Notebook: Notre Dame up to speed with travel strategy

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The evidence that Notre Dame is managing its November travel schedule from Hell is more anecdotal than conclusive, but at least there’s that.

The end of the road, and all but the final return trip of 8,731 air-and-bus miles in a five-week stretch, comes Saturday night in Los Angeles. That’s where No. 3 Notre Dame (11-0) looks to unofficially kick off its coronation as a first-ever College Football Playoff invitee with a win over arch-rival USC (5-6).

Broadcast time for the 90th-ever meeting between the teams, that Knute Rockne first brought together in the Irish 1926 season finale, is 8 p.m. EST. ABC has the telecast.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly likes to use the standard of 19 miles per hour on a GPS practice device when measuring how much octane his players are showing in practice. If you understandably can’t wrap your mind around that, the comparative numbers are the ones that really matter.

Kelly said Tuesday, in his weekly press conference, that he had 21 players run 19 mph or faster. The week of the Sept. 1 season opener with Michigan, there were 16 such players.

“I think what our team has learned is in November, if they take care of themselves — the right rest, the right kind of recovery — that they can play really fast,” Kelly said.

The Irish catch a break with academic demands this week. Tuesday was the last day of class until next Monday.

“We’ll have breakfast. We’ll weight-train, (have) some meetings, lunch, then practice,” Kelly said of the Wednesday schedule. “A little bit more time than we normally have on Wednesday. It gives them more rest and recovery time, as well.”

The team will leave Thursday night for Los Angeles after practice and then Thanksgiving dinner at the Morris Inn.

“I like to get them out there Thursday to the West Coast, get the clock going on Pacific Standard Time,” Kelly said.

Second wind

A little over two weeks after losing grad senior guard Alex Bars for the season, the Notre Dame offensive line was losing its reputation as a perennially elite unit.

The Joe Moore Award selection committee on Oct. 16 put out a list of 14 midseason honor roll teams and nine others that just missed the cut.

The 2017 Joe Moore Award winner for the nation’s best offensive line, Notre Dame, was omitted from both lists.

Fast forward to Tuesday, when the Joe Moore Award released its 10 semifinalists for 2018.

Notre Dame was back in business. The Irish were joined by two other teams snubbed from both lists at midseason, Arizona State and Washington State.

The rest of the semifinalists comprise Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Memphis, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin.

Finalists will be announced Dec. 4, with the winner getting notified in late December in a surprise visit to campus.

“Solid improvement from Week 1,” the committee wrote in assessing the Irish. “Not always pretty or consistent, but rose to occasion against a very good FSU front seven. Shoot hands well and initial footwork is solid. Always looks to finish. Maybe a year away, but it’s there.”

Among the current O-line starters, only center Sam Mustipher has expiring eligibility. Every other starter — tackles Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey, and guards Aaron Banks and Tommy Kraemer — have at least two season of eligibility after this one.

Personnel matters

A little over 12 weeks after sophomore defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa suffered a broken right foot against Michigan, he begins prepping this week to help Notre Dame in the postseason.

Since the key D-line reserve will be limited this week to conditioning drills mostly, Tagovailoa-Amosa won’t be available for Saturday night’s matchup with USC, a school he strongly considered during the recruiting process.

“The conditioning element is really important as we begin that phase of it,” Kelly said. “Then he’ll have minimum three weeks to work on it to get into game-ready shape.

“We’re excited that he can get back into football conditioning. I know our players obviously want to see him back out there. He’s a good player.”

The 6-foot-3, 285-pounder from Ewa Beach, Hawaii had surgery two days after ND’s 24-17 win over the Wolverines on Sept. 1, and will be able to take advantage of the new redshirt rule, since he’ll play at the most in three games this season.

The max is four games a player can see action in and still keep the redshirt option open.

• Kelly said freshman wide receiver Kevin Austin is eligible to play this week after being left off the travel roster last weekend for the Syracuse game, because of a “coach’s decision.”

That’s Kelly’s way of saying a minor disciplinary infraction.

• Just to get an idea of how players play through injuries and how long it takes to get back to 100 percent, Kelly said Tuesday that sophomore tight end Cole Kmet is just now getting back to full form this week.

He suffered a high ankle sprain in game 2, Sept. 8 against Ball State.

Shedding a light on Lyght

There are a multitude of factors that have helped coax Notre Dame to the No. 2 spot nationally in the pass-efficiency defense rankings. Perhaps an overlooked one has been the cornerbacks coach, former Notre Dame All-America cornerback Todd Lyght.

“I think it’s been a growth process for Todd,” Kelly said of the 49-year-old, fourth-year Irish assistant. “He certainly came here with all the right things in the sense that he recognizes the uniqueness and the distinctions of Notre Dame from a recruiting perspective, but yet had to be able to take that into homes and articulate that (in recruiting). I think he’s grown in that role over the past year.

“Then he had to take his football résumé — being a national champion, a Super Bowl champion — and be able to take that knowledge and experience and articulate that.

“The growth has been transferring all of that knowledge through communication and teaching. So when you talk about Todd Lyght, he’s become a better teacher. That’s where the growth has come with him.”

Coaching honors

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long made the cut to 15 semifinalists for the Broyles Award, given annually since 1996 to the nation’s top college football assistant coach.

The only Irish assistant to win the award was defensive coordinator Bob Diaco in 2012.

• ND head coach Brian Kelly was named Dodd Trophy Coach of the Week for ND’s 36-3 waxing of Syracuse, Saturday at Yankee Stadium. It’s the second time Kelly has been named this season. He also earned those honors for ND’s 38-17 rout of Stanford on Sept. 29.

Connecting with 2012

Kelly said Tuesday he has been moved by the number of members from his 2012 Irish team that have come back to campus during the season as well as those who wished him and the team well via text messages and phone calls.

The 2012 team is the last Notre Dame squad to finish the regular season unbeaten, and it finished things off with a 22-13 victory against USC in Los Angeles.

“I’ve had a number of guys reach out to me from the 2012 team congratulating us for the season,” Kelly said. “Nobody has brought up anything about similarities or differences between ‘12.”

The Notre Dame offense lines up during the Florida State game, Nov. 10 at Notre Dame Stadium.
Notre Dame’s Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa (95) takes photos with his brother, Navy’s Adam Amosa-Tagovailoa (69) after the Notre Dame-Navy game, Oct. 27 in San Diego.

WHO: No. 3 Notre Dame (11-0) vs. USC (5-6)

WHEN: Saturday, 8 p.m. (EST)

WHERE: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

TV: ABC

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM), WNSN (101.5 FM)

LINE: Notre Dame by 10 1/2