What to Watch for in Notre Dame Football’s Return vs. Florida State

…And we’re back! Often when checking the weather it’ll show the temperature and if it’s windy or humid it will show you what it “feels like” and right now it’s been close to three weeks since Notre Dame last played, but it feels like it’s been two months. USF feels like a whole new team ago, and trying to wrap the mind around what to expect this week seems like a fools errand.

We know what the team will generally look like, we’ve seen how the coaches at least want the pieces to fit, but they also missed two weeks of on field work, with a large portion of the team either in isolation or in quarantine. Not how you want to get the program moving forward!

My advice is the same going into this game as it is was for the opener: throw out any preconceived notions for how this ought to look. The opponent doesn’t matter much in this, there is no precedent for shutting the program down two weeks into the season. There are also so many variables we aren’t aware of, any win is going to be good enough this week. I know we like to do the “no excuses” thing, and that’s a fine mentality for the team, but not so much the fans. Doesn’t mean we have to be happy with poor play, but it’s not going to be indicative of how the team will look going forward. They’ve had to start over.

The Return Of Kevin Austin

It’s almost too bad that Austin is coming back, because as each week went on without him, his legend grew more and more. What if he returns and he is merely good, and not a transcendent talent, the likes of which the game has never seen?

This week, Brian Kelly has been trying to down play what Austin can bring to the table, at least initially. He said on Monday Austin would be limited to 10-15 snaps and then today he stated Austin has looked good and has suffered no setbacks, but they want to be cautious with him, given how much time has gone by since he last played in a live game.

A couple things here. First, Kelly said similar things about Dexter Williams prior to his first action in 2018 against Stanford, after a four game suspension (allegedly). (Williams finished that game with 21 carries for 167 yards, not quite a light load.) Obviously, Williams coming off of a suspension during which he was able to practice and maintain his fitness is different from Austin, who was sidelined for eight weeks with a broken toe. But, what Kelly says prior isn’t always instructive of in-game behavior.

Second, I’m sure we all recall that Williams scored the first time he touched the ball. The thing about that is, Williams was very good, and very good players don’t need a ton of touches to show you they are very good. Therefore, I’m less concerned with what kind of numbers Austin puts up and more concerned with how he looks doing whatever it is he’s doing. Talent has a way of showing itself in overt ways. If Austin is to be what we hope him to be, and likely what the team needs him to be, then that should show itself in some way on Saturday. I’ll be watching for that.

The Return Of Kyle Hamilton

Notre Dame’s best and most talented player will return to the lineup from the sprained ankle he suffered at the start of the third quarter against Duke. Given the nature of the injury, he shouldn’t be suffering any ill effects from the ankle, but it’ll be interesting to see how Clark Lea utilizes him nevertheless. They had him all over the place against Duke and without a lot of tape for Florida State to watch on him, there is a chance he fools the young Seminole signal caller into throwing him the ball.

(I won’t be including Hamilton in every What to Watch For piece, but just assume it’s happening going forward.) (Also, they should play him on offense.)

The Buck Linebacker Saga

The buzz prior to the season was Jordan Genmark Heath was going to start at the Buck linebacker position. Then it was Shayne Simon and Marist Liufau listed as the top two at the position on the seasons opening depth chart, and Genmark Heath announced he would be transferring. Then Simon and Liufau missed the game against USF for COVID related reasons, and Jack Kiser was inserted into the lineup, where he played like a star and earned the game ball. This week, Kiser is now “unavailable” for what we assume are COVID related reasons, and it’s back to Simon and Liufau.

There has been a lot of discussion about whether Kiser had earned himself a starting role on defense with his performance against USF and having to sit this week pours some cold water on that. But, neither Simon or Liufau were overly impressive in the opener and if it’s more of the same against Florida State, Kiser might be able to make hay once he returns to the team.

This might be a position to watch weekly, and luckily it appears the problem is not a shortage of talent.

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