the college football world on that Saturday, but the game
had been won long before kickoff.

The Irish don’t have nearly as daunting of a challenge ahead of them as the 1993 squad did. But the mindset will need to be the same if the Irish walk out of Notre Dame Stadium next Saturday victorious.

(Special thanks to the guys at BGS for the great source material…) 

  1. robertg - Oct 12, 2009 at 5:18 PM

    keith,
    1.we thank you and your staff for the most excellent background information on preparations for previous notre dame/usc games.
    2. we understand that charlie and his staff and the student athletes who are members of notre dame’s 2009 football team have been preparing for this usc game much more extensively, with the washington game being additional preparation for the usc game because washington’s head coach was usc’s offensive coordinator and qb coach for the past several years, as was washington’s current defensive coordinator.
    3. that chemistry and confidence which are key to notre dame’s very talented, but relatively inexperienced, d line and the blending of that chemistry with the rest of notre dame’s defense took many quantum leaps foward during that washington game.
    4. we look back at 2005 and we find a notre dame offense and defense which had much less talent at many positions and virtually zero depth of talent compared to notre dame’s 2009 team.
    5. notre dame’s 2005 team faced and beat a usc team which was significantly better, from a talent and depth point of view, that usc’s 2009 offense and defense and especially the offense which has been one dimensional(run game only) this season and a usc defense which has not been effective against the only opposing team that had both passing and running games-washington.
    6. however, we are not coaches and we are certainly not going to be playing on the field on saturday.
    7. for those preparations, in charlie and his staff and in notre dame’s student athletes we place our full faith and trust.
    8. looking back at the 2005 game and at the knowledge that we have accumulated since then, we know the one area of the 2009 notre dame/usc game in which those of us who love notre dame can be of assistance.
    9. that area is putting the economic pressure on the right individuals at the pac 10 conference, which will supply the officials on the field, and the big east conference, which will supply the tech review officials, in order to minimize the chances that a notre dame win in 2009 gets stolen by dishonest officials, as obviouisly occurred in 2005.
    10. while all of the necessary contact information is availble online at the pac 10 conference and big east conference websites and, with respect to home residences, can be purchased at intelius.com, we will post that contact information for each individual at notre dame central, along with specific examples of dishonest officiating by pac 10 and big east crews.
    11. in the meantime, we sure would appreciate it if you and your staff would post the nbc video and audio of the 2005 notre dame/usc game at nd central for viewing by those who love notre dame and need to be reminded what happened in 2005 and to let the rest of the world know that every notre dame fan around the world will be watching the officiating at the 2009 notre dame/usc game very closely and will take action in the civil courts against every official who makes a dishonest call or non call or who cheats with the play or game clocks and every individual at the pac 10 and big east conferences responsible for assigning those officials to this game.
    12. by dishonest, we do not mean conduct by officials which falls into any legitimate gray area, but only blatantly dishonest conduct, for which there is no justification in the rules or on the field or on the game film, of which there were numerous instances in the 2005 notre dame/usc game, in addition to the bush bush and putting time back on the game clock after the 2005 game was over.
    GO IRISH!!!

  2. IrishSuck - Oct 12, 2009 at 8:37 PM

    What are you babbling about robertg? The Irish will get crushed like always. Charlie Weis should be fired. All that supposedly great recruiting, but you still suck! That’s what mediocre coaching will do…

  3. scoobjr - Oct 12, 2009 at 10:14 PM

    wow… crazy much?

  4. Keith Arnold - Oct 13, 2009 at 12:14 AM

    RobertG – Do me a favor and please DON’T post any personal information on our website. You comments are growing legendary status here, but I’ll be quick to delete any information about officials and their contact information. Even if you think the refs are crooked, I’d much rather have you post a 30 point postulate than deal with you giving home phone numbers. Thanks, Keith

  5. NDBrian - Oct 13, 2009 at 8:58 AM

    I’ve been listening to Irish fans and there are some that don’t believe! To those I say SHAME ON YA’LL! What isn’t there to believe? R we not due? This team consists of members that know how it feels to get EMBARRASSED by the Trojans. We have experience, motivation, home-field, and the most efficient QB in the nation. The D-fense…well I’ve seen better play and smarter schemes the past couple games. Therefore, we haven’t peaked and the potential can come out this week. Pessimism is understood, but Coach Weis WILL have this team ready. This game will be the start of a special year. Be ready, get PUMPED and GO IREESSHH!

  6. goldendomer - Oct 13, 2009 at 9:34 AM

    Lets go irish. I believe we CAN win. But will we? I can see another shoot out, but i will say this, if we score 30 i believe we will win because i do no think that USC has the offense to match us. they have not looked like the trojans of past. They scored 18 against the bucks what 13 against the huskies (i know with a back-up) and they only put up 26 against wash st. We have been putting up points against every one. should be interesting

  7. megat muzaffar - Oct 13, 2009 at 10:49 AM

    1988 ND-Miami was an epic game, a two-week emotional build up not just for the players but for the student body as well. Catholics vs Convicts, Green vs Orange etc. Zorich, Stonebreaker, Rocket, Rice and the rest of the team had that wicked grin all week long; the “we will kick their a**” grin. We still had visions of Jimmy Johnson (the forgotten Miami coach??) throwing his baseball cap to the ground in disgust during the final seconds of the game. Coach Lou, he had laid the emotional strategy not just for the players, he had strategies well beyond the boundaries of his team and student body; he tricked the minds of a Miami Hurricanes coach into believing he could win it all with a two-point conversion; Jimmy got greedy, Jimmy went for it!! OOOh Jimmeey!! Such a “Stonebreaker”!!! The Irish won 31-30!! GO IREEESHHH! Go LOU>>>

  8. kejji - Oct 13, 2009 at 11:17 AM

    WOW…robertg, you are exactly what I thought you were from the disingenuous claptrap you have posted on other sites about USC…I said you were “just a disgruntled fan of a team that has been regularly slapped down by USC”….now I see that that team is Notre Dame.
    I tell you what…you better get ‘SC this year while Barkley is a freshman, because he is making huge strides game to game, and by the time you see him next year it will be lights out.
    You are serious about bringing civil suits against the refs for your preceived slights? Ha Ha Ha!!!
    Then it would be proper for Pete Carroll to consider a slander suit against you for the crazy accusations you make about him and his staff.
    Trying to post personal info of refs?? you are a true piece of work.

  9. jan - Oct 13, 2009 at 2:34 PM

    Thanks for an enjoyable post, Keith. Like Lou, Devine, Ara, Leahy, Knute, etc. before him, I hope Charlie & staff have a surprise wrinkle for this big game (please NOT green jerseys). Seems to me that in each of the “legendary” wins, the truly great coaches have found a special little twist to gain the edge. Call it fan(atic) optimism but, other than the injury to Floyd, it feels like things are aligning well for the Irish for this ND-USC battle: players steping up, valuable playing time, timing of injuries being healed, tweaking of the blitzing defense after 5 games of evaluating personnel, etc. I do believe that this one WILL come down to who outcoached who; beyond the obvious execution-turnover-penalty impacts on the game. I’m pleased to see that the forecast is for clear weather in the 40s; and would love to see some nice artic air come blowing down from Canada in time to greet our foes from So. Cal.

  10. BANSHEE - Oct 13, 2009 at 4:07 PM

    As a long time (1960’s) ND follower I have had my faith tested since the days of Ara, Dan Devine, and Lou . We’ve had to put up with a few mediocre head coaches and thus non descript teams in between. This Saturday will be a challenge as to whether we move forward in the footsteps of the aforementioned coaches or fall back into the shadows of whats his names. GO IRISH !

  11. Blouie - Oct 14, 2009 at 11:52 AM

    IrishSuck- why do you spend your time on Notre Dame websites if you are so sure of your own team. Kinda stupid if you are really as good as you say. By the way nice loss to washington.

  12. Issac Maez - Feb 18, 2010 at 11:18 AM

    Hey! Awesome site! I will definatley be coming back in the near future =)

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