Notre Dame’s young team is learning how to play hurt. It’s late in the year and like most teams in November, the Irish have piled up bumps and bruises and are now figuring out how to deal with them.
Several players are fighting off the last effects of a flu bug that made its annual trip through the locker room during the last two weeks. Head coach Brian Kelly said the team is in much better shape in that sense heading into Boston College than they were before last Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh.
Other player like sophomore Matthias Farley and senior Kona Schwenke are also battling football-related injuries. Farley had surgery early last week to repair a broken bone in his hand. He played against Pittsburgh with a cast on his hand to protect the metal plates doctors had inserted. He struggled in the first half, but fell back into step late in the game.
“It’s playing with an injury and a pretty substantial one,” Kelly said. “That’s the first thing. The second thing is he realizes he’s not good enough of a player to realize he can skate for it. He was two different guys in the first half and the second. It was a good learning experience for him.”
Schwenke injured his shoulder early in the Pittsburgh game and played sparingly behind flu-bitten junior Louis Nix. Kelly said both nose guards will make the trip to Boston. Schwenke won’t know whether he’ll be healthy enough to play until Friday or Saturday.
“He’s questionable for Saturday. After today we feel like we’re going to put him on the plane because if we need to he’s going to be able to play for us,” Kelly said.
If he can’t go, sophomore Tony Springmann will play behind Nix in the middle of the Irish defense.
Cold in the Red Zone
Notre Dame has been one of the country’s least successful teams at scoring touchdowns when they get inside the 20-yard line. On 46 red zone trips through their first eight games the Irish scored seven only 21 times. They came up empty handed on 11 of those drives.
Kelly said earlier in the week that the offense, specifically sophomore quarterback Everett Golson, needed to get more precise inside the 20 to improve those numbers. That was a focus during this week of practice. Most of that work is done in the film room, according to Kelly.
“It’s all recognition,” he said. “It’s just seeing and repping it and being more confident in it. …The guys that are really deadly down there are the really experienced guys.”
The Irish are hoping that sophomore tight end Troy Niklas can have more of an impact in the red zone passing game moving forward. Niklas has transitioned from a defensive player learning to be on the opposite side of the ball to a more natural-looking tight end during the past month.
The 6-foot-7, 260-pound target has the potential to give Notre Dame an extra big body to go along with senior tight end Tyler Eifert in those close yardage situations. Kelly said he has tried to get both involved in the passing game together in recent weeks.
“When we were in the red zone last week we were in a wing set and Niklas was wide open nobody covered him,” he said. “We just didn’t get him the football. When those two guys are at tight end and wing they’re very difficult to cover, we just gotta get them the ball.”
- The Boston area was hit with two to three inches of snow Thursday night and while the weather forecast for Saturday is clear, Kelly said his team isn’t concerned about having to play in winter conditions for the first time this season. His team practiced outdoors every day this week to get used to playing in the cold.
- Kelly said he wasn’t aware of Boston College’s history knocking off undefeated Notre Dame teams late in the season. The Eagles ended national championship hopes for the Irish in 1993 and 2002.
“I didn’t know that,” he said. “But I do now. I’ll put that in the history back of more information that I have that I won’t use.”