Notebook: No wet blanket on Notre Dame game plan vs. Clemson

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The computer models of Hurricane Joaquin’s path and the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida threw some 11th-hour “ifs” into sixth-ranked Notre Dame’s scheduled Saturday night showdown at No. 12 Clemson (3-0).

But very few of them have anything to do with the Irish offensive game plan at this point.

ND head football coach Brian Kelly said Thursday evening after practice that he’d like to maintain offensive balance if possible — come wind, come sideways rain, come historic flooding. And yes, those all are more probabilities confronting the 4-0 Irish than possibilities at this juncture.

“I’ve always liked to throw the ball in the rain, because you know where you’re going,” Kelly said. “But we’ll take it as it comes.

“We were using a wet ball all week. Our quarterbacks can handle a wet ball, and I’m not really that concerned, quite frankly, about it.”

Nor at this point are Atlantic Coast Conference officials, who would have final say in changing dates/times of the game, or even venues. As it stands, the teams meet Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT at Memorial Stadium (ABC-TV).

Kelly said the ACC held a conference call Thursday regarding all of its games relative to Hurricane Joaquin’s potential, and that changes in the ND-Clemson weren’t discussed.

Clemson officials confirmed Friday morning the game is still on track to be played at its scheduled time.

However, Thursday night South Carolina governor Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency as Joaquin picked up wind speed in the Caribbean.

“We’re ready to deal with the elements, and we booked a hotel for a couple of extra days just in case,” Kelly said. “If we’ve got to play Sunday or Monday, we’ll be down there and ready to play. So our guys are excited. We’re not really concerned about the weather as long as there’s not lightning.”

If Joaquin does make landfall in the U.S., the highest probable landing point projects as Cape Hatteras, N.C., some 500 miles east/northeast of Clemson, S.C.

WSBT meteorologist Matt Rudkin tweeted on his Twitter account Thursday about “historical flooding” being possible in northwest South Carolina as well as “potentially life-threating rainfall.”

The National Weather Service is calling for 13.8 inches of rain in the area over the next several days with eight to 10 inches coming in a 48-hour window. For comparison’s sake, the South Bend area averages three inches of rain a month.

Kelly has a couple of reference points in his career that stand out as extreme weather, and Kelly’s teams prevailed in both of those.

In 2005, it was a rainstorm in West Point, N.Y., that greeted his Central Michigan team in its matchup with Army.

“It was so difficult to even see out on the field,” he said of the 14-10 Chippewa victory.

The worst snow? A 2002 Div. II playoff game with Indiana University of Pennsylvania when Kelly was coaching at Grand Valley State.

“They were going to cancel the game unless our team shoveled the field,” Kelly recalled. “And we shoveled the entire field and then beat IUP (62-21). So we had a little left in us. So this game (Clemson), we won’t have to shovel any snow off the field.”

Weather or not

Turnover margin is one of the most reliable predictors in winning or losing in college football, but ND’s Kelly and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney take it to extremes.

Kelly is 129-12 in his career (.915) when his teams win the turnover battle, 26-1 (.963) during his six seasons at ND. Swinney is 37-4 (.902) at Clemson when his teams have fewer turnovers than their opponents.

In the national picture, the teams are tied in the middle of the pack in turnover margin at 63rd out of the 127 FBS teams that are charted.

If Saturday’s weather conditions unfold as predicted, it could create some additional opportunities for the defenses to force some.

“We run out tackling circuit every Tuesday and Wednesday with that in mind,” Kelly said. “First man in (is) wrapping up. Second man is obviously trying to punch the ball out.

“So that was a point of emphasis this week. And I think it will continue to be that each and every week. Obviously, that comes to light even more in these types of conditions.”

Personnel matters

Sophomore Tyler Luatua, ND’s most experienced and best-blocking tight end on its active roster, won’t play against the Tigers this weekend, Kelly said.

A concussion kept Luatua from playing last Saturday against UMass.

“He’s much better,” Kelly said. “He was out there (Thursday) practicing, but we’re not going to play him this weekend. We’re going to keep him out, and we’re certain that we’ll have him back for Navy (Oct. 10).

• Junior wide receiver Corey Robinson is back in the wide receiver rotation this weekend.

Robinson suffered a knee injury in pregame warmups last Saturday and was held out of ND’s 62-27 rout of UMass.

“Had a really good week,” Kelly said. “Took all of his reps. Moved around very well and expect him to have an active role in what we do.”

• Safety Max Redfield, held out of the Georgia Tech win Sept. 19 and placed in a time share last weekend with Matthias Farley, took all first-team reps in practice this week, Kelly said.

“He was fully engaged in what we’re doing,” he said. “Will be a major part of our defensive structure.”

Alive and kicking

Kelly is convinced the miscues in freshman kicker Justin Yoon’s game so far are mechanical and not mental.

And above all fixable.

Yoon is 4-of-6 on field goals and 18-of-20 on extra points. ND’s opponents are a combined 1-of-5 in field goals in games with the Irish and 8-of-9 on PATs.

“What we noticed on his two (PAT) misses is he’s just not firing his right hip through,” Kelly said. “Kind of punching at it a little bit. Made the correction this week, and he was 8-for-8 today on his kicks in rather windy conditions.

“And every single one of them was exactly what we needed to see, with his right side firing through. So I wasn’t really concerned. His makeup was really good. He’s not a guy blaming anybody. It wasn’t that whole ‘I didn’t get the spot’ or any of that crap.

“I feel really confident that he’ll be on.”


Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly is confident his Irish will weather whatever Mother Nature has to throw at them this weekend in Clemson, S.C. (SBT File Photo)