SOUTH BEND, Ind. — DeShone Kizer traveled with Notre Dame to Tallahassee last October, and while he didn’t play he got a taste of the kind of hostile atmosphere he’ll go up against Saturday night against Clemson.
“It was a very, very loud environment,” Kizer said. “I’ve never heard anything so loud in my life, something where, you know, it feels like your insides are shaking on third down.”
As Everett Golson nearly pushed Notre Dame to a win over the team for which he currently plays, Kizer observed from the sidelines and took away some positive lessons from an otherwise gut-wrenching night.
“The best way of coping with it is doing the extra small things, making sure you're being quick in getting up there and relaying the play a couple times down and getting back into your stance so you can be able to make a check,” Kizer said. “And also with that being said, the best way of quieting a crowd down is making big plays, and I got to experience that last year against Florida State where every time we got some momentum going, it wasn't as hard to communicate. So we gotta make sure that we get things rolling as soon as possible and hopefully at least take it down a couple of notches on the loudness scale.”
Back in 2012, Golson — then a redshirt freshman, like Kizer — went into raucous road environments at Michigan State and Oklahoma and beat two teams ranked in the AP top 10 at the time. The Oklahoma game was Notre Dame’s biggest win of the Brian Kelly era, with the crowd being almost immediately taken out of the game when Cierre Wood scythed 62 yards for a first-quarter score.
That play didn’t win Notre Dame the game, of course, but it did set the tone that heavy favorites Oklahoma were in for a difficult evening (the line for Saturday's Notre Dame-Clemson game, it's worth noting, is even as of Wednesday afternoon).
“I remember running on the sideline and the whole place went quiet, which you know, is obviously big being in a hostile environment, kind of taking the momentum and taking the crowd out of it is huge,” graduate student safety and captain Matthias Farley recalled. “It definitely helps, but you know, I can't say it's the most important thing. You just have to play a very solid game in all three stages.”
Notre Dame executed its gameplan to perfection against Oklahoma and came close a year ago against Florida State. While it’s a pick’em line and Clemson, like Notre Dame, is missing a few key players, a strong gameplan and near-flawless execution of it will be necessary for Notre Dame to quiet the Memorial Stadium — more commonly known as Death Valley — crowd and beat a Clemson team that’s 41-6 at home under coach Dabo Swinney.
Notre Dame is blasting crowd noise during its practices this week with a focus on silent snap counts and non-verbal communication. Coach Brian Kelly talked about encouraging enthusiasm instead of emotion — “emotion drains you,” the sixth-year Irish coach said — while Farley said there’s no use getting intimidated by a rowdy crowd of opposing fans.
“You don't really have a choice, because you're there and you have to really focus because it is loud,” Farley said. “It is a hostile environment. The fans don't like you, as they shouldn't. So I think it's definitely an adjustment maybe going through warmups, maybe the first play for some guys who have never been in that situation.”
Farley, though, said the atmosphere at Death Valley — which seats 81,500, slightly more than Notre Dame Stadium — could also help he and his teammates play a clean, focused game.
“You feed off the energy,” Farley said. “A night game people usually get there early. The stadium is going to be full for warmups. You can find of feed off that energy in the stadium.”