Notre Dame’s football team arrived for the Music City Bowl on Friday, jetting in from around the country on 19 different flights after spending Christmas with their families. From there, the Irish had their first practice in Nashville, beginning game week preparations with LSU ahead.
The Irish’s opening practice took place at Father Ryan High School, coincidentally another “Home of the Irish.” The practice facilities included a “Play Like A Champion Today” sign and a Knute Rockne quote. It also included a quarterback position where Brian Kelly has yet to name a starter.
“I haven’t made the decision on who the starter is yet,” Kelly said post-practice. “Both are getting quality reps. I probably have to make it here in the next 24 hours. They’re both going to play, and I’m just going to have to just get a feel for it and the flow of the game.”
As usual, the quarterback position will be critical to the Irish’s chances of winning. In Malik Zaire, they have a quarterback capable of exploiting the lone weak spot in the Tigers’ defense: a running quarterback. But we can’t know if Zaire’s as capable as Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott or Auburn’s Nick Marshall until he plays a truly meaningful snap — the first likely to come when he takes on the SEC’s top-rated defense.
Of course, Everett Golson‘s highs and lows have been well discussed. But Golson also shares the mobility that has given John Chavis’ unit fits. Even the perpetually maligned Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel managed to run for 71 yards against the Tigers, and thinking that Golson running abilities won’t be used to create some offense is foolish.
“We’ve constructed the game plan to take advantage of what we believe their strengths are and what they can contribute to us moving the football and scoring points,” Kelly said.
When it comes to protecting the quarterback, it looks as if Mike McGlinchey will get his first start at right tackle, with Christian Lombard still struggling with back issues. Sheldon Day is also on pace to make an impact, with Kelly hoping to get a solid contribution out of him.
“We’d like him to play every play,” Kelly said. “We don’t think that’s realistic. If we could get between 40 and 50 plays, I think we’d be ecstatic.”
Both teams will be staying at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, with bowl festivities set to begin on Saturday. But with a long layoff and New Years off just around the corner, Kelly’s made it clear that the priority of the week remains a much-needed victory to close out the season.
“They’ll get a chance to see a little bit of Nashville, but really for us it’s about playing the game,” Kelly said. “We’re extremely pleased and excited to be a part of the Franklin Mortgage Music City Bowl, but this is really important for us, this game.”