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The Journal Gazette

  • Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and strength coach Matt Balis made team speed a priority in the offseason, which will be important when the Irish take on Clemson in the Cotton Bowl. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

Wednesday, December 19, 2018 1:00 am

Notre Dame believes it has speed to keep up with Clemson

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Cotton Bowl

Notre Dame vs. Clemson

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

When: 4 p.m. on Dec. 29

Records: Notre Dame 12-0, Clemson 13-0


SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame will be an underdog against Clemson, that much is clear. Las Vegas oddsmakers peg the Tigers as 11-point favorites.

Part of the reason for that wide gulf in the national perception of the two teams is Notre Dame's recent struggles in big-time bowl games. The Irish fell flat against Alabama in the 2013 BCS Championship Game and against Ohio State in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, losing those games by a combined 44 points.

The current Notre Dame players are aware of the underwhelming performances, but their collective mindset seems to be that this team is different. 

“We don't focus on (previous teams),” running back Jafar Armstrong said. “We're just focusing on how we can play great for four quarters and how can this team get us to a point that sets us up for something that hasn't happened here in a long time (a national championship).”

After a 12-0 regular season in 2012, the Irish faced the Crimson Tide for a national title and the biggest difference between the two teams was speed. The Irish simply couldn't keep up.

When Irish players are asked about the challenges Clemson will present for them, “speed” and “fast” are almost always mentioned. Can this Notre Dame team run with an elite group? Safety Alohi Gilman certainly thinks so.

“No problem,” the Navy transfer said. “We're not worried about that. We understand what we're good at, what our strengths are, what we need to work on. From there, that's what our confidence is built on.

“We're happy where we're at right now, being the underdogs in terms of speed. We know what we bring to the table, so when the time comes, we'll turn it on.”

The Irish use GPS technology to measure the speed of players as the season goes on. Strength coach Matt Balis designed his offseason training program to ensure that Notre Dame wouldn't slow down late in the season.

Notre Dame's GPS readings actually showed the Irish getting faster later in the year. Against Syracuse, 21 players ran 19 mph or faster, compared with just 16 players who did so against Michigan. If Notre Dame can hang with Clemson from sideline to sideline at the Cotton Bowl, it will be because the Irish committed to speed over the summer.

“Guys are moving, guys are moving fast,” coach Brian Kelly said before the USC game.

In comparing the speed of Clemson and Notre Dame, it's instructive to look back at the teams' matchup in 2015, which Clemson won 24-22 before going on to reach the national championship game. Wide receiver Miles Boykin was a freshman at the time and didn't play, but he remembers being blown away by the speed from both teams in that game.

“I was watching that game and I was saying, 'Wow, this is really football,'” Boykin said. “It was almost like an NFL game out there, all the talent. It was just ridiculous the amount of athletes out there. That's going to be similar to what we see this time. ... It's going to be fun to watch.”

Note: Today is the December national signing day. Committed recruits from the class of 2019 have their first opportunity to sign national letters of intent and officially decide where they will play college football. Notre Dame currently has 21 commitments and the No. 10 class in the country, per 24/7 Sports.