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Notre Dame Football

Irish health, College Football Playoff odds improving; Kelly defends Williams

November 18, 2021
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Notre Dame is prepping for its final home game of the 2021 season, its penultimate contest of the regular season and annual senior day contest.

As the Fighting Irish prepare to host Georgia Tech Saturday inside Notre Dame Stadium (2:30 p.m., NBC), they are continuing to battle a flu-like virus wreaking its havoc upon the roster for the second consecutive week.

“We're still battling through the flu,” Brian Kelly said Thursday in his final weekly pre-game media session. “We had a number of guys out on Tuesday. The guys are doing the best they can. Dr. (Matt) Leiszler and Rob Hunt are working overtime.

“We had a bunch of guys out on Tuesday, and got a bunch of guys back (Wednesday). I think we just have one guy today that was new. Hopefully, we're turning the corner.”

Earlier this week, Notre Dame super senior defensive lineman Kurt Hinish described in vivid detail how the virus had waylaid Irish linebacker Drew White.

“He was as white as this table, covered in sweat,” Hinish said, pointing to a table inside the Irish Athletics Center and also revealing White had texted him with a screenshot of a thermometer that showed White's 103-degree temperature. “Just dripping in sweat. He had a sweatshirt on, and his sweatshirt was just drenched.”

White and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa were among the Irish who missed last week's game due to illness, and Tagovailoa-Amosa also battled lingering effects from the illness into the early portion of the week.

Still, Kelly noted from an on-field injuries standpoint that his team had largely rebounded. Freshman left tackle Blake Fisher has largely been able to shed the protective leg-brace that had become a fixture since he was injured at Florida State to open the season, and Fisher, though not ready to return, has continued to improve in his movements and rehab.

"Medically, we're doing really well in terms of injuries,” Kelly said. “I think that's probably the best week we've had in quite some time. Getting this flu thing under control has really been the most difficult thing."

PLAYOFF PREDATOR

Notre Dame continues to gradually, steadily climb in the College Football Playoff rankings each week, inching up another notch Tuesday to the No. 8 spot.

Per various metrics and projections, the Fighting Irish are considered to have some of the best odds to advance to the Football Bowls Subdivision's playoffs for the third time in four seasons.

Still, Kelly knows Notre Dame does not entirely control its path because of the team's Oct. 2 home loss to undefeated and CFP No. 5 team Cincinnati.

"When you lose a game, destiny is not necessarily in your hands anymore,” Kelly said. “You focus on doing the things you can do each and every week. That's really been our focus. Take care of the things in front of you.

"This team has been focused week to week. What's important now is beating Georgia Tech. If we do that, we think we get one step closer. Beat Stanford (to close the regular season next week), and you get one step closer.”

Notre Dame is poised to continue its ascent in the coming weeks, because three teams in front of it – No. 4 Ohio State, No. 6 Michigan, No. 7 Michigan State – are intertwined.

The Buckeyes host Michigan State this weekend; they travel to Michigan to close out the regular season. No. 3 Oregon also has a tough road test coming Saturday at No. 23 Utah.

"We're in the hunt. We're in the mix,” Kelly said. “That's what we try to do each and every year. This is about graduating champions and playing for championships. We go into late November with a chance to play for a championship, and we're still on that journey.

"Let's take care of business this week against Georgia Tech. Reassess the situation; there are a lot of teams in front of us that play each other. Let's go beat Georgia Tech, and we get one step closer [to potential CFP selection]."

KELLY QUESTIONS AWARDS PROCESS

Kyren Williams is one of the five finalists for the Paul Hornung Award, presented annually to college football's most versatile player.

With 872 rushing yards, 308 receiving yards and 118 punt return yards, as well as 13 touchdowns, Williams' inclusion seems logical.
Kelly, however, can't find the logic with Williams not being a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to college football's best running back.

"The postseason awards have been, for me, over the past 5 or 6 years, going all the way back to Quenton Nelson and the Outland Trophy, have been confusing and really not sure what the criteria is anymore,” Kelly said. "Look, I'm very respectful for all those that have been awarded these trophies and those that have been nominated for them. Our players seem to have not been significant in these for some reason.”

Though Notre Dame remains an independent in college football, Kelly believes the Irish schedule stacks up against anyone in the nation – as does the program's winning ways in the past five seasons.

"You look at the schedule we play, the competition that we play each and every week, that doesn't seem to be a factor,” Kelly said. “It seems stats are very, very important.

"It is what it is. It's disappointing.”

 
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