The Fighting Irish practiced on Monday inside Notre Dame Stadium, their first official workout on the team’s new playing surface. After following the transformation from natural grass to FieldTurf, getting inside a stadium that hasn’t been enough of a home-field advantage over the past few years was critical.
The decision to install FieldTurf has been discussed, debated, and beaten to a pulp. But when asked about the move on Saturday, head coach Brian Kelly made perfect sense when discussing the rationale.
“Simply for competitive reasons. We felt as though the surface did not at times allow us to play as fast as we needed to,” Kelly said. “If you’re working so hard to put your football team together and your surface at home is really not where it needs to be, you need to make the changes. That’s why, ultimately, we made the change.”
Gone are the days of growing the grass long when opponents like USC come to town. After significantly upgrading the athleticism on the roster over the past decade (give some of this credit to Charlie Weis), a slow and sloppy track did more to hold back Notre Dame than it did their opponents.
While it’s far from conclusive evidence, BlueandGold.com’s Lou Somogyi pointed out a few datapoints that likely were taken into consideration.
Interestingly, during the 12-0 regular season in 2012, Notre Dame averaged 29.0 points per its six games on the road but only 22.8 at home — and 20.2 in the regulation time of four quarters (it won two games in overtime, versus Stanford and Pitt). The only time it scored more than 20 points that season at home in regulation time was the 38-0 win over Wake Forest in game 11.
Last year Notre Dame’s six road games saw the Irish average 30.7 points per game and in their six home contests the average was only 23.5, highlighted by 17-13 wins against Michigan State (the Spartans’ lone defeat) and a 14-10 conquest of USC.
Playing a schedule that’ll host key matchups against opponents like Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina and Louisville, the Irish can’t afford any slips (pun intended).
After bringing in turf gurus and consultants to try and solve the problem with the stadium’s natural surface, getting a consistency between the surface the Irish practice on and the one they’ll play their home games on was critical, especially as the stadium begins a radical redesign.