Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Bye weeks have been kind to Irish

With Notre Dame coming off of a bye week, I decided to do some digging into the Irish’s history of playing after a week off. There is good news: the Irish have had great success after a week off -- a 61-14-2 record since 1900.

The extra week of practice and preparation should help the Irish against Southern Cal. The Irish will have had time to familiarize themselves with the pared-down Trojan attack, and after five seasons of facing Pete Carroll’s squad, there is little schematically that Carroll can do that will surprise the Irish coaching staff.

Outside of the X’s and O’s, the Irish will need to make great strides psychologically if they want to win on Saturday. The last outings against the Trojans have been disastrous. 38-3, 38-0, and 44-24 blow-outs have been monumental throttlings that make it seem like the divide between the Trojans’ talent level and the Irish’s have never been larger.

Thanks to a tip from our friends at Blue-Gray Sky, we stumbled upon a great article of theirs written by a former player who discussed the strategic moves former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz made during the bye week of the 1993 season as the Irish team prepared to play the vaunted Seminoles of Florida State.

Here are some highlights:

The beginning of the bye week was different than most weeks during the season, in that the game plan was not yet finalized. As such, we did not practice on Mondays. Rather, we spent the afternoon in film sessions, getting treatment and working on conditioning. In total, it was a rather light day - this set the tone for the rest of the week. Although we returned to a normal practice schedule on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we were working more on fundamentals of the game, footwork, balance, positioning, and accurate reads, rather than focusing on our upcoming opponent. If it wasn’t for the media (and a few of our teammates) there would have been no mention of Florida State.

In hindsight, this was one of the most powerful tactics that Coach Holtz, and the rest of the coaching staff, employed to prepare us for the game - it was a matter of pacing ourselves for the emotion that would undoubtedly build in week two. In week one, there was no hype - it was back to basics, Football 101.

However, as the bye week came to a close his strategy began to unfold. Coach Holtz normally played to the media, giving them the sob story of how every team has a legitimate chance at beating us each week; in internal discussions, however, he was always adamantly clear that we would win without a shadow of a doubt. Strangely, as the game with Florida State approached, the message to the media and the team was fairly similar - Florida State was faster and more athletic than we were. We wondered why he felt the need to remind us of this fact so frequently. But as we continued through our daily practice schedule it slowly became clear that it was Florida State’s speed and athleticism that would eventually be their downfall. The new offensive schemes for FSU were based on misdirection and cutbacks - “let their whole team swarm to the ball and over pursue, then we’ll go the other way.” Our offensive linemen had dark visors added to their helmets to give them an advantage on eyeing angles and gaps without being noticed - even the slightest advantage would equate to a magnitude of success. Slowly we began to see the total picture of the plan - and we now believed we could win.

Coach Holtz often repeated the phrase “games are won on Monday through Friday, not on Saturday.” He was an avid believer that “you practice like you play.” He demanded focus and perfection every day, on every play. Unfortunately, the Wednesday before the Florida State game was a practice that, if translated into game execution, would have resulted in an embarrassing loss to the Seminoles. For some reason our timing was off - the execution of the new strategy was simply not there. Coaches were frustrated and the confidence that we were beginning to build was turning into doubt.

Suddenly, the legendary offensive line coach, Joe Moore -- as old-school and rugged a football coach as there ever was -- lost his cool. He had had enough of misdirection and cutbacks - he was tired of the thought of playing Florida State football in order to beat Florida State. Yes, there would be the time and place to employ this strategy in order to keep them off-balance, but he believed that the best way to beat Florida State football was to play Notre Dame football. In the middle of practice Coach Moore huddled with Coach Holtz...and then exploded. “Get me the managers! Get these f*cking visors off these f*cking helmets! We don’t need this bullsh*t! We’re going to look them right in the eye, tell them where we’re running the ball, and kick their f*cking asses all over the f*cking field!”

** snip **

The team went through the usual post-rally schedule: returning to the Loftus Center for a team meeting and then into our relaxation routine. Our team meetings on Friday night were more administrative than anything, covering logistics for the weekend and so forth. Additionally, we would always watch a short film comprised of highlights from the previous week’s game and highlights from the previous year’s game vs. the upcoming opponent. However, with no game over the bye week and having not played Florida State in several years, there really wasn’t anything to show. At least that’s what we thought.

Instead of a game film, Coach Holtz had arranged to show highlights of the 1988 Miami game. As music pumped through the speakers and highlights of Zorich, Stonebreaker, Rice and Rocket filled the screen, we began cheering for the players whose performance influenced us to join ND in the first place. We started to think about the magnitude of the event at hand. We began to realize that we were about to write another chapter in the history books. Then, the music stopped, the screen went blank, and a picture of the 1988 National Championship Ring went up... and the team went crazy! The sounds of the pep rally were silent compared to the uproar that filled the meeting room at Loftus - it was literally an out-of-body experience.

Weis and his coaching staff already told us a stress on fundamentals was at the forefront of practice last week. You’ve also got to believe that Weis has had his team thinking about the Trojans since the moment the Irish squeaked their way past Washington two weeks ago, and probably spent parts of the past few weeks game-planning and preparing for this mid-October date with their rivals.

It was the truth 16 years ago, as it is truth today: This Saturday’s football game will be predicated on many of the same things that resulted in the Irish winning the game of the century.

As was designed, the game would be about execution, Holtz said. Florida State could not win if we executed the game plan. It was simple: hit them in the mouth and get them on their heels, then we’ll work misdirection, and they will be lost. Holtz then talked about what the media believes, what the critics believe -- and how none of that matters. Inside these walls and inside your hearts was a belief that victory was imminent. Then he said: “Let there be no doubt... this sucker doesn’t have to be close!” And with that, we stormed out of the locker room.

Well, we all know what happened on that unseasonably warm November Saturday. It was a great game against two pretty evenly-matched, albeit very different teams. This “Game of the Century” definitely delivered on the hype. The game, though, was not won simply on Saturday. The foundation had been laid by Coach Holtz over the previous two weeks: a skillful balance of gameplanning and emotional management that made us believe we could beat the #1 team in the country. Notre Dame catapulted to the top of the college football world on that Saturday, but the game had been won long before kickoff.

The Irish don’t have nearly as daunting of a challenge ahead of them as the 1993 squad did. But the mindset will need to be the same if the Irish walk out of Notre Dame Stadium next Saturday victorious.

(Special thanks to the guys at BGS for the great source material...)