Sept. 7, 2016
University of Notre Dame football fans-at least based on history-should have little idea what to expect this weekend when the Irish return to Notre Dame Stadium for their home opener against Nevada.
That’s because the Irish have minimal experience bouncing back from a season-opening loss in an opponent’s home stadium. And that’s actually a good thing.
Prior to Sunday night’s wild and wacky, double overtime thriller in Austin, only four times have Notre Dame football teams played true road games to start a year and not come away with a win.
Here’s what happened next in those seasons:
1956-The Irish fell 19-13 at SMU to open, then won the next week at home versus Indiana. 1985-The 13th-rated Irish lost 20-12 at Michigan to start the year, then won the next week at home against Michigan State. 2001-The 23rd-rated Irish dropped a 27-10 decision at fifth-rated Nebraska in their opener and lost their next two to Michigan State and at Texas A&M. 2004-The Irish lost 20-17 at BYU to begin the campaign, then won at home the next week against eighth-ranked Michigan.
Notre Dame also had three other season openers away from home that did not equate to victories: 1942-a 7-7 tie at Wisconsin 1952-a 7-7 tie at Penn 1984-a 23-21 loss in Indianapolis to Purdue in the dedication of the Hoosier Dome
This marks the first time since 2007 that the Irish have played three straight home games on consecutive Saturdays (against Navy, Air Force and Duke that year)-with Nevada this week, Michigan State the next Saturday and Duke the following weekend all visiting Notre Dame Stadium. The last time the Irish won three straight in those circumstances was in 2005 (victories in consecutive weeks over Tennessee, Navy and Syracuse).
Notre Dame’s matchup with Nevada this weekend represents the one game on the 2016 schedule that is not part of a home-and-home relationship-and that’s generally the case with one home contest each year on the Irish slate. Most of those single games are based on a Notre Dame relationship with someone at the institution:
— 2015: Massachusetts-That game was scheduled when former Irish assistant Charley Molnar (he was at Notre Dame in 2010-11) was the Minuteman head coach (2012-13).
— 2016: Nevada-The Wolf Pack is coached by former Irish assistant Brian Polian (2005-09 at Notre Dame).
— 2017: Miami (Ohio)-The RedHawks are coached by former Irish assistant Chuck Martin (at Notre Dame 2010-13).
— 2018: Ball State-When this game was scheduled, former Notre Dame deputy athletics director Bill Scholl (now athletics director at Marquette) was the Cardinals’ athletics director.
Remember when Nevada made its other appearance at Notre Dame Stadium in 2009? The Wolf Pack quarterback that day happened to be Colin Kaepernick, who went on to stardom for the San Francisco 49ers.
In Notre Dame’s 35-0 win that season Kaepernick completed 12 of 23 throws for 149 yards, and he was intercepted in the second period by Robert Blanton (the last play of the half) and in the third period by Kyle McCarthy.
The Irish hero that afternoon was quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who completed 15 of 18 throws for 315 yards and four scores. Three of those TD passes went to Michael Floyd, including an 88-yarder.
Who might be the Nevada star to watch this time around?
Keep an eye on junior running back James Butler, whose Bloomington, Illinois, hometown qualifies him as something close to a local product (he attended high school in the Chicago area). Butler ran 21 times for 123 yards last week against Cal Poly and scored the game-winning TD in overtime. He now has 2,100 yards and 17 rushing TDs in his Nevada career.
Here are some of Brian Kelly’s thoughts from his Tuesday media briefing:
–On the Texas game-“We were up late in the game. We asked our team to get us to the fourth quarter and find a way to win. Now it’s really about finishing, and finishing was not something that we did well on Sunday. We competed. We played hard. We put ourselves in position. We made some plays, but if you really look at it in a microcosm, offensively we had a chance to finish out well or put us in a good position on the last couple of drives, and we came up with nothing. And defensively we couldn’t come up with a stop and special teams we weren’t able to flip the field like we thought we could. This game is about all three phases, and all three phases had a chance to impact the game late. So the message to the team yesterday (Monday) was about closing and finishing. With hard-fought games on the road against quality opposition, you gotta finish. That’s what we did not do in this game, and that will be a watch word for this group as we move forward.”
–On Nevada-“Brian Polian is very familiar with Notre Dame and Power Five football. He’s got some players on offense that could play for a number of Power Five teams. They’re just a solid, fundamentally coached team.”
–On the shorter work week-“We’re trying to really back off a little bit today (Tuesday) and make up for it a little bit as the week unfolds. I think rest, sleep, treatment is really important and has been over the last 24 going on the next 36 hours. We’ve had optional weight training. We’ve had some optional things that we normally have mandatory. (Tuesday) will be a lighter load in practice and we will make up for that as the week unfolds, as we get ourselves back into what would be the traditional days.”
–More on finishing-“The mindÂ¬set is there when you’re down 17 and there is no quit. That resiliency that you look for is there. It’s execution in those times that you need. It’s that attention to detail, doing your job in those crucial times when you’re called upon. We had some really good looks late offensively and we didn’t execute at the level necessary to continue drives to score. and so it’s execution in those critical times that requires you to be the best at those times. Veterans and young players alike have to execute. Everybody across the board is responsible for executing late in the game and being the best they can.”
–On the defense-“I know our personnel, and our defensive line was pretty solid–and Nyles Morgan, our middle linebacker, was solid. I think moving (Shaun) Crawford out to corner is going to solidify things for us, and I think the safeties we knew were going to be young and inexperienced. I think it’s a matter of this–they need more time and they’re going to get better each and every week because I’m looking at the personnel that we have and we will evolve to putting those guys into a position that best fits their abilities. We have to say, okay, what can these guys do and what can’t they do? Let’s maximize what their strengths are. Primarily if we just do the ordinary things ordinarily well we’re in good shape. We have to do those better.”
–On moving on this week-“It’s what they’re programmed to do. When does a fan get over it, right? Wednesday? Thursday? Our guys gotta get back to work! They’re going to be practicing today (Tuesday). So we get 24 hours, to think about it, watch the film, grade it and then we move on. It’s a quick turnaround. Whether it’s a high or a low, there is a routine among football programs and this team in particular that we move on pretty quickly.”
Here are special recognitions slated for the Notre Dame-Nevada football game Saturday:
— The national colors will be presented by the presidents of the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College and Holy Cross College — Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Jan Cervelli and Brother John Paige, C.S.C. — in recognition of the collaboration among the three campuses, the return of Professor Cervelli, a South Bend native, to the community as president of Saint Mary’s and the 50th anniversary of Holy Cross College.
— All former Notre Dame football players (and others connected to the Irish football family) who have died in the past year will be recognized in a pregame moment of silence.
–The Notre Dame men’s basketball squad will be recognized at the first timeout for its back-to-back NCAA Elite Eight performances-as the only team in the country to accomplish that in both 2015 and 2016.
— One new wrinkle for the pregame period: The Band of the Fighting Irish has added the opposing team’s fight song to its set list.
— At the end of the first period, former Irish hockey players Ian Cole and Bryan Rust will be recognized for their role in helping the Pittsburgh Penguins win the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup (the Cup also will appear with them).
— Presidential Team Irish Award (first timeout in first period)-Green Dot.
— Notre Dame faculty recognition (first timeout in third period)-Tim Fuerst, Department of Economics.
— The Notre Dame game management staff again will use in-game taped messages from former Indiana State Police Sgt. Tim McCarthy. He retired in April 2015 after 55 seasons of delivering safety messages and accompanying puns at Irish home football games.
–The new McConnell Family Boathouse on the St. Joseph River in South Bend will be dedicated at a Friday night dinner.
Senior Associate athletics director John Heisler joined the University of Notre Dame athletics communications staff in 1978 and writes about Irish athletics for Fighting Irish Media.