“Sometimes as you go into these press conferences you forget about the fact that as you give the proper accolades to your opponent, I don’t want to forget our football team. We have got a very, very good football team, (I’m) really proud of the work that our guys have done. We have got some really good football players, too, and we’re excited about watching them compete as well.”
— Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — University of Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly fielded one question about special teams at his Tuesday media conference, in between all the other queries about offense, defense and Michigan.
“Nobody likes to talk about it because it’s not the hot topic, but the kicking game will have an impact in this game,” he offered. “The kicking game is going to show itself. It could very well be the difference in this football game.”
History suggests it will:
1979 — Notre Dame’s Bob Crable blocked a Michigan field goal in the final seconds and the Irish won by two points via four field goals.
1980 — Notre Dame again won by two points, this time on a 51-yard field goal by Harry Oliver as time expired.
1988 — Notre Dame began its championship season with a 19-17 win over Michigan, with all Irish points coming via four Reggie Ho field goals and a Ricky Watters punt return.
1989 — The Irish won by four, in great part because of two kickoff returns for scores by Raghib Ismail.
There are more examples, but those rank among the most remarkable and memorable — and they all came within an 11-year-period in the rivalry.
Notre Dame has scored 30 or more points in five of its last seven games against Michigan (though three of those were Irish losses).
The two teams have played 31 times since the series began again on a mostly regular basis in 1978. During that span, Notre Dame has won four times by two points, twice by four, once by five, once by six and twice by seven points. Michigan has won once by one point, once by two, four times by four and once by seven points.
As kicking games go, Kelly likes the fact he has a senior placekicker (Justin Yoon) and a senior captain punter (Tyler Newsome), both of whom are likely to end their Notre Dame careers with the best numbers in Irish history for their work.
Here are some other elements to watch on Saturday and what the Irish head coach thinks about them:
The quarterbacks. Michigan has a new one in Shea Patterson who transferred from Ole Miss and had to be approved by the NCAA to play in 2018. Notre Dame has a second-year starter in Brandon Wimbush, who is expected to be able to play with more confidence and step up his game with a full year on the field behind him. The challenge in a season opener is that Irish coaches can only anticipate exactly how the Wolverine coaches will utilize Patterson.
“Shea Patterson will come in and run their offense quite well,” said Kelly. “Again an experienced player in the SEC, very talented, can throw it, he’s athletic, can keep plays alive.
“There’s no real identity that has been established from a Michigan offense right now. Add to the mix that it’s the first game, it’s a new quarterback, you’ve got a lot of new pieces that are going to go on here. There’s going to be some adjustments that need to be made and you want to rely on some guys that have some experience in those situations. I think there’s certainly going to be those times where we’re going to be sorting some things out on the sideline and you would like to rely on some experience in those situations.”
And on the Irish side?
“We’ll put a game plan together for Brandon Wimbush to win the game for us. Any time that you have a guy that is coming back that understands the offense there is a confidence with the other 10 players that is implicit in the way things operate. So if you just go back to last year’s game against Georgia versus this year, in a big-game setting, things will move a lot quicker with much more confidence as an offensive unit than they did in that game. And that’s just because the offense hasn’t changed, the nomenclature hasn’t changed and there’s so much more confidence at the end of the day when you have a returning signal caller.
“We have to understand the difference between letting our guys make plays and be who they are versus being paralyzed with fear of failure. And Brandon falls under that category. At times (last year) he got himself in a place where he didn’t want to fail. The quarterback position can’t be that. You have to be a guy that is out there making plays. He’s a playmaker and he’s got to go out there with the confidence to make plays.
“This is much more about calling the offense for who Brandon Wimbush is than who we want him to be more than anything else and that’s what you’ll see Saturday night.”
The bottom line? Both teams are better off at this position than a year ago.
New staff members. Notre Dame lost its defensive coordinator (Mike Elko) and offensive line coach (Harry Hiestand, who led his 2017 unit to the nation’s top reward, the Joe Moore Award). Clark Lea takes over as defensive coordinator and Terry Joseph (secondary) and Jeff Quinn (offensive line) join the cast.
Michigan has a pair of assistant coaches who previously wore Notre Dame colors — Greg Mattison and Ed Warriner (he’s in his first year in Ann Arbor). And Jim Harbaugh is no stranger to Notre Dame Stadium from his coaching days at Stanford and playing days for the Wolverines.
All that is part of the chess game that will be played out Saturday night.
The defenses. On paper this game may end up in a baseball score, with defenses the apparent strong point in both camps.
Says Kelly, “Defensively they have gotten certainly a lot of the recognition in preseason and deservedly so. I think they have got a number of elite players on the defensive side of the ball. Rashan Gary, obviously, is one of them. He’s certainly not the only one. I’ve got more notes on their defensive line maybe than any group, other than maybe North Carolina State and Georgia last year.”
The rivalry. “This is something that Jim (Harbaugh) and I wanted to get on the schedule — and be careful what you wish for,” says Kelly. “But I think it’s great for college football. Jim reached out to me and we were both of the same opinion that we wanted to try to get this game back if we could. Now, there are so many other things that make this difficult. I know we play next year, but after that, who knows if, how this might work again, given both of our limitations relative to scheduling.”
The new guys. “Alohi Gilman, I probably have the least amount of concern for him because he’s played, he’s been out there, he plays with an edge. Jafar (Armstrong), he has the ball in his hand, so you’re always looking at ball security. As it relates to the kind of football player he is, his athleticism and his ability for workload, I have zero concern. Liam (Eichenberg) is a ferocious, physical player, but he’s going to be challenged over there. He’s playing against one of the best players in the country. So he’s got to know that there’s going to be some times that he’s going to struggle. And that we have got his back. And that it’s our job to help him out at times.”
Kelly says he’s not losing sleep about the Wolverines:
“I think you have to have answers. If you’re losing sleep you’re not doing your job in the sense that you better have answers for guys that can impact the game.”
ESPN.com rates this game the eighth most important game in the College Football Playoff race.
Irish and Wolverine fans might well rank it number one.
Here are details of presentations and introductions that will take place Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium when Notre Dame and Michigan face off:
- There will be a pregame moment of silence recognizing former members of the Notre Dame football family who have died in the past year. That list includes football monogram winners Joel Bullard ’50 (manager), Pat Dolan ’58, Ed Graham ’53 (manager), Ben Grylewicz ’54 (manager), Justin Hall ’93, Pat Heenan ’60, Bob Joseph ’54, Tom Kostelnik ’65, Alan Kramer ’67 (manager), Frank Kuchta ’58, Alex Lesko ’49, Jerry Lunden ’57 (manager), Bob Minnix ’72, Dave Mitchell ’80, Norm Nicola ’65, Dick O’Rourke ’55 (manager), Bob Salvino ’57, Bob Scannell ’57, Kona Schwenke ’14, Tony Scott ’83 (manager) and Frank Varrichione ’55, along with these other individuals associated with Notre Dame football: Jim Butz, Thaddeus Dudka, Bonita LaFleur, Jack Bonner, Jeff Hartnell, the grandmother of Sam Mustipher and Mike O’Neil.
- The national colors will be presented before the game by Jonathan Reckford, the chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity International; Jim Williams, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of St. Joseph County; and Caleb Chamberlain and Andrew Herbst, the co-chairs of the Habitat chapter at Notre Dame. Habitat for Humanity annually selects a region in the country for its Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project. This year’s project took place over the past week in St. Joseph County and featured former President and Mrs. Carter, country music stars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood and former late-night talk show host and Indianapolis native David Letterman.
- There will be a pregame flyover by four U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles flown by the “Lancers” of the 333rd Fighter Squadron: Lt. Col. Ryan “Ramses” Ismirle (Michigan Class of 2000), Capt. Thomas “Outlaw” Higginbotham, Capt. Tyler “Whip” Hazel, Capt. Chris “Phantom” Leonard, Capt. Matthew “2Guns” Mooney (Notre Dame Class of 2010), Maj. Anthony “Smash” Collins, Capt. Trent “Wreck” McMullen (Notre Dame Class of 2012) and Maj. Michael “Smokes” Smolka. The flyover participants will be recognized at the fourth timeout in the third period.
- The Notre Dame team will take the field through a tunnel of former Irish players. Approximately 95 individuals, including 75 former players from the 1988 Notre Dame national championship squad, plus coaches, student managers and student trainers will be in attendance. An additional 160 former football monogram winners from other teams also will be part of that tunnel.
- In the first period (second timeout) the 2018 Notre Dame Women’s Basketball NCAA Championship team will be recognized. NCAA Final Fours and Atlantic Coast Conference titles have been commonplace for Muffet McGraw and her Notre Dame women’s basketball program in recent years. In 2018 however, the Irish took those achievements to another level. While winning 35 games and overcoming a succession of season-ending injuries, McGraw’s squad advanced to the NCAA semifinals in Columbus to play top-rated Connecticut, with Arike Ogunbowale hitting the game-winning shot in overtime. Two nights later in the title game against Mississippi State, Ogunbowale did it again.
- The Presidential Team Irish Award will be presented to Pat Holmes and the Academic Services for Student-Athletes Office (first period, fourth timeout). Under the guidance of the Provost, their office supports and challenges all student-athletes toward the goal of maximizing their academic potential while enrolled at Notre Dame. Thanks in part to this office’s efforts, University of Notre Dame student-athletes continue to perform at unprecedented levels as measured annually by the NCAA. Notre Dame has posted the top Graduation Success Rate for student-athletes for all sports among the 129 NCAA FBS institutions for 11 consecutive years. These results, among others, demonstrate Notre Dame’s commitment to the academic progress, retention and graduation of student-athletes.
- The student/military recognition pays tribute to former U.S. Navy SEAL and current Notre Dame sophomore Petty Officer First Class Brian Duffy (fourth period, second timeout). The son of a Notre Dame ROTC graduate who was killed in an aviation accident, Brian enlisted in the Navy after high school and went on to successfully complete training to become a member of SEAL Team 7. His deployments included time in Iraq, Bahrain and Djibouti. Selected for the Navy’s commissioning program to earn a college degree, Brian quickly chose his father’s alma mater – Notre Dame. He, his wife Michelle and their daughter reside in South Bend.
- At the end of the first period the 1988 Notre Dame football national championship team will be recognized. Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine all won national titles in their third year as Notre Dame football coach … and the third time was the charm for Lou Holtz in 1988, too. On its way to a 12-0 record, that Irish team defeated ninth-rated Michigan to open the season, then went on to post wins over No. 1 Miami, No. 2 USC – and No. 3 West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl to clinch the national title. Led by consensus All-Americans Frank Stams and Michael Stonebreaker, along with first-team selections Andy Heck and Chris Zorich, the Irish posted sensational numbers on defense, while ranking third nationally in allowing just 12 points per game. They were led by captains Mark Green, Andy Heck and Ned Bolcar. They won the 11th consensus national title in Irish football history. As Lou Holtz said, “This will go down as a great football team because nobody proved otherwise.”
- The Notre Dame and Michigan bands will perform at halftime.
- The Notre Dame faculty recognition goes to Rick Mendenhall, William and Cassie Daily Professor of Finance and Chair of the Department of Finance (third period, first timeout).
- The official game program for the Notre Dame-Michigan game will include feature stories on the history of the gold Irish helmets (by John Heisler), tight end Nic Weishar and how he and his family have honored the memory of Nic’s late brother Andrew (by John Heisler), the 1988 Irish national title football team (by Jerry Barca), the 2018 Notre Dame women’s basketball national title squad (by Muffet McGraw) and left guard and captain Alex Bars (by Joanne Norell).
- In line with best practices at major entertainment and athletics venues, the University of Notre Dame will implement a clear bag policy for all reserve-ticketed events at Notre Dame Stadium, Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center and the Compton Family Ice Arena, effective Sept. 1 for the first football game of the 2018 season.
Under the policy, fans will be allowed to bring with them a clear plastic, vinyl or PVC bag that does not exceed 12 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches or a one-gallon plastic bag (such as Ziploc or Hefty bags). The bags may have a logo no larger than 4 inches by 3.4 inches. Bags carrying a properly sized logo of other teams or venues are permitted.
Small clutches – 4½ inches by 6½ inches, or approximately the size of a hand, with or without a handle or strap – also can be taken into the stadium along with clear bags.
Exceptions will be made for approved medical bags or equipment, which will be inspected at designated gates.
Prohibited items include, but are not limited to, purses larger than a clutch bag, coolers, briefcases, backpacks, fanny packs, drawstring bags, luggage of any kind, computer bags, camera bags, binocular cases, diaper bags and bags larger than the permissible size. Items in such bags – including diapers, wipes and other supplies for babies and small children – should be placed in an approved clear bag.
Seat cushions measuring 16 by 16 inches are permitted, as are binoculars and cameras without cases. Blankets will be permitted but subject to a search.
Guests are encouraged to bring only necessary items into the venues, and all fans and their belongings are subject to inspection at the entrances. Express entry lanes for those entering without a bag will be available at all gates.
Guests carrying bags that do not meet the criteria will be asked to return them to their vehicles, hotel rooms or homes. In addition, a vendor will be available outside Notre Dame Stadium before football games to ship at cost bags or belongings that do not meet the University’s policies.
Approved bags are available for purchase at the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore and game-day merchandise locations and through online outlets.
As always, fans can carry personal items in their pockets or jackets, including keys, makeup, feminine products, combs, phones, wallets and credit cards.
The new policy also will apply to non-Notre Dame events, such as concerts, professional games and other reserve-ticketed events.
The policy is available online here.
- Fans can attend Football Friday at the Eck: “Catching Up With…Justin Tuck ’05 and Coach Lou Holtz” from 2:45-3:45 p.m. ET Friday at the Eck Visitors Center. The event features a conversation with former Irish star and Super Bowl champion Justin Tuck, followed by an interview at 3:15 p.m. with legendary former Notre Dame football head coach Lou Holtz.
- The Notre Dame-Michigan pep rally will be held from 6-7 p.m. ET Friday outside the Rockne Memorial Building on the west edge of campus. A live band will perform beginning at 5 p.m.
- Fans coming to campus this weekend also can attend the Irish volleyball match at 6 p.m. Friday at Purcell Pavilion against Oakland and the Notre Dame women’s soccer game at 1 p.m. Sunday against Ohio State.
- NBC Sports Digital’s direct-to-consumer live streaming product — is re-launching its international “Notre Dame Football Season Pass,” giving fans in 13 countries access to every Fighting Irish home game during the 2018 season. Powered by NBC Sports’ Playmaker Media, the direct-to-consumer pass will offer fans abroad comprehensive coverage of seven Notre Dame football home games live and on-demand, available online, as well as on mobile devices and tablets.
NBC Sports Gold‘s “Notre Dame Football Season Pass” is available for purchase now for $49.99, and features all seven home games in the 2018 season, beginning Saturday with the matchup between Michigan and Notre Dame.
The pass is available in 13 countries: Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and UK. USD or EUR pricing is available. “Notre Dame Football Season Pass” is not available to customers in the U.S.
In addition, fans in these countries can purchase “Notre Dame Football Game Pass,” which will give them access to individual games of their choosing, for $9.99 per game. The “Notre Dame Football Season Pass” and each of the seven “Notre Dame Football Game Passes” can be purchased in advance now by visiting NBCSportsGold.com.
- The Charlotte Touchdown Club is excited to announce a new partnership with Rolle Oral & Facial Surgery to present the Bronko Nagurski Legends Award. In conjunction with the Football Writers Association of America, the Charlotte Touchdown Club presents the award each December at the annual Bronko Nagurski Awards Banquet to an outstanding collegiate defensive football player from the past 40 years.
This year’s legends award recipient is Ohio State linebacker Tom Cousineau from the class of 1977. Past legends award winners include: 2007-Alan Page & Bubba Smith, 2008-Ted Hendricks, 2009-Roger Wehrli, 2010-Mike McCoy, 2011-Jack Youngblood, 2012-Larry Jacobson, 2013-Randy Rhino, 2014-Randy White, 2015-Randy Gradishar, 2016-Chet Moeller, and 2017-Ross Browner. This year’s Bronko Nagurski Awards Banquet will be held Dec. 3 at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Dr. Richard R. Rolle Jr. is a leading oral & maxillofacial surgeon, with strong ties to athletics and delivering excellence www.rolleoralfacialsurgery.com. Rolle Oral & Facial Surgery offers expertise in: dental implants, wisdom tooth extraction, youth-capturing, cosmetic injectables, oral surgery and cleft lip reconstruction in his Lake Norman, North Carolina, practice. Dr. Rolle holds a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame where he played varsity football under coach Lou Holtz. He completed his oral surgery internship at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital and holds a Doctor of Dental Surgery from Meharry Medical College. Rolle Oral & Facial Surgery is the official surgeon for the Charlotte Hornets, Charlotte Checkers and Charlotte 49ers.
- Michigan Street runs through downtown South Bend most all the time — except this week. On Monday morning, South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg announced that Michigan Street has been temporarily renamed Fighting Irish Drive. He was joined at the street sign-changing event by his chief of staff, Laura O’Sullivan, along with Notre Dame senior associate athletics director John Heisler. In addition, to mark the season opener for the Irish, downtown lights on the St. Joseph River Friday will be turned green.
- With most NFL teams off for a day or two this weekend following the end of the preseason, approximately 20 former Notre Dame football players who now play pro football are expected to attend the Notre Dame-Michigan game.
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.