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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Rides “Impossible” Emotional Rollercoaster to Remain in CFP Hunt

October 4, 2023

Notre Dame should’ve been physically and emotionally drained heading into the final 7:58 of its contest versus No. 17 Duke.

Dating back to a match with No. 6 Ohio State the weekend prior, the Fighting Irish had spent the last seven and a half quarters of football navigating two of the nation’s most hardnosed opponents and multiple lead changes and momentum shifts.

Yet the defense forced Duke to punt from the Notre Dame 33-yard line, trailing 14-13. The Irish offense took over at its own 5-yard line with 2:35 remaining and marched down the field for a 10-play, 95-yard go-ahead touchdown drive.

In the process, they overcame a false start and an offensive pass interference and converted on 3rd-and-10 and 4th-and-16. 

“It’s virtually impossible to be at your best, to execute at your best, in the eighth quarter of absolute knockdown, dragouts,” Fox Sports college football analyst Joel Klatt said. “And that’s what they did. I am so impressed with Notre Dame.”

That’s a lot for anyone, let alone full-time college students dealing with the pressure of 10 million+ fans watching them succeed and fail on national television.

It’s even harder for freshman contributors like running back Jeremiyah Love and receiver Jaden Greathouse and Rico Flores, Jr. — all teenagers whose everyday habits were monitored and dictated by their parents until a few months ago.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand how hard it is, not just for student-athletes but football players here at Notre Dame,” Liufau said. “We’re expected to excel at a high level in the classroom and play high-level football. We’re still held to that standard in the classroom.

“I think it can be really hard for younger people to experience that if they haven’t found their routine yet. But once you get your routine down, it can get a lot smoother.”

Late road games make it even worse. Players are up late, running around at full speed in front of thousands of screaming fans. Then, they’ll jump on a plane immediately and return to the everyday grind of dorm life and chemistry homework. 

“It’s hard with night games, you get a lot of adrenaline,” Liufau said. “When we get on that plane, I don’t feel too tired honestly. I can’t really sleep too well. Going on the plane, I don’t get much sleep.”

Of course, it’s even harder following a loss like the one Notre Dame suffered the week prior against No. 4 Ohio State, allowing the Buckeyes to score the go-ahead touchdown with one second remaining. 

On the other hand, a last-second victory gives the Irish momentum heading into another highly anticipated matchup. 

“It’s definitely been an emotional rollercoaster the past two weeks,” linebacker Marist Liufau said. “It always feels good to win. Obviously, this past week felt great for us. It was just a huge boost for us. I think we’re rolling into this week with that win. It’s been a great service for us in our mindset going into this next week.”

Notre Dame experienced a gut-wrenching, 90-degree drop before the late comeback against Duke, but there are still plenty of loops, twists and turns to ride out with night games at No. 25 Louisville and home against No. 9 USC coming up in back-to-back weekends.

Irish coach Marcus Freeman has placed an even greater emphasis on recovery this season. For years, Notre Dame has used Catapult GPS Trackers to monitor each player’s workload, heart rate and more. 

In 2023, Freeman takes that data following the game and decides how to adjust the upcoming week’s schedule, even making changes on an individual basis.

“By the time it gets to me,” Freeman said, “I say, ‘Listen, I just need to know who’s high, who’s low, where these lows are at. How do I need to adjust? Who’s going to be fatigued? Who had an extremely high/low game? I look at it on an individual than a position basis. Then make the adjustments accordingly.”

It also helps that the Irish have Sunday off this year to sleep in, reset mentally and ease back into their routines.

Overall, the players feel fresher than when practicing on Sundays last season.

“Your legs feel less fatigued,” Liufau said. “I remember last year just going into games, my legs would be sore already. But also taking care of my legs with the time that we have. We have more time to do recovery, take care of our bodies, get sleep.”

Thus far, their week-to-week structure and preparation have been good enough for a 5-1 start, a top-10 ranking and an odds-defying comeback against Duke. 

“I don’t know how Notre Dame had that in them at that moment,” Klatt said.

Can they sustain it for two more weeks against ranked opponents and with midterms coming up before the Irish get their first two bye weekends on Oct. 21?

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