It’s often said in jest when a team faces one of its subtly, trickiest calendar dates in the football season. Can the Irish beat bye week?
The key to that, however, is the Irish themselves.
Can they improve? Can they stay disciplined? Improving from this week 4 to week 6 of the football season, when the Irish face BYU in the Shamrock Series in Las Vegas on October 8th, will require Notre Dame to learn from the bad from its first four games and take the good from those games and improve.
The Irish have already shown improvement week to week on the offensive and defensive lines. Despite struggling to generate a consistent rushing game against Marshall several weeks ago, the Irish ran for 289 yards at 5.6 yards per carry against North Carolina on Saturday. In addition, the defense notched its first turnover (it almost had two others) and racked up three sacks and seven tackles for loss.
That push by both lines was a significant piece of the puzzle that Irish head coach Marcus Freeman had been preached to start the season, and that was lacking in the first two games, though the Irish more than held their own against Ohio St. for three quarters.
“It was a challenge to our offense to be able to run the ball and a challenge to our defense to be able to stop the ball [against North Carolina],” Freeman said.
Notre Dame answered the challenge by its coaches.
For the Irish to push their win streak to three games on October 8th, they must continue to improve in the running game, the vertical passing game, and defensively – especially with pressure on the quarterback and tackles at the second level by linebackers and safeties.
Additionally, for the Irish to improve, they must stay disciplined during the bye week. Staying disciplined involves everything from attending classes, maintaining the proper routine and nutrition, paying attention to the details throughout the next two weeks, and, even, as college kids, not partying.
Teams that consistently improve over bye weeks and return from bye weeks refreshed and with a vengeance were most likely disciplined and hungry in the two-week preparation for their next opponent.
“The beauty of it is there’s always room to get better. We can go and learn from a lot of situations that happened in the game,” Freeman said after the North Carolina game.
“I’m really happy with where this team has progressed, and that’s what I told the team in the locker room. Sometimes we let the outcome kind of mask things and continue to look at, is this a football team that’s getting better. And it is… They’re playing better; they’re practicing better. And that’s the challenge… continue to get better,” he said.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban often preaches trusting the process – the nitty gritty of day-in and day-out reps, practices, and details. And doing the little things right each day throughout a season leads to bigger results and an overall solid outcome. Freeman, in preaching his own version of the process, the need to not “mask things” with the overall result but to “continue to get better,” knows that big games, bowl games, and championships aren’t won or lost overnight. They aren’t won or lost with a loss to Marshall in his first overall year or a win against North Carolina.
The next task for the team and the still new head coach is to win his first bye week as head coach. Will bye week be physical? Will it require a disciplined Irish? Will it yield flashes of youth in more playing time for linebacker Prince Kollie and freshman wide receiver Tobias Merriweather?
We should find out on October 8th.