Notebook: Notre Dame can celebrate Senior Day with another perfect home season
Of course the Senior Day celebration for Notre Dame football will look different.
Everything else has looked different this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Notre Dame Stadium won’t be anywhere close to full. Most students already left campus when the semester ended before Thanksgiving.
So when the No. 2 Irish graduate students and seniors run onto the field inside Notre Dame Stadium for their final home game Saturday (2:30 p.m. EST on NBC), they’ll be welcomed by Notre Dame faculty, staff and their families.
“Most of our guys would run out to a standing ovation because they do so well academically,” head coach Brian Kelly joked. “I’m sure all the faculty and staff that are there would give them a round of applause.”
The typical on-field recognition for Notre Dame’s seniors will happen after No. 2 Notre Dame (9-0, 8-0 ACC) takes on Syracuse (1-9, 1-8), Kelly said. Players won’t be greeted by their family members on the field until after the game.
“The way we had it set up was that postgame we will have the jumbotron up, we’ll put up a bio of each one of the players, they’ll take pictures and be recognized as such in their Senior Day,” Kelly said.
If all goes well, Notre Dame will be celebrating a third consecutive season without a home loss and 24 straight home wins. The Irish haven’t lost a game in Notre Dame Stadium since a 20-19 defeat to Georgia on Sept. 9, 2017.
“Any time you win consistently — and we’re talking about 23 consecutive games at home — it’s something to feel a great deal of pride about,” Kelly said. “What is more important about this is the consistency in preparation and in performance.
“You have to do that over three years, and that is an incredible achievement for everybody involved for everybody to play at such a high level for three consecutive years.”
With a victory Saturday, Notre Dame’s true seniors would move their home record to 25-1. Regardless of venue, the Irish own the longest-active winning streak in the FBS at 15 games. They’ve needed much more than seniors to do so this season.
Notre Dame’s depth has been tested, and the Irish have aced all the exams. Absences due to injuries and COVID-19 isolation and quarantine haven’t capsized the chase for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Players have continued to step up when needed all season long. In the 31-17 win at North Carolina on Saturday, the backups rising to the occasion included center Zeke Correll, right guard Josh Lugg, linebacker Marist Liufau and safeties Houston Griffith and DJ Brown.
They’re all examples of how Kelly set out to improve the overall depth within his program. In February 2018, Kelly expressed the need to increase the talent level on his roster all the way through the 85-scholarship limit.
“I made those comments before even thinking about COVID, where you’re going to be without some front-line players,” Kelly said Monday. “They’re going to need to step up and play significant roles for you.
“It’s even more important that statement that was made back in ‘18, about the depth of your roster and those guys being able to step up and play significant roles for you throughout the season. And feel confident that when they are called upon, that they will be able to step in and significantly impact in a positive way.”
Maybe everyone on the Irish should be treated like seniors on Saturday.
A win Saturday will give Ian Book the Notre Dame program record for wins as a starting quarterback. His 29 wins are currently tied with Brady Quinn (2003-06), Ron Powlus (1994-97) and Tom Clements (1972-74).
Beating Syracuse on Saturday would also mean Book’s career would end without a loss as a starter in Notre Dame Stadium. He’s currently 14-0 at home. Tony Rice (16-0 from 1987-89), Joe Theismann (11-0-1 from 1968-70) and Johnny Lujack (9-0 in 1943, ‘46-47) also finished their Notre Dame careers without a home loss.
Only Lujack, who finished 20-1-1 (.932) at Notre Dame, is guaranteed to hold a better career winning percentage than Book, currently 29-3 (.906).
Kelly joked that the all-time wins record could get Book a job on Fox, for whom Quinn currently works as a college football analyst.
“It just goes to the mental toughness, the ability to come out week in and week out,” Kelly said. “You have to have a little luck to stay injury-free, right? To play that many games. But (Book) takes care of himself. He’s mentally prepared week in and week out.
“To achieve at that level at Notre Dame is an amazing feat, and we’re going to make sure he gets to that.”
On the mend
• Right guard Tommy Kraemer (appendectomy) is expected to be cleared this week, Kelly said. If he handles practice well, Kraemer could return to his starting spot this Saturday.
• Wide receiver Braden Lenzy (hamstring) saw very limited action against North Carolina, but Kelly said his game action should be increased this week.
“This should be a week where he can really just let it go,” Kelly said. “This will be an opportunity for us to really start to create some things in the offense for him. As I mentioned to you last week when we had this, I thought he was really close. This should be a week where he’s not even thinking about it. He can just let it go.
“He’ll be very helpful for us. A guy that has fresh legs this late in the season will be extremely helpful to our offense.”
Lenzy has six catches for 63 yards and one touchdown in five games played this season.
• Backup defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola (knee) will not play this weekend, but Kelly said he’s on track to play against Wake Forest the following week.
“He is doing fabulous,” Kelly said. “He’s doing all the things necessary to get himself back.”
• Backup nose guard Jacob Lacey didn’t play against North Carolina for the first time this season. Kelly said he’s been struggling with an undisclosed injury.
“We hope that he’ll be better this week,” Kelly said. “His play is not because of anything that he’s done other than being limited with an injury.”
• Kelly was not asked to provide an update on backup running back C’Bo Flemister, who also didn’t play against North Carolina. Flemister suffered an ankle injury against Boston College that Kelly described as not being serious at the time.
• Assumption University announced Monday that its Multi-Sport Stadium, which hosts its football, field hockey, soccer and lacrosse teams, will be named Brian Kelly ‘83 Stadium. Kelly played linebacker at Assumption, graduated in 1983 and coached football and softball at the university.
“My years at Assumption are some of the most memorable of my life,” Kelly said in Assumption’s press release. “I was taught and mentored to become the man I am today, of which I am most grateful. I received a great education both in the classroom and on the playing field, but what I cherish most about my time at Assumption are the relationships I built along the way.
“I am humbled to receive this recognition. I always have been, and always will be, proud to be a Greyhound.”
• Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams was named the ACC Running Back of the Week for his performance against North Carolina. Williams rushed 23 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns and caught four passes for 20 yards and one touchdown.
Irish left tackle Liam Eichenberg was also named ACC Co-Offensive Lineman of the Week for his blocking in front of Williams and the rest of the Irish offense. Eichenberg shared the honor with Georgia Tech left tackle Zach Quinney.
• The Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker in college and high school, released its semifinalist lists of 16 linebackers Monday. Irish rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and linebacker commit Prince Kollie each made their respective lists.
• The ACC and its TV partners have opted to wait until Sunday to announce the kickoff schedule for its slate of games scheduled for Dec. 12 including Notre Dame’s matchup at Wake Forest.
No. 2 NOTRE DAME (9-0) vs. SYRACUSE (1-9)
Kickoff: Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EST
Where: Notre Dame Stadium
Radio: WSBT (AM 960, FM 96.1), WNSN-FM (101.5)
Line: Notre Dame by 33 1/2