SOUTH BEND – The Irish are ready to play someone besides themselves.
Notre Dame has been practicing almost daily since Aug. 4 when it opened camp in Culver and is now just days from opening its 2019 season against Louisville on Labor Day. For the Irish, that season-opener can't come quickly enough.
“The juice is good, everyone's excited,” quarterback Ian Book said. “It's been fun playing our own guys and whatnot, but we're ready to play someone else and we can't wait for Monday to get here, go play a good opponent in Louisville.
“Everyone's excited, we've got a good game plan. ... It's been a long time coming, but it has come fast.”
The Irish have been champing at the bit to get back on the field since the end of last season, when they lost 30-3 to Clemson in the Cotton Bowl. The preparation for 2019 started almost immediately following that defeat. Safety Alohi Gilman said the identity of this team so far has been that it attacks every challenge that's put in front of it.
This is a different group than the one that made the College Football Playoff a year ago, but it's eager to prove that it's just as talented. The Irish are ready to attack Monday's matchup, as well.
“Let's line up right now,” Gilman said, laughing. “The game doesn't (have to) be close.”
While the Irish get ready to take the field after close to a month of practices, coach Brian Kelly is still unsure of what kind of mindset this team will have.
Usually Kelly has a “gut feeling” about what the identity of his team on the field will be, but this season he's waiting to see Notre Dame face a real opponent and watch an identity and a mindset emerge in the heat of the moment.
“A few years ago we had a mindset that they really wanted to dominate their opponent,” Kelly said. “I think the mindset of this group will come together after the first game. I'm not sure what that is right now.
“Are they going to go in and kind of hang in there? Are they going to go in there and exert their will? Do they have to come out and feel it out? That kind of unfolds when the group plays.”
The Irish will have a slightly different routine this week because they're playing Monday instead of Saturday. They're moving their usual schedule back two days and treating all the other aspects of preparation as if they're the same.
Essentially, when the players enter the training facility for practice, the clock turns back two days.
“We try not to let that odd situation, playing on a Monday, really change anything,” wide receiver Chris Finke said Thursday. “I have a pretty good grasp of (what day it is). This morning was Thursday morning and this afternoon was Tuesday afternoon.”
Playing on Monday gives Notre Dame a chance to relax Saturday night, as they would usually on a Thursday. That will allow the Irish the rare ability to watch some other games. Finke said that he's excited to be able to do that and also that he would be watching erstwhile Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush, Finke's former roommate, leading Central Florida on Thursday night against Florida A&M.
Once the Irish finally do take the field, playing the only game in the country Monday, they will try to make an early-season statement. Of course, leaving with a win is the most important part, but winning big wouldn't hurt.
“(It's) very important,” Finke said of making a statement in Week 1. “You've got to come out and show what you've been doing all offseason, show the preparation, the work you've been putting in. Starting strong is always a good feeling, so that's the goal right now, that's the focus.”
Just three days to go.
Notre Dame vs. Louisville
Where: Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Ky.
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Radio: 1190 AM, 92.3 FM