Brian Kelly would inevitably prefer Notre Dame Stadium be filled with Irish fans wearing blue, green and gold, no one else in sight. He also recognizes that is unrealistic, especially this weekend.
“We know there’s going to be some black and some red in the stands,” the Notre Dame head coach said Thursday. “8,000 tickets is probably what they were allotted, could be times two. We’ll be ready for that.”
A quick search of the leading secondary market websites as of Friday morning indicates the cheapest pair of tickets available cost $583.53 per ticket, in the 22nd row of the northeast end zone’s upper bowl.
“We’ve seen how Texas travelled in their first time up here, we’ve seen Nebraska in their first time up here,” Kelly said. “So that won’t affect us. We’ll have a pretty good fan base here, too.”
The Bulldogs are led by their two senior running backs, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, a fact Kelly has kept at the forefront of conversation all week. Two days before kickoff, he furthered the attention to their running game by praising freshman right tackle Andrew Thomas. The 6-foot-5, 320-pounder joined an offensive line returning only two starters, but his emergence immediately solidified the right side.
“You can see him flash in just one game how good he’s going to be,” Kelly said. “… It’s a very solid offensive line, one that has some experience. Now, I think on the right side with that right tackle, he changes things a little bit for them.”
Kelly and his coaching staff, namely offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, pursued Thomas a bit in the last recruiting cycle, only to see him stay in his homestate.
“We really liked his ability to communicate effectively,” Kelly said. “Wide-eyed, really liked him in person. Didn’t seem like the moment was too big for him, all the external factors. It’s easy to see a big guy, but big guys don’t necessarily translate into great players. He’s going to be a great player.”
Of course, Kelly still took the time to once again acknowledge the threat of Chubb and Michel.
“When you start to look at offensive lines, they have two outstanding running backs that can make up for a lot.”
To date, the Irish injury listing has been short and largely lacking long-term concerns aside from senior defensive tackle Daniel Cage missing the season recovering from concussion symptoms and knee surgery, and junior defensive tackle Elijah Taylor recovering from a Lisfranc fracture. After one game, that remains the case.
Graduate student tight end Durham Smythe has been cleared from the concussion protocol and will not be limited at all Saturday.
Junior defensive tackle Micah Dew-Treadway will rejoin the action after missing the season opener due to a slight knee sprain.
“We’ll see what he can do to add to the rotation,” Kelly said.
That defensive tackle rotation featured two freshmen last week in Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish. Neither seemed worse for wear this week, despite seeing notable snap counts.
“The benefit of both those guys playing in the first game against Temple with a pretty good offensive line, they’ll be better for it,” Kelly said. “Their volume was pretty high in terms of the volume of snaps that they took. It was a valuable first game experience for them, so they’ll continue to be in the mix.”
Lawsuit by former player
Former Irish linebacker Doug Randolph filed a lawsuit against the University on Sept. 1, also naming Kelly as a defendant, as well as Notre Dame head trainer Rob Hunt. Randolph alleges medical results were withheld from him, results indicating he should not have continued playing in 2015 due to long-term medical concerns.
Since diagnosed with spinal stenosis, Randolph alleges he “suffered complete numbness in all four extremities” in his final career game, the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State on Jan. 1, 2016. When he informed Hunt of the symptom, the lawsuit claims Randolph was told to continue playing and “get back in the game.”
The following spring, Randolph’s scholarship became a medical hardship and he spent the 2016 season as a student assistant.
Kelly said Thursday he was surprised by the legal matter, though he largely deferred to a University statement.
“I know the kind of quality healthcare that we provide,” Kelly said. “We have outstanding doctors and trainers. That’s our mission here, to provide the very best healthcare to our student athletes, and whatever is in their best interest. That’s important to note, as well.”
University vice president of public affairs and communications Paul Browne said in an email the University feels the lawsuit lacks merit.
“We will respond in full to these claims in court, but what we can say with certainty is that nothing is more important to Notre Dame than the safety and wellbeing of our students,” he said. “With that in mind, we believe our athletics doctors and trainers are second to none and we are completely confident that these health-care professionals provided proper medical care to the plaintiff in this case. We are equally confident that the allegations made in this lawsuit are baseless.”