RALEIGH, N.C. — As Notre Dame’s defense gathered to pour over film this week, Greg Hudson queued up a video of wrestling legend Ric Flair. Why? Players weren't entirely sure, but it was probably to bring some energy and levity to the room.
“Yeah, it was hilarious,” defensive end Isaac Rochell said. “Yeah. You gotta love Ric Flair. There’s nothing to say, he’s just like, Ric Flair. I guess he just loves Ric Flair. And I do too. Why not?”
Hudson, who’s in Week 2 as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator/hype man, also squeezed in a video of Will Smith doing the “Jump On It” dance from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The goal was to keep this defense energized after it left last week’s 50-33 win over Syracuse with some positives on which to build.
Whether or not players belting out Flair’s trademark “WOOOOO!” actually results in something tangible on Saturday, who knows (defensive end Jay Hayes said that high-pitched yell became a staple of practice this week). But — and apologies for the cheesy transition — Flair’s nickname was the “Nature Boy,” so maybe the subliminal message in playing the video was to be ready to bear the elements on Saturday in Raleigh.
Nearly four inches of rain are forecast to be dumped on Raleigh between Friday evening and early Sunday morning as Hurricane Matthew churns up the Atlantic Coast. The powerful storm — which caused Saturday’s LSU-Florida game in Gainesville to be cancelled — isn’t projected to reach North Carolina, though its rain bands will hit the Raleigh-Durham area this weekend. And with that rain will come wind that the National Weather Service forecasts could gust up to 40 miles per hour.
Notre Dame can point to its game against Clemson last year — 1.14 inches of rain fell over the course of that early October Saturday — as providing valuable experience for playing in miserable conditions. But the strongest wind gust that day was 29 miles per hour, and 3.97 inches of rain is a lot different than 1.14. The worst of the rain is supposed to hit during the window in which Notre Dame will play at Carter-Finley Stadium, which has a natural grass playing surface.
“When you're out there and the blows are flying, you really don't notice too much of the rain,” quarterback DeShone Kizer, who threw for 321 yards at Clemson last year, said.
But Kizer added that the wind is a much greater hindering factor, and if there are strong gusts howling across the Triangle region on Saturday, that could ground Notre Dame’s air attack. Of course, it’d probably keep N.C. State from throwing much, too, which is probably good news for a green Irish secondary that might otherwise struggle against Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley (84/116, 1,014 yards, 9 TDs, 0 INTs) in neutral conditions.
“If the ball's slippery to me, it could be slippery to the DB, too,” wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. said. “And I'm more confident in myself than I would be in him. So I mean I guess that's an advantage, just the confidence that I can come down with the ball. I don't know. It's all kind of crazy when the rain starts pouring.”
The team that runs the ball best — and makes fewer wet-ball-related mistakes — is likely to gain the advantage from the sloppy conditions. Notre Dame ranks 65th in average yards per carry (4.39) while N.C. State ranks 34th (5.01), with senior Matthew Dayes (75 carries, 437 yards) leading the Wolfpack’s efficient ground game.
But this game is difficult to predict given the unknown of how either team will handle playing in driving rain all day. For N.C. State, it could put a damper on the atmosphere for the program’s biggest non-conference game since hosting Ohio State in 2004. But for Notre Dame, it could be an ill-timed curveball when this program needs a home run win to feel more comfortable about its bowl eligibility prospects.
So to paraphrase another one of Ric Flair’s lines, to be the man, you gotta beat the (elements).
“They know that the elements are what they are,” Kelly said. “Being up here in the Midwest, we're used to playing in all kinds of weather, so the guys will acclimate. We practice in wet-ball conditions and obviously are prepared for whatever the circumstances.
“And the most important thing: Don't make excuses. Just go out and play.”