Press Conference

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Notre Dame names three captains: LB Drue Tranquill, C Sam Mustipher … and punter Tyler Newsome


Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly made it clear to his roster: Their votes for 2018 captains should not be based on friendships or popularity, on seniority or production, on prestige or position. He wanted the Irish captains to be the players the roster would least want to disappoint or let down.

That metric yielded three Notre Dame captains, announced just before the Irish took the field for their first spring practice Tuesday. Fifth-year linebacker Drue Tranquill will serve a second year as captain, joined by fifth-year center Sam Mustipher and fifth-year punter Tyler Newsome.

While Tranquill’s selection was a certainty and Mustipher’s predictable, electing Newsome with more than 51 percent of the roster’s votes might strike those outside the program as a bit of a surprise.

“For the last two years, [Newsome] has carried the message for our football program on a day-to-day basis relative to traits over talent,” Kelly said, before pointing out the difficulty for a specialist to earn such respect from a wide swath of teammates.

Unlike Tranquill with the defense or Mustipher with the offense, Newsome does not spend practice with nearly half the roster. He is off on a separate field with three or four other players. In fact, while Notre Dame spent the spring debut indoors, Newsome and the specialists headed out to the snow and its lack of kick-ruining ceilings.

Newsome has led a “SWAT” unit each of the last two offseasons. The groups split the roster into eight teams, forcing players to get to know others outside their position groups and creating mutual accountability for performances in the weight room, in the locker room and in the class room. After 2016’s debacle of a season, Kelly split up the spring set of eight teams, putting Newsome in charge of the unit Kelly expected to struggle most. Going against seven other SWAT teams, each led by captains, Newsome rallied his grouping to a spring victory before a summer reshuffling.

“When that opportunity was given to me, I felt very honored,” Newsome said. “… That wasn’t just me, that was the whole SWAT team buying in.”

Sam Mustipher (right) spent the last two seasons starting alongside future NFL draft picks in left guard Quenton Nelson and left tackle Mike McGlinchey. In 2018, he will not only need to lead the offensive line, but all of the Irish as one of at least three captains. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

That kind of leadership apparently resonated throughout the entire locker room, with Newsome now leading his third SWAT team — each spring and summer sees a fresh start. Tranquill has also led groups the last two offseasons, while Mustipher has taken the lead with a team this spring. Between the three captains, the Irish obviously have the offense and defense covered in Mustipher and Tranquill, respectively, but their leadership styles also differ, per Kelly.

“They play differently, they interact differently with their groups,” he said. “Sam is really big on involvement with his group. Drue is not necessarily. He is engaged, but he is not Sam.

“And Tyler is — he kind of marches to a different tune.”

That different tune has led to inspirational tattoos across Newsome’s upper body with plans of adding a leprechaun image to his punting foot upon graduation. It has also led to a reputation for large amounts of time spent volunteering in the area community. And it prompted a colorful retelling of 17 days spent in the hospital as a 16-year-old following a car crash. Newsome’s tattoos and volunteering can both be traced to that experience, though most of it cannot be heard in the press conference video Notre Dame released. It was edited to remove particular asterisk-requiring words, ones which, in the context, may have even been appropriate.

Mustipher, for one, wanted that different tune as a captain.

“Newsome is Newsome, he’s attacking every single day,” Mustipher said. “He was one of my personal votes for captain because I see the way the guy works every day. He’s insane about his work ethic. He truly wants to lead this team. He wants this team to be successful, and he would do anything for us.”

Tranquill’s praise echoed Mustipher’s.

“When you take a vote of your team and a guy receives over 50 percent and the third-most on the team, that speaks to the character of him,” Tranquill said. “It doesn’t always matter about production. It’s the guy that is going to bring out the best in his teammates, who is going to represent his university the best and really be the face of the program.”

Newsome will fill an interesting role as a captain from the public’s view. Obviously each of these three lead the Irish to some degree and have earned respect from their peers. They will also be the players heard from most this year, joined by a fourth whom Kelly will put up for vote at the end of spring practice.

In 2017, running back Josh Adams would provide a measure of offensive insights, left tackle Mike McGlinchey would offer blunt insights into the locker room and Tranquill relayed the emotions of the team by so clearly feeling them himself. Mustipher may pick up McGlinchey’s mantle, and a starting quarterback will serve that Adams role even better when made available to the media. Clearly, Tranquill will still be around to not even think about camouflaging his thoughts.

Newsome, meanwhile, will not serve as comic relief. Rather, he may lend a macro view not oft-seen from a player within the season, let alone from a punter.

“The way I came in looking at it in the summer of 2014 is I’m a football player first and then a specialist second,” Newsome said. “So I came in with the mindset that I am one of the guys even though my position is a specialty position. It is nice to know my teammates also respect me in that same way.”

Kelly on a fourth captain
After Newsome’s 51 percent of the vote, six or seven players finished grouped in a “logjam” for the fourth spot, per Kelly. He showed those vote totals, unattached to names, to the team to explain how close it was. He hopes that motivates the players who think they are at or near that mark to lead this spring. Toward the end of practices, a new poll will be taken of the roster, now keeping the three captains off the ballot, and a fourth captain will be settled upon.

Kelly said 25 players received votes for captain, with no ballots appearing to be made in jest by selecting only freshmen or all of one position group, for example.

“I’ve always said it’s a limited democracy in terms of how you want things to go,” Kelly said. “In this instance, my message this year has been about peer accountability.

“Last year I made the decisions, and they knew that. A lot of things last year were going to be made by me, and we were going to bring the culture back to where it needed to be. … This has clearly been a path of empowering our football team to take this over.”

Position changes, weight loss and quarterback questions welcome Notre Dame’s spring

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Position changes? Check, highlighted by two offensive skill players adding to their descriptions without shedding their previous tags.

Strength and conditioning praise? Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly offered that as well Monday, noting an emphasis on change of direction bursts.

Positive remarks about the early-enrolled freshmen? Kelly made it three in a row by describing linebacker Bo Bauer as a “tiger” in the weight room and picking out safety Houston Griffith’s skillset as a possible standout this spring.

Obviously, the topic Kelly returned to most as he previewed Notre Dame’s spring practice was that of the Irish quarterbacks. It will be a genuine competition between rising senior Brandon Wimbush and rising junior Ian Book, with Wimbush seeming to have the leg up simply because one or the other needs to take the first snap in the first practice.

“By virtue of a lot of the really good things that Brandon did last year, he’ll go out with the first group,” Kelly said. “But we all know Ian was integral in our last win against LSU, and he deserves an opportunity to compete as well.”

It would not be an honest quarterback competition if Wimbush were to take a noted majority of the first-team snaps, so those will be split between him and Book, although that may be more by day than within each practice.

Throughout last spring, Ian Book knew he was going to be the backup quarterback. This year, the rising junior will be in the mix of a competition to be the starter. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

The odds are Kelly and Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long will still be pondering both quarterbacks after the spring. For now, the focus will be on needed development.

“You always hope that one guy just says, I’m head and shoulders (above),” Kelly said. “If we have that situation, we’re in pretty good position.

“It’s more important that we do a really good job of developing both of the quarterbacks. … What I want to know is that our quarterbacks are equally adept at running it and throwing it, and that wasn’t the case this year. We have to be equally adept, and that’s really going to be the goal of the spring, more so than if one guy separates himself.”

Notice the usage of both. Rising sophomore Avery Davis will still be a quarterback first and foremost, but he will see opportunities elsewhere moving forward. After a year spent on the scout team, spending another offseason watching Book and Wimbush compete would stifle Davis’ development only further. Getting him some time at receiver or possibly on a kick return unit should help counteract that to a degree, and it could perhaps unearth an unexpected fit.

“We want to give him a chance to really continue to develop his skills at quarterback, but when he’s not playing quarterback, we want to see what else he can do for us,” Kelly said. “[Davis is] a very gifted player, and we may try to get him involved in opportunities where he touches the ball other than just in the quarterback position.”

Davis’ part-time move should serve to get him on the field, rather than simply bury him on the depth chart at another position.

“He’s going to be a guy that definitely comes out on the field and helps us next year.”

Rising sophomore receiver Jafar Armstrong will similarly add duties to his workload, but in Armstrong’s case, it is a positional need forcing the issue, not the depth at receiver. The Irish need at least one more running back, and Armstrong will now cross-train there. Kelly compared the intended role to one once manned by Theo Riddick or CJ Prosise.

“[Armstrong is] going to be a guy that I think can touch the ball coming out of the backfield, but can also give us some work at the running back position,” Kelly said.

Kelly did note the summer will see three more receivers arrive on campus, so while Armstrong may be somewhat needed for depth there right now, reinforcements are on the way.

Other positional changes of note
Rising junior Jamir Jones will move to drop end from linebacker. Kelly forecast the move last season as arguably inevitable as Jones’ body continued to grow.

Rising sophomore Isaiah Robertson and rising junior D.J. Morgan will both move to linebacker from safety, presumably candidates at rover as Kelly confirmed fifth-year Drue Tranquill will move to a more traditional linebacker alignment.

Robertson gained 12 pounds from his weight entering the 2017 season, now at 207 pounds, while Morgan added 11 to get to 220, both signs of linebacker preparations.

Dexter Williams (Getty Images)

On Dexter Williams
One other impossible-to-ignore weight change would be rising senior running back Dexter Williams losing 12 pounds. That may be the effects of a second year listening to strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis, it could be renewed dedication to fitness, or it could simply be the positive result of Williams staying healthy.

“This year he’s been healthy,” Kelly said. “He’s made really positive strides in his volume of work, his ability to sustain over a longer period of time. If there was one area where I really feel good about what he’s been able to do is that he’s broken through some barriers as it relates to his volume and his workload.”

Three captains this morning
Kelly will announce three captains at practice this (Tuesday) morning. For the record-keeping of those in the predictions business: As a captain in 2017, Tranquill is a mortal-lock to be one again. Fifth-year center Sam Mustipher emerged as a leader last year, notable considering the two captains then already on the offensive line. Thus, Mustipher will likely join Tranquill.

From there, the likes of rising senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery or rising junior cornerback Julian Love would seem the obvious candidates.

On ‘Speed School’
Balis’ winter workouts included what Kelly described as a “speed school.” Whereas the NFL Combine’s 40-yard dash is often lampooned as pointless and hardly a football activity for the majority of players, a quick 10-yard dash is pivotal to gridiron success, especially coming off a change in direction. Kelly and Balis identified 1.5 seconds as the mark to get under for a 10-yard dash off a change of direction.

Apparently, only rising junior cornerback Troy Pride could reach that when speed school started, not surprising considering Pride routinely picks up ACC honors in indoor sprints during the winter.

Now, seven others have joined Pride. Kelly relayed this while praising rising senior receiver Miles Boykin, identifying him as one of those seven.

Limited this spring
Early-enrolled freshman tight end George Takacs needed cartilage surgery, so he will be out this spring. Fifth-year tight end Nic Weishar and rising sophomore tight end Brock Wright will both be limited following shoulder surgeries this offseason, each likely in a non-contact jersey. Rising junior receiver Chase Claypool (shoulder) will have similar restrictions, as will fifth-year defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner as he recovers from wrist surgery, having played much of last year’s end with a broken wrist.

Monday’s Leftovers: Brian Kelly on Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl, facing LSU, & the early signing period

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The second half of Notre Dame’s schedule finished the season with a 51-22 overall record and featured four ranked opponents, not to mention an under-the-radar Wake Forest team and Navy’s triple-option attack. For six consecutive weeks, the Irish had another distinct challenge awaiting them every Saturday.

Thus, the month-plus off between last week’s loss at Stanford and the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 against No. 17 LSU is a welcome reprieve for No. 14 Notre Dame.

“We probably got a little tired at the end with the six weeks in a row of really tough, quality competition,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. “It was a long year for our football team, starting back in January.”

Kelly then clarified he was not referring to a physical exhaustion. The diminished November should not be tied to a new strength and conditioning regimen. Rather, Notre Dame tired in a less tangible manner.

“There were no questions about where we were physically as a football team,” Kelly said. “Emotionally and mentally, we had a long year.

“I remember addressing the team the Monday of the Stanford week with so much on the line — a 10th win and a New Year’s Six [bowl game] — and it looked like they were in biology class. They were staring at me like, really? There was no juice, there was no excitement. They were tired mentally.”

As he has for much of the year, Kelly put the onus on himself. While recruiting over the last week, he said he spent much of the travel downtime pondering how to lighten that load and pace better in 2018.

Some of the weariness was indeed physical. Kelly acknowledged junior running back Josh Adams will “benefit greatly” from the layoff before facing an opposing defense again.

The Irish will fit in 15 practices preparing for the bowl game, beginning this weekend before sending the team home for three full days at Christmas. Notre Dame will then reconvene in Orlando, Fla, on Dec. 26. Allowing the team time at home for the holiday is arguably the greatest perk of landing in the New Year’s Day game rather than the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28.

“It’s great that we can get some work in here, then get a break for our players during Christmas so they can spend Christmas home with the family and then meet back up at the bowl site,” Kelly said. “Playing on New Year’s Day is really good for our football team.”

Some things in this world never change, such as LSU having high-end talent. Luckily [for Notre Dame] some things do, and Leonard Fournette (No. 7) is no longer the Tigers’ leading rusher. Instead, start learning the name Derrius Guice. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
— Of course, facing the No. 17 team in the country is a stiff yet welcome challenge. While this is hardly the same version of LSU that the Irish faced in the 2014 Music City Bowl (a 31-28 Notre Dame victory), Kelly sees one key aspect of the Tigers program that has not changed.

“There’s a lot of similarities in terms of the body types that they bring to the table, but the schemes are a little bit different,” Kelly said, then noting offensive coordinator Matt Canada and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, both widely-respected in the coaching ranks. “What Dave does on defense is different, and then certainly what Matt does, he has kind of opened up the offense a little bit.

“More schematically, they are a little bit different, but the kind of athlete LSU is attracting, still great players on both sides of the ball.”

Senior captain and linebacker Drue Tranquill echoed Kelly’s comments regarding mental fatigue, citing last season’s 4-8 debacle as having a tangible effect in its own way.

“Any way you dice it up, it was a long season,” Tranquill said. “Having not gone to a bowl the season before, you start your preparation for the next season earlier, and we got after it in winter conditioning and spring ball and fall camp and into this season.”

To hear Tranquill describe “knowing the stakes of each game” in the second half of the season, one might wonder if a loss in mid-October may have allowed Notre Dame to play looser in November. Obviously, that is nothing but ponderings unless there really are infinite universes with each and every possible permutation of existence occurring within one of them.

Notre Dame senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill will have a decision to make regarding returning for a fifth year or heading to the NFL Draft. (Getty Images)

— Kelly declined to name which players requested feedback from the NFL regarding their draft status, but Tranquill said he was among the group. The feedback usually comes in shortly before the bowl game.

“What I can get better on, what they perceive as my strengths or weaknesses,” Tranquill said he hopes to learn. “… I don’t know that [it] necessarily will [affect his decision]. Obviously it’s feedback and you’ll take all the feedback you can get.”

To anyone skeptical of Tranquill’s chances in the Draft, there may be a point, but it should be remembered this is a player who has suffered two major knee injuries in his career. If he has a chance at an NFL career, he should not put it off for a year, especially not when he will already have an engineering degree in hand.

— A change to bowl preparations this year, the Irish coaching staff has to focus on recruiting even more in December than ever before thanks to the first early signing period, held Dec. 20-22. Notre Dame’s coaches have always spent the week immediate after the season making in-home visits. That may be more of an emphasis over the next three weeks, as well. That should, theoretically, allow for a more proactive January.

“It’s busier now,” Kelly said. “What it will do is it will allow us to focus on [current high school juniors] a little bit more in January than we’ve had in the past.

“We expect, if our players are committed, they’ll sign in December. If they’re not committed, they won’t … which frees up that time I’m normally on the road in January chasing these guys down for a February signing to really focus on [next year’s class], then the remaining spots that we have left.”

— Kelly indicated if one of the 18 current Irish commits were to not sign in December, he would see it as a sign the player needs more wooing.

Long-time commitment and consensus four-star running back Markese Stepp (Cathedral High School; Indianapolis) came to that decision even earlier, announcing he was reopening his recruitment over the weekend.

Notre Dame still has consensus three-star running back Jahmir Smith (Lee County H.S.; Sanford, N.C.) in the class, not to mention a well-stocked depth chart already on campus.

— This is perhaps a thought to be explored further following the season, taking into consideration where teams land in the final AP or Coaches’ polls, but with LSU becoming the seventh currently-ranked opponent on Notre Dame’s schedule, it seems safe to presume it has been some time since the slate featured so many, including three currently in the top 10.

Things To Learn: What did Miami teach Notre Dame?

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Little good can ever be drawn from a 41-8 embarrassment on national television. If Notre Dame wants to have any reason to look back on what happened at Miami two weeks ago and not lament every second of the disappointment, it will need to use that experience to its advantage this weekend at another top-25 opponent.

By no means will Stanford’s “Farm” echo the Hurricanes’ Hard Rock Stadium. That atmosphere truly defined raucous. An impartial observer had no choice but to deem it outright impressive. Nonetheless, Cardinal fans will feed off the slightest early Irish mistake, just as Miami’s crowd did.

“It’s exactly what we did at Miami that you can’t do, turn the football over,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. “We fed that atmosphere at Miami. … You’ve got to take care of the football. You can’t give anybody on the road that energy that gives them that extra momentum at home.”

This may seem simple. In fact, it is simple. Yet, it remains critically important on the road. When dealing with 18- to 21-year-olds, momentum can shift to steamrolling shockingly quickly. (That is, in fact, part of the allure to college football.)

The issues in south Florida went beyond turnovers. More precisely, they went beyond south Florida. Afterward, Kelly looked back on the week’s practices with some skepticism. The Irish have acknowledged their readiness was not up to the necessary standard.

“I didn’t prepare to the best of my ability Miami week, and obviously it showed,” junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush said Tuesday. “Being militant in the way we go about this week and everything that we do, so having intention to the way we practice, to the way we watch film, to the way I eat, things like that, it’ll all go into the game.”

If Notre Dame learned from the mistakes of the past, that loss can at least serve a purpose, a greater future good. If not, it was simply the moment a promising season was lost.

When healthy, Stanford junior Bryce Love may be the best running back in the country. If he puts an ankle injury far enough out of his mind to face Notre Dame, he will be the toughest challenge the Irish defensive line has faced this season. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

How will the Irish defensive line handle itself against the best offensive line it has faced this season?

By every possible metric, Notre Dame’s defensive line has exceeded expectations this year. Admittedly, little was expected.

If it plays a part in limiting Stanford’s exceptional rushing attack — averaging 215.7 yards per game and 6.41 per carry, good for No. 26 and No. 4 in the country, respectively — then it will have proven itself to be a strength heading into 2018.

Using rushing stats as the barometer with an exception for Navy’s triple-option approach, the best offensive lines the Irish have faced this season were Georgia and Miami (FL).

The Bulldogs average 267.4 rushing yards per game (No. 10 in the country) and 5.80 yards per carry (No. 9). Against the Irish, they gained 185 yards on 43 carries, a 4.30 average.

The Hurricanes average 176.7 yards per game (No. 55) and 5.32 per rush (No. 19). Notre Dame gave up 237 rushing yards on 42 attempts, a 5.64 average. (As always when discussing national rankings, none of these rushing figures are sacks adjusted.)

The Irish defensive front does not need to stop the Cardinal backs outright, only slow them. Stanford’s passing attack is decently efficient but far from genuinely dangerous. Since slipping past Oregon State in late October, a game without both Love and sophomore quarterback K.J. Costello, the Cardinal have averaged 167 yards through the air per game, completing 57.53 percent of attempts with 6.86 yards gained per attempt. That efficiency stems from defenses fearing the run, not from an overwhelmingly consistent or threatening passing attack. Thus, Notre Dame will focus on keeping the ground game in check.

He’s not Bryce Love — hardly anyone is — but junior Cameron Scarlett has held his own when called upon this season. (Getty Images)

Stanford junior Bryce Love will, at best, be hobbled with a bum ankle. At worst, he will not even take the field, leaving Cameron Scarlett to carry the load.

“[Scarlett] seems to be a physical back, downhill runner, a good one-cut guy,” Irish senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill said Tuesday. “Can make you miss, and physical. I think he embodies what Stanford tries to be about, and that’s tough, pro-style football, and that’s being efficient, keeping the ball away from their opponent, and playing tough.”

Scarlett has seen significant time this season with Love battling the ankle injury for much of the year. Scarlett has taken 73 carries for 362 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 4.96 yards per rush.

Nonetheless, Kelly will prepare anticipating Love’s speed.

“To me, it’s his ability to break that first tackle [that sets Love apart] and then ultimately he’s got incredible speed,” Kelly said. “… He’s got elite speed and he breaks tackles, and that is a lethal mix.”

In a perfect world, both Love and Notre Dame junior running back Josh Adams would be 100 percent, with fully-supportive ankles free from all swelling. The two could try to one-up each other possession after possession without ever taking the field at the same time.

Alas, this is far from a perfect world. Speaking of which …

Is Equanimeous St. Brown healthy?

If not for the national holiday of gluttony Thursday, this may already be known. Instead, the junior receiver’s status in the concussion protocol may not be known until close to Saturday’s kickoff (8:14 p.m. ET; ABC).

If St. Brown is cleared to go, then the norm continues with an increasing emphasis on sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson. If St. Brown is not available, look for more of junior receiver Miles Boykin.

“Boykin will go in and do a great job,” Kelly said. “We’ll just plug-and-play him. What you’ll see is his ability — in the game against Navy, he filled in very nicely, caught a couple passes, did a nice job blocking on the perimeter.

“You just take [St. Brown] out and you put Miles Boykin in there, and we keep rolling.”

And what about Dexter Williams and Cam Smith?

Kelly described Williams (ankle; quad contusion) as “about as 100 percent as we’ve had him.” If that is the case, the junior running back will have a featured role in offensive coordinator Chip Long’s game plan.

Fifth-year receiver Cam Smith (hamstring) might be not much of a concern most weeks, but St. Brown’s questionable status could create a chance for Smith to return to the offense as a contributing piece.

Things To Learn: On Notre Dame injuries, crowd noise and close games


No. 3 Notre Dame will have its star pair of juniors in the backfield Saturday night at No. 7 Miami, and both are apparently healthy. Irish coach Brian Kelly expressed little concern for quarterback Brandon Wimbush or running back Josh Adams on Thursday.

Wimbush showed “no ill effects” from the massive hit his left hand took just before halftime in last week’s 48-37 victory over Wake Forest. Kelly said the swelling is down and Wimbush may wear a padded glove on his non-throwing hand to protect it.

That is all well and good, but if Wimbush’s hand is at all a hindrance, ball security could become an issue, especially going against a Hurricanes defense that has forced 12 fumbles in eight games, recovering seven of them. Obviously, limiting Wimbush to the pocket to avoid such concerns would neuter the Notre Dame rushing attack of its most problem-causing threat.

Wimbush’s option to run at any point forces the greatest defensive adjustments and plays a key role in Adams’ success. The latter being healthy and well-rested plays a key role, as well. After last weekend, that is now something to keep an eye on.

“I definitely learned from last week, which is a great thing about football,” the Heisman-hopeful said Wednesday. “You’re constantly learning and have to do better, so taking care of my body a little bit more and feeling good.”

Kelly said junior running back Dexter Williams is not 100 percent recovered from the quad contusion which hampered him last week on what would usually have been a breakaway touchdown, adding, “He can still definitely help us.”

Junior tight end Alizé Mack has been cleared from a concussion. Fifth-year receiver Cam Smith, however, will be out as he continues to work through a hamstring strain that necessitated a platelet-replacement procedure Wednesday.

Lastly, senior cornerback Nick Watkins will be “managing” knee tendonitis. If sophomore Troy Pride sees an abundance of playing time, presume that to be the reason.

Miami is flying high, as are its fans. Will Notre Dame struggle in a genuine road atmosphere?

Some may scoff at this as a possible factor Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, ABC), but with a first-year starter and a few other young starters in the mix, particularly both options at right tackle, the Hurricanes fans will have their opportunity to make an impact.

Yet another interception from Irish sophomore cornerback Julian Love could do wonders for mitigating Miami’s home crowd Saturday night. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

“There will be some nerves and they’ll have to settle into the game,” Kelly said. “They’ve been really good at, once they get into the game, they’ve settled in nicely.

“But there will be moments early on that they have to settle into it.”

The Irish avoided this particular challenge at Michigan State by getting out to a two-possession lead — partly thanks to the momentum-sealing interception returned for a touchdown by sophomore cornerback Julian Love — within the first five minutes of the game. Otherwise, that could have established a data point for this particular query. It also helped that the Spartans were not yet respected as a 2017 contender as they are now, having risen to No. 12 in the College Football Playoff selection committee rankings. That crowd had not yet bought in on its season.

Miami’s has, deservedly so.

On the flipside of the ball, was last week’s defensive performance really just due to distractions and malaise? Or did Notre Dame have something more concerning afoot?

The Hurricanes average 31.5 points and 461 yards per game. It is safe to expect them to find offensive success at some point Saturday night. Two recent Irish foes present similar profiles.

USC averages 35.2 points and 492.4 yards per game.
Wake Forest averages 31.9 points and 445 yards per game.

The former fell short of those averages at Notre Dame, scoring only 14 points and gaining 336 yards. The latter exceeded those averages at Notre Dame to the tune of 38 points and 587 yards. It is hard to believe only two weeks separated those performances.

Kelly continues to point to something of a defensive indifference allowing for the Demon Deacons to run wild in the game’s final third, and he continues to insist it is no longer an issue.

“They practiced the way that they had practiced leading up to last week,” he said. “Every week they had created a new line of scrimmage. Last week they did not create a new line of scrimmage in practice.”

Apparently defensive coordinator Mike Elko made it very clear what led to Saturday’s issues. Kelly said Elko found six plays from practice Wake Forest ran successfully in the game. In each of them, the lack of execution was foreseen in a lack of execution at practice.

Wake Forest hardly struggled against the Irish defense in last week’s second half. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

“It was easy to go back to how we prepared,” Kelly said. “He was great at showing our players that it’s in their preparation and they’ve prepared very well defensively this week.”

Perhaps, the lackluster performance a week ago will actually serve to aid the Irish this weekend.

“Whenever you have a bad performance, you always come back with a chip on your shoulder,” senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill said. “A lot of the guys after the game were ready to put the patch back on and go right back out there because we felt we let one go.”

To feel like you let one get away and still get a win is quite the treat on its own. To take that feeling and then channel it into a better showing a week later on the road against a top-10 opponent would make every point Wake Forest scored a worthwhile allowance to Notre Dame.

Can the Irish win a close game?

Let’s just present a series of facts.

— Notre Dame has not had to turn to Wimbush to lead a game-winning, last-minute drive in two months. That is not a bad thing. No coach in the world will begrudge blowing out each and every opponent.
— When Wimbush did get his chance against Georgia in the season’s second week, his first attempt sputtered and his second was cut short by an unblocked defensive end. He has never had a genuine chance to show the poise, command of the playbook and quick-thinking needed to win a collegiate game in its last minute.
— The last time the Irish prevailed in a one-possession game was also Miami’s last defeat, Oct. 29, 2016. Notre Dame won 30-27.
— Since then, the Irish have gone 0-3 in one-possession games.
— Before that victory, one has to trace back to Nov. 21, 2015, for such a win, 19-16 vs. Boston College at Fenway Park. Since then, Notre Dame has gone 1-7 in one-possession games.
— The last time the Irish beat a ranked foe in a tight game was Oct. 31, 2015, a 24-20 victory at No. 21 Temple, undefeated at 7-0 heading into that game including a win over Penn State.
— Miami has won four games by one-possession this season. Considering the Hurricanes remain undefeated, they have indeed not lost such a contest.

Miami and senior quarterback Malik Rosier have shown the ability to win tight football games. Notre Dame and Wimbush have not, though in no small part because they have simply not needed to.