Notre Dame vs. Vanderbilt
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Radio: 1190 AM, 92.3 FM
SOUTH BEND – “Preparation” is the word of the week for Notre Dame as the Irish get ready to play Vanderbilt at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday.
Immediately after Notre Dame's lackluster 24-16 win over Ball State, coach Brian Kelly faulted himself for not having his team better prepared to face the Cardinals. After the team practiced Wednesday, the players took responsibility for the performance and, to a man, insisted that this week has had a different feel.
“I was frustrated,” cornerback Julian Love said of the Ball State game. “We want to be the best. Our mindset as a whole program, I'm not going to say the players, I'm not going to say the coaches, but the whole program, wasn't in the right frame.
“Let's be honest, we overlooked Ball State and what they could do. They were a solid team, they put up a great fight. So, I was frustrated with our approach more than anything.”
To demonstrate how well they've re-focused their energy, the Irish trotted out some clichés. “Working on the little things,” “grinding” and “getting back to our roots” were all phrases players used to give an idea of how much different the energy at practice has been this week.
For the offensive line, the phrase was, “getting back to basics,” as guard and captain Alex Bars put it. The line is one unit that faces some difficult questions this week after giving up four sacks against the Cardinals and frequently giving quarterback Brandon Wimbush too little time to throw.
“We didn't execute well,” center and captain Sam Mustipher said of the line after the game. “When you win in the fashion we did, we obviously weren't good enough.”
So the offensive line doubled its efforts at practice this week. For Bars, “back to basics” means working on the minutiae in blocking technique.
“The thing that's going to save you in a lot of difficult blocks is your technique,” Bars said. “So if you fall back to that, through working at your habits constantly, working your technique, so that when you are tasked with making a huge block, you fall back to your basics, you fall back to your technique and you're able to make the block.”
The problems with preparation were somewhat apparent during the game, as Kelly pointed out, but the players said it really became obvious when they watched the film. Wide receiver Miles Boykin said that, looking back at the week, the team could sense that it fell short in practice, which led to deficiencies during the game. Those have been corrected this week.
“It's kind of hard to look at the preparation and say, 'Oh we didn't go hard enough,' in the moment,” Boykin said. “But after you take a step back and look at it, you say, 'We didn't do the right thing here, we didn't do the right thing there, we'd been making mistakes all week.'
“We weren't hard enough on ourselves and that's what it really comes down to, it comes down to accountability from the players.”
Despite the relative lack of preparation heading into the Ball State game, there was at least one silver lining in Love's eyes: the Irish showed their toughness once it became apparent the Cardinals didn't plan to roll over for mighty Notre Dame.
“I thought we handled adversity when we realized we were in a battle,” the All-American corner said. “I thought our defense stepped up and really played well.”
When Love was frustrated after the game about his team's performance, he got some help in seeing the bigger picture.
“My family and my girlfriend helped me realize that we won the game,” he said. “So now, going forward, we know what we have to do and we've been really intentional this week.”