Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Irish All Business At The Cotton Bowl

December 24, 2018

Notre Dame and the country has heard all about Clemson’s defensive line since the Cotton Bowl matchup was announced in early December. 

It wasn’t a shock the first question to Sam Mustipher on Monday morning had to do with the challenge the Irish offensive line faces on December 29th.

“Clemson has a big, athletic front,” stated Mustipher. ‘They’ve shown that on film, the ability to move, get off blocks and make a lot of plays. It's going to be a challenge for us, and we understand that. It's just going back to the fundamentals and basics.” 

It was an expected answer from a media-savvy fifth-year senior, but the Notre Dame captain wasn’t bashful to speak about the growth of his offensive line as it replaced two top 10 NFL draft picks. 

“We have a standard of Notre Dame offensive line play,” explained Mustipher. “It's been here long before I got here, long before those guys who moved on last year got here. 

“We take pride in what we do. We understand guys on Saturdays who've played here before are watching us. We go out there every weekend and give it the best we have.”

For classmate and captain Drue Tranquill, the Irish defense has been his legacy. Mike Elko left and the fate of Tranquill’s final year was in the hands of first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea. 

The Fort Wayne (Ind.) native had all the belief in Lea and his teammates to get them to 12-0.

“It starts up front with our defensive line and their ability to get pressure on the quarterback,” said Tranquill. “Then just playing sound on the back end.

“I've got to give the kudos to the D-line. We're deep there, and they've been able to get pressure on the quarterback all year. They can make average linebackers look great. But, you know, we're good all across the board, and they've done a great job getting pressure up front. We've held up in the back end a lot of good talent and execution.” 

The achievement of the Cotton Bowl has its rewards on and off the field for Mustipher and Tranquill. They will get to spend some of their last days with their teammates enjoying some of the finer parts of the Dallas area and getting red carpet treatment, but also a chance to play for a National Championship with a win.

“We are fairly fresh here in Dallas, but it's been great,” Tranquill explained. “Guys are locked in and ready to practice this morning. We'll get to enjoy ourselves this evening at the comedy show and get to spend some time with our families. But we're kind of all business right now and got to go have a good practice and get after it.” 

The opportunity to play in AT&T Stadium is one few college players get, but it’s also the home of Jaylon Smith, who Tranquill grew up training and playing against in Fort Wayne. 

Smith returned a fumble 69 yards for a touchdown where the Irish practiced on Monday and Tranquill is hoping to catch up with the Cowboys linebacker this week. 

“We’re both from Fort Wayne and I grew up training with him,” stated Tranquill. “To see him have a big game yesterday was awesome. Just to see him come back from what he did was truly inspiring. We've got to get out there and run around like he does and make plays all over the field for our team. And certainly, hope to see him this week and get to catch up with him. Great guy and a great player.” 

As for this week, Mustipher expects the Irish to conduct themselves as they have the previous four months and that means taking things one day a time.

“What makes this team special is that we just took it one day and one practice at a time and we took it one game at a time,” Mustipher said. “We really didn't look too far ahead. We understand that, if we go out there and we do what we need to do on Saturday, that it was going to be an opportunity for us that was going to be there.” 

Tranquill knew last December the team had a chance to be special, but he knew Notre Dame could be in for a big season during fall camp. 

“I made the decision to come back last December and I knew we had the pieces,” said Tranquill. “It was just a matter of execution at that point. When we got into fall camp and I saw the way our defense was executing. 11 as one. We weren't really playing as individuals. We were playing cohesively together. 

"I knew we had a special thing going defensively and then watching our defense just get after it against Michigan. Then just transitioning quarterbacks like it was nothing. Special unit over there. 

“Defensively, in fall camp, I was like ‘We got this thing’ and then, offensively, they've just continued to prove themselves and be great each and every week.” 

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