Notre Dame re-energizes for Oklahoma in bye-week
By TIM CASEY
Thus far this season, Irish players have been chastised as not being able to win close games. Bob Davie's play-calling and coaching ability has been criticized. Allegations of academic fraud and possible NCAA violations have called into question boundaries never before crossed in Irish history.
But for a week, at least, the Irish could forget about the distractions and set their sights on the rest of the season.
"I think this open date really did come at a good time," Davie said at Tuesday's press conference. "It can be beneficial to our football team."
Most weeks' emphasis is set on preparing for Saturday's opponent, but last week gave Davie and his staff a chance to work with players individually. Instead of worrying about Drew Brees or the Michigan defense, Davie was able to focus the attention on skill development and basic technique.
"It gave us a chance to practice without worrying about a game plan,"Davie said. "So much of what you do in college football these days is trying to match up and trying to keep up with your opponent.
"Last week, we had a lot of time to spend just on individual technique and individual fundamentals. I think we really needed that as a football team,"he added.
Davie also stressed the importance that the off-week had on resting coaches and players — both physically and emotionally.
Recharging for Oklahoma
Two contributors on offense will return this week against Oklahoma. Tailback Tony Driver, who suffered a torn left shoulder muscle and flanker Joey Getherall (right shoulder separation against Purdue) will both look to add a spark to the offense.
On defense, safety Ron Israel (right ankle sprain against Purdue) and Ronnie Nicks (left ankle sprain against Michigan) are likely to be back for Saturday.
"Make no mistake about it, these last three weeks have been difficult and grueling,"Davie said. "It [the bye week] gave us a chance to get some players rested and refreshed."
The open date also gave Davie a chance to address problem areas. In Davie's first two years, the Irish posted an 8-4 record in games decided by a touchdown or less and were 4-1 in games decided by a field goal or less. This season, the Irish's combined differential in their three losses is 19 points.
Another area of concern for Davie is red zone execution. Last year, the Irish connected on 91 percent of their opportunities when within the 20-yard line. In the first four games of this year, the Irish have scored only 61 percent of the time.
"It is frustrating, but I am confident we can solve those problems,"said Davie. "They are all in areas where we have been pretty good before."
In recent memory, the Irish have had success in games following bye-weeks.
In this decade, Notre Dame is 9-1 after a week off. The lone defeat came in 1994 to Florida State. After beating Navy 58-21, the Irish had a week to regroup before heading to Tallahassee on Nov. 12.
The game was tied at 16 until 2:53 left in the fourth quarter when the Seminoles scored the decisive touchdown.
A year earlier, in "The Game of the Century,"the second-ranked Irish knocked off the top-ranked Seminoles 31-24 following a week off.
A year ago, the Irish capitalized on their two bye-weeks with victories over Purdue and Arizona State.
While the open date has given Davie a chance to work with his players and coaches, the real test comes Saturday.
"We will know a lot better on Saturday afternoon how the open date went," said Davie, "but I think it came as a good time for this football team. I think we addressed some problems we had and we are a better team because of it."
All Sports Stories for Wednesday, September 29, 1999