FOOTBALL: Scrimmages prepare Irish
Associate Sports Editor
They haven't even started the game yet, and the Irish are already behind.
No. 4 Nebraska, Notre Dame's first opponent, has already played a pair of games and has what Irish coaches are craving: game experience. Playing against TCU and Troy State, Nebraska had the opportunity to polish rough spots on the team with actual games, a luxury Notre Dame doesn't have.
But that doesn't mean the Irish aren't trying. Last week in a pair of scrimmages designed to simulate game conditions, the coaching staff did everything possible to create an actual game.
"Our football team knew that it was something we had to do," said Bob Davie, Notre Dame's head football coach. "It was the first time I've scrimmaged this close to the first game, but we just had to do it."
In the scrimmages, the Irish took two very different approaches. In the first scrimmage on Aug. 26, the Irish coaching staff pitted the starting team against the scout team. Here, the coaches hoped to work on game strategies designed to stop the potent Nebraska offense.
But on Friday, the coaches pitted the first string offense against the starting defense. Although the Irish ran offensive plays similar to those in Nebraska's playbook and set up in defensive formations used by the Huskers, the primary purpose of the scrimmage was to cut down on the number of mistakes Davie saw in the first scrimmage.
"I'm happy that we're able to come out here on a Friday night and scrimmage ... good players against good players," said Davie. "We didn't back off at all. We didn't go the best against the rest and get into a pillow fight out here. It was a full-speed, contact scrimmage."
"We're up for it and the team's excited to get in there and compete against each other," said quarterback Matt LoVecchio. "We just treat it like a real game."
In both scrimmages, the Irish did everything possible to simulate actual game conditions. All the pre-game rituals from the meal to the workouts were the same routine the Irish will follow Saturday night. While the actual scrimmages were going on, the giant speakers inside Notre Dame Stadium blared crowd noise to simulate the hostile conditions of Nebraska's Memorial Stadium.
And both scrimmages began at 7:00 — the same time the Irish will kick off against the Huskers this Saturday, all as part of an attempt to get as close as possible to an actual game.
"We did the best we could to simulate a real game," LoVecchio said. "Just going through the whole routine like it's Sept. 8 is a good way to get our team prepared."
Davie has been pleased that the Irish have been able to scrimmage — it has given him and the rest of the coaches the opportunity to find the areas that need work.
"I feel very, very fortunate to get this kind of work the Friday before our first game," he said.
Through the scrimmages, players like cornerback Jason Beckstrom have performed well enough to earn starting roles. Others, like tight end John Owens, who pulled in a touchdown pass Friday night, have been able to distinguish themselves by making solid contributions on the field.
But as much as Davie cares about the performance of his team during the scrimmages, he's much more concerned with preventing injuries. Although he it was critical for the Irish to scrimmage, Davie had to weigh the benefits of scrimmaging with the possibility that someone could get hurt.
"If a key player goes down, that's going to impact your football team," he said. "We made a decision that we had to scrimmage. There's no way we can take a football team to Lincoln, Nebraska and have a chance to win — particularly with them having two games — unless we rolled the dice and scrimmaged."
With Friday night's scrimmage behind them, the Irish now shift their focus towards beginning actual game preparations for Saturday night's season opener.
And with the Irish avoiding any major injuries, Davie is glad the Irish scrimmaged twice.
"Was it perfect?" he asked. "No. Was it anything to jump up and down about? No. But all things considered, just to be able to do it was a positive and to get out of here without any injuries is good."
All Sports Stories for Monday, September 3, 2001