Notre Dame LB Joe Schmidt motivated after Stanford disappointment
SOUTH BEND — If the folks at the Fiesta Bowl are looking for a new spokesperson, they might want to get in touch with Joe Schmidt.
While another Notre Dame linebacker’s NFL future has been a major storyline for the past several months, what lies ahead for Schmidt is more unclear. Almost anything seems feasible for the former walk-on turned MVP turned fan base whipping boy.
And as distinct as any of those possibilities is that Schmidt’s last football game – college or professional – could come Jan. 1 in the Fiesta Bowl. So yes, he and his teammates are excited about the opportunity, and he’s more than capable of selling you on it.
“Oh yeah. Are you kidding me? This is the Fiesta Bowl,” Schmidt said. “We’re playing Ohio State. For the greater part of the year, they were the No. 1 team in the nation.
“If you look at certain cities in the United States that are known for deciding who’s good at sports, I think they all have a great amount of respect for Ohio State and their football team. If you watch the game tape, you obviously see that they’re a great football team.
“This is a great opportunity for both teams: to go in there and to play a solid game and to show the country and the world what they’ve accomplished this season.”
Whereas last year’s bowl game was used to propel Notre Dame forward into 2015 following a disappointing season, Schmidt, who was unable to play in the Music City Bowl because of injury, said the matchup with Ohio State will be a reflection of what the Irish have been this season.
“This year we’re trying to honor the efforts we put forth this year,” Schmidt said. “We want to honor the people that are going out in their last football game, some people the last football game of their careers, and really just put a ribbon on this season. We’re just trying to give our best effort to do that and hopefully give Ohio State a great game.
“I’ve said it a bunch, but how can you not be thrilled about the opportunity to play Ohio State? It’s great. It’s going to be a lot fun.”
Fun would be the last word used to describe the finish of Notre Dame’s regular season. The maligned Irish defense allowed Stanford to drive 45 yards to make a 45-yard field goal as time expired for a heartbreaking loss.
It was a hard game for Schmidt, who made five tackles as the Irish struggled to slow down Kevin Hogan and the Stanford passing attack, to put behind him. Not having a game the following week prolonged the pain. When practice finally resumed Dec. 11, Schmidt had something to distract him.
“Once we got back to work, it was easier to move past,” Schmidt said. “I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever forget. It’s been easier now that I’m totally focused on Ohio State … It’s something that we needed to get back on the field and back to work.”
The loss can serve as fuel in preparation for the Fiesta Bowl. The extra practices can be tailored more for personal improvement than having to focus on stopping a specific offense.
“We have fundamental periods, technique periods, live scrimmages against one of the best offenses in the world. It gets you back into the flow,” Schmidt said. “It’s great for us. I love bowl practice for that reason in that I can get better.”
A more thorough review of the season can help Schmidt identify areas to develop. He’ll be needed to help stop Ohio State’s rushing attack, which ranks No. 12 in the country with 241.9 yards per game.
Slowing down Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott will present a different challenge than keeping Stanford star Christian McCaffrey in check. A season’s worth of mistakes can lead to a better product for Schmidt.
“Generally I know what I’m doing wrong,” Schmidt said. “At the end of the season and the week that we had before we even knew our opponent, there’s definitely a time for self-evaluation and self-scout and looking at what we did well, what we didn’t do well, what I did well, what I didn’t do well. I took that time and I’m ready to improve.”