Notre Dame Aiming To Benefit By The Bye
For only the seventh time in the last 100 years (or Knute Rockne’s second season at Notre Dame), the Fighting Irish have a bye following the season opener.
Following Monday night’s 35-17 victory at Louisville, Notre Dame moved up from No. 9 to No. 8 in the Associated Press poll prior to hosting New Mexico next Saturday.
Although the bye buys a little extra time for starters on offense such as tight end Cole Kmet (broken collarbone), receiver Michael Young (broken collarbone) and running back Jafar Armstrong (groin/abdominal) to recover, the concentration is more on cleaning up areas as a collective team.
“Sometimes we talk in terms of, 'hey, the bye week is coming at the right time. We need some time to get our guys healthy and get a breather,’” said head coach Brian Kelly following the win over the Cardinals. “I don't think that's the case here. This is much more about continuing to develop our football team in terms of its preparation… So we'll take advantage of the week in terms of looking at the things that we've got to get better at as a football team.”
There was the usual array of good news/bad news takeaways from the Louisville opener.
The good news was numerous newcomers such as tight end Tommy Tremble (three catches, 49 yards and a touchdown), freshman safety Kyle Hamilton (four solo tackles, two passes broken up), freshman punter Jay Bramblett, rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (nine tackles, including for a loss), sophomore linebackers Jack Lamb or Shayne Simon, and running back Jahmir Smith (two short touchdown runs), among many others, made some critical plays in meaningful games situations.
That’s not even including a veteran such as fifth-year senior cornerback Shaun Crawford, who has had three season-ending injuries, taking 59 snaps and playing effectively, or junior linebacker Drew White having his moments later in his first career start.
The bad news was many of the mainstays team leaders weren’t at their sharpest, from quarterback Ian Book and fellow captain/wideout Chris Finke, to defensive ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem — also captains — both jumping offsides on the first two series to help keep touchdown drives alive, to fifth-year senior Asmar Bilal needing to be more active for the linebacker corps in flux.
“We actually need our veterans to step up another level of their play, which I'm certain they will,” Kelly commented. “I think the younger players to me show themselves and that now with all of them together, moving forward, this can be a pretty good football team. …We need a little bit more from [the older players] consistently and I think that they would tell you the same. There was a little rust there.
“Young guys have that tendency that they want to show themselves. This was a big stage for them tonight to kind of show that 'this is my opportunity.' So, I think if we're all working in the same direction, everybody's playing at a higher level, this is going to be a good team.”
Opening on the road and getting tested right into the fourth quarter also had its assets — hopefully for the showdown at No. 3 Georgia on Sept. 21.
“Having going through the routine of going on the road, playing on the road, in a hostile environment, those things help a football team when they do it again," Kelly said. "There are a lot of distractions to an 18-to-21-year-old when he comes into a stadium ... So, the ability to go through that and eliminate the distractions, the next time they go on the road is extremely beneficial.
"…We did some things tonight that align us in the kind of direction I want to go. We had some young players step up today that that were really important for us in some areas . ...They're ready to take on the rigors of a long season.”
Here were the other six seasons since 1919 that Notre Dame had a bye after week one:
1956 — Ranked No. 3 to open the year, the 19-13 loss at SMU in the night opener (only the second night game in school history at the time) was the harbinger of a 2-8 season — although the Irish did defeat Indiana at home the week after the bye to improve to 1-1.
1974 — In Ara Parseghian’s final season as head coach, the reigning national champions accepted a $200,000 windfall from ABC-TV to move their opener up to their first Monday night game ever, a 31-7 win at Georgia Tech on Sept. 9. After the bye on Sept. 14, they crushed Northwestern on the road, 49-3.
1978 — The reigning national champs again, this time under Dan Devine, moved the Missouri opener up to Sept. 9, giving them a bye the week before its first meeting with Michigan in 35 years on Sept. 23.
This miffed Wolverines head coach Bo Schembechler (although he too would have openers in 1979 and 1982 before Notre Dame played a game, and lost both times).
It didn’t matter this time as Notre Dame began 0-2, with both losses at home.
1980 — In Devine’s final season, the nationally televised Purdue opener on Sept. 6 was followed by a bye before hosting Michigan (Sept. 20). Thanks to Harry Oliver’s epic 51-yard field goal against the Wolverines as time elapsed, the Irish defeated both the No. 11 Boilermakers and No. 8 Wolverines en route to a surprising 9-0-1 start.
1989 — Head coach Lou Holtz’s reigning national champs were invited to play in the Aug. 31 Kickoff Classic versus Virginia, an easy 36-13 victory.
They didn’t have to play again until the trip to Michigan on Sept. 16 in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown won by the Irish, 24-19.
2001 — Following an opening game loss at Nebraska (27-10) on Sept. 8, Notre Dame was supposed to travel to Purdue on Sept. 15. That game was cancelled because of the 9/11 tragedy during the week.
On Sept. 22, the Irish were defeated at home by Michigan State (17-10) and would start 0-3 for the first time in their history.