Notre Dame is shaking up its schedule leading up to kickoff this weekend in an effort to make players feel more comfortable at home, according to head coach Brian Kelly.
Notre Dame's campus can be a gauntlet of distractions for the Irish on home weekends.
Friday night’s pep rally will start at 5 p.m., an hour earlier than previous weeks, and the player’s walk into the stadium Saturday afternoon moved from 1:30 to 1:15 p.m. Kelly is hoping the changes will create more down time for his team to focus on their upcoming game against Pittsburgh and tune out the many distractions of a home game at Notre Dame.
“We’re looking at how we can condense that 48 hours a little bit,” Kelly said Thursday evening. “I’ve gone back and forth with different routines. Here’s what’s not going away: The pep rally is not going away. Mass is not going away. The walk is not going away so how do you manage your day to give them that opportunity to be relaxed so they can focus strictly on the football game.”
The Irish have looked better on the road than inside Notre Dame Stadium so far this season. In the four games played outside of South Bend they are outscoring opponents by an average margin of 28 points. In four games at home they have won by a total of 20 points.
Trying to remove distractions has been a point of emphasis for Kelly during the past couple of years. He’ll continue to tweak the schedule to try to things easier on the players, but he said to some degree learning to deal with the extra family and friends in town is part of the maturing process for his team.
“There’s no question,” he said.
From The Infirmary
Sophomore running back George Atkinson III is healthy enough to play this weekend after missing last Saturday’s game with the flu. Atkinson will be back returning kicks against Pittsburgh. Kelly said sophomore Cam McDaniel, who stepped in for Atkinson last week, remains an option to return kicks in certain situations.
“We all know George has got the ability to go the distance. Let’s say we’re up in a game and I want to make sure we grind it out to the 25, Cam’s going to get you there," he said.
The flu did make its rounds through the Irish locker room this week, slowing down a handful of players in practice. Kelly said he expects everyone to be ready for Saturday.
“It’s not an epidemic,” he said. “It’s not going to knock out four, five, six guys. If one guy is affected by it at all it will just be minimizing some of his reps.”
In long-term injury news, junior safety Austin Collinsworth has been cleared to lift weights and is expected to take part in late season practices if his rehab continues to go well. Collinsworth had shoulder surgery in June to repair a torn labrum. He won’t play in any games in order to preserve a year of eligibility.
Fellow safety Jamoris Slaughter is searching for another year of eligibility as well. The fifth-year senior ruptured his Achilles tendon midway through Notre Dame’s win over Michigan State in the third week of the season. Kelly said the Irish are putting together the paperwork to petition the NCAA for a sixth year for Slaughter, who also sat out as a freshman. No decision is expected until after the end of the season.