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Players weigh in on Texas tempo, turnover on offense

| Thursday, September 1, 2016

For the first time in 10 years, Notre Dame will open its season with a true road game Sunday when it plays at Texas. Mix the first-game nerves with a hostile, 100,000-person-plus crowd, and the No. 10 Irish will be playing in a high-profile environment this weekend.

Those nerves are natural, senior linebacker and captain James Onwualu said, but they’re also not a bad thing.

“Pregame jitters, I think, are good,” Onwualu said. “Everybody’s going to be nervous. Older guys even get nervous, so just focus on your job.”

Onwualu said those jitters might be present for the first drive, but that after that, they shouldn’t be a concern.

“I always give it a drive [to settle in],” Onwualu said. “Even as vets, you’re still trying to get settled in throughout the first drive, especially on the defense.”

Notre Dame senior captain James Onwualu Emma Farnan | The Observer
Notre Dame senior linebacker and captain James Onwualu pursues the ballcarrier during Notre Dame’s 30-22 win over Georgia Tech at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 19.

Texas’ high-tempo offense

The Longhorns will play fast this year offensively — it’s what new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert has brought from past stops at Tulsa and Bowling Green — and that presents a different look to an Irish defense with a slew of new faces.

But senior defensive lineman and captain Isaac Rochell said the biggest difference in facing an up-tempo offense is mental, not physical.

“It’s just a mentality thing,” Rochell said. “You’ve got to be ready to get the call and get your feet in the grass and get ready to play.”

“ … It’s something we’re used to and we’re conditioned for. We work a lot of tempo scenarios against our offense, ‘cause they’re pretty high-tempo, so it’s nothing new.”


Turnover on the offensive line

There are three new starters on the offensive line this year — junior center Sam Mustipher, senior right guard Colin McGovern and junior right tackle Alex Bars — but if you ask senior left tackle and captain Mike McGlinchey, Irish fans shouldn’t expect much different out of the five-man crew in 2016.

“I think it’s been a pretty good and seamless transition,” McGlinchey said. “The guys in our room pay very close attention and have paid very close attention to how things are done and how you’re supposed to play the game.

“ … Obviously, the experience is gone, but I don’t expect any kind of drop off or anything like that. The three of them are so talented and they’re gonna show some people that they have the stuff to get it done, too.”


An inexperienced receiving corps

Bigger than Notre Dame’s losses on the offensive line, though, are the losses in the receiving game: 82.2 percent of the team’s 2015 receptions walked out the door at season’s end, either through graduation, the NFL Draft, retirement or suspension.

While senior receiver and captain Torii Hunter Jr. said the Irish will still have playmakers at receiver, the team is also adding a new dimension this year: increased height.

“[There are] a lot of guys that have a lot of playmaking ability,” Hunter said. “We’ve got a lot of bigger guys. We’re probably as big as we’ve been in a while at the receiver position. We’ve got [freshman] Chase Claypool, [sophomore] Miles Boykin, [sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown]. …

“They’re big, they can jump, they can catch, they’re fast and they just have a lot of playmaking ability. You’ll be able to see that this year.”


Counting on the run game

During his Tuesday press conference, Irish head coach Brian Kelly made a point to say the Irish would run the ball against Texas. He called it an “absolute certainty.”

That excites senior Tarean Folston and the other players in the running back room — a position group that, uncharacteristically for this Irish team, has considerably experience.

“That’s definitely nice [to hear],” Folston said. “Our running back room is old in a sense. We’ve got young guys, but we have the most guys that have seen playing time as far as our position, I feel like. We’re ready. I’m ready.

“ … Whether I run the ball 20 times or the whole group runs it 50 times, we’re all ready.”

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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