The way Brian Kelly got around the question, it took some decoding to ascertain that his Notre Dame football team’s first serious COVID-19 test came this week in waves.
Eleventh-year Notre Dame head coach, whose team and campus this month were splendid examples of dodging the Q word, offered a day at 2am and 12:50pm, less than two hours earlier . Kick-off on Saturday – like two of the times when the bad news probably got to him.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Kelly said when pressed for details about eight players who were lost on Saturday from Monday’s two deep Irish. “It’s just a little bit like doing it, you know.”
South Florida first-year manager Jeff Scott provided the definitive context on how the seventh-ranked Irishman came out 52-0 from the Bulls (1-1), Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
Scott has spent the past five seasons as Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator, taking on Kelly’s teams twice during that juncture (2015 at Clemson and in the 2018 College Football playoff semi-finals).
“Before (watching) the video and after the game, I feel like this is the best team Coach Kelly has had during his time here,” said Scott. “I think he feels the same way. I think he made some comments on this aspect. It’s definitely a playoff caliber team. “
And that’s without pre-season All-America safety Kyle Hamilton, the only one of eight players listed in a ND pre-match status report who was permanently ruled out due to injury (sprained ankle).
The school makes no difference between players injured in the report and those in isolation on positive COVID-19 tests or quarantined due to contact tracking. Irish players are tested at least three times a week, and sometimes even once a day if circumstances dictate.
The three players who replaced Hamilton on Saturday and two other missing starters – linebacker Marist Liufau and cornerback TaRiq Bracy – were all instrumental in helping ND (2-0) launch the fourth Kelly-era shutout in the 1,300th game. in the history of the school. This against a Bulls offense coordinated by Charlie Weis Jr., on his first visit to the Notre Dame stadium since his father’s last home game as ND head coach in November 2009.
Classic (inside) linebacker Jack Kiser, a scout-teamer until Wednesday and a third-string option when the week began, in fact, received the ball of the game after amassing the team’s best eight tackles (seven solo ), including two for losses and a quarterback in a hurry.
Kiser said earlier in the week he knew of the potential he would play more, but didn’t find out until Saturday how much.
Liufau’s teammate to Buck’s linebacker Shayne Simon was also on the unavailable list.
“When Shayne Simon and Marist go down, it sucks,” Kiser said. “You don’t want that to happen to anyone. But they’re texting me like, ‘Hey, this is your time. Here we go.’ And that means a lot. “
Bracy’s absence, meanwhile, prompted freshman Clarence Lewis to begin the service. He responded with five tackles, including one tackle by loss and three passes.
And young Houston Griffith, Hamilton’s replacement, had a defeat tackle between his five solos.
“We all get ready as if we’re all starters,” Griffith said, “so everyone has to be prepared when we’re all called. And you know we go out and swarm to the prom.
“And we play big defense and we play at Notre Dame and we play 60 minutes of hell.”
Speaking of hell, the days and moments leading up to Notre Dame’s only adventure outside the ACC on Saturday in its one-year temporary conference experience, showed how fragile the season could suddenly become, even for teams the whose talent matches their lofty ambitions.
The world has changed seismically this week for the Irish, and not just because of COVID-19.
What were 76 FBS teams competing for four places in the playoffs increased to 90 this week as the Big Ten resumed the fall season with a starting point on October 24 and three legitimate playoff contenders in Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. .
The Pac-12, Mountain West and Mid-American conferences are hoping to increase the number of competing FBS fall teams in the coming days, but they lack obvious national power now that Oregon and USC have been diluted by so many giving up stars.
They may also not be able to start in time to get enough matches to interest the CFP selection committee.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s COVID concerns may persist in its ACC meeting next Saturday in Wake Forest due to the time of quarantine.
The good news for ND – and all college football – is that science continues to grow. Several manufacturers with cheaper and more reliable lateral flow testing in the FDA pipeline will likely make daily testing for all players at Notre Dame and ACC a cost-effective reality throughout the season.
This, in turn, theoretically mitigates the need for lengthy quarantines.
The even better news was how Notre Dame handled the current circumstances on Saturday. Seventeen players made their ND debut on Saturday, including 11 scholarship freshmen, and many of them found the spotlight in a positive way.
Among them, defensive freshman Alexander Ehrensberger, trapped in his native Germany for most of the summer due to travel restrictions, had two defeat tackles, including a sacking, at his upcoming party. Ehrenberger had been the scout squad’s nose guard this week.
Freshman defense mate Jordan Botelho, meanwhile, picked up a punt blocked by Osita Ekownu and fell in the end zone for his first collegiate touchdown.
“We live in this world where right now, you’re never prepared for it, but we’re aware of it and we know it could happen,” Kelly said of the COVID coax lineup. “I think our players have responded well. Our coaches were prepared and responded well.
“You hate to see someone not being available, but it’s the reality we live in and our guys did a great job. And that’s why we prepared, you know, so deep in the ranks in terms of giving the kids repetition and opportunities to be prepared. “
And the Irish were prepared from the start. Notre Dame scored in seven of his first eight drives of the game, five of them touchdowns, after working halfway into the season opener last weekend against a Duke team that was hit at home by former Irish quarterback Phil Jurkovec and from Boston College, 26-6, Saturday.
Particularly dominant Saturday was the Irish offensive line, with zero sacks and a constant push in the run game for an average of 6.2 per carry. C’Bo Flemister, who missed Duke’s game with a collarbone injury, led the way with a 127-yard record on 13 carries and a TD.
Quarterback Ian Book was a quieter contributor, although he had three TDs rushing into the first half. He also hit some statistical milestones, passing Tom Clements in third place in career yardage for an ND quarterback (1,075), passing offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and associate athletic director for football Ron Powlus in third place by total offense. career (7,604) yards) and overtaking Steve Beuerlein in fifth place for career yards (6,529).
Book left the game at the end of the third quarter with the Irish leading 45-0, giving way to freshman Drew Pyne to see his first action in college. QB regular No. 2, sophomore Brendon Clark, was one of eight players excluded on Saturday.
Book finished 12 out of 19 passing 143 yards without TD passes or interceptions.
“There are a couple of balls that I thought in the red zone that it could have been a little more refined with,” said Kelly of the third year of departure, “but all in all it was a really good performance.
“I thought he guided our team towards the kind of quick start we wanted. He was really tuned in. I thought he had a great week of rehearsals. I really liked his behavior.
“He really worked on his pocket presence. I liked his calm in his pocket. It was a really good progression from where he was last week. “
COVID or not, progression is key to Notre Dame’s strangest season ever to become one of its most special, at least in the years that have followed its most recent national championship (1988).
Each week is a key element in the showdown at the Notre Dame stadium on November 7 with number 1 Clemson (2-0).
“I put the cap on them,” Scott said of the Irish. “I felt like I was playing Clemson out there for most of the day, only with the gold helmets.”