The 2018 Fighting Irish football season has been an adventure of legendary proportions. An amazing season filled with intrigue, excitement, exhilaration, and transformation: Michigan to kick off the year, handling Stanford at home, and USC in the Coliseum with a College Football Playoff berth on the line. If the lights were bright this year, the lights just got brighter!
No other sport has a layover between regular season and post-season like college football. Extended time off is a definite problem that teams will have to deal with. I was part of two teams that played in BCS bowl games both of which were over a month after the regular season ended. There is a fine line between going overboard on preparation versus confident and relaxed. During preparation for the Fiesta Bowl my freshman year and the Sugar Bowl my sophomore year, we watched too much film, had too many meetings, and were so immersed with bowl prep that by the time the game was ready to be played most everyone was exhausted mentally and physically. The Hawaii Bowl my senior year was much different compared to the previous two bowl experiences. We took a much different approach, but I attribute this to the level of bowl we were in. The success we had in the Hawaii Bowl was a combination of a relaxed mindset and a weak opponent. I understand the differences in approach between Fiesta/Sugar Bowl and Hawaii Bowl, however, for college student-athletes there must be a proper balance. This is especially true for teams with longer layoffs.
Ian Book’s growth, maturity, and confidence have been an ongoing process since his first start this year. He experienced his first start at Notre Dame Stadium, was tested in hostile environments, dealt with an injury, and finished strong putting his team in the position to play for a national championship. The regular season has prepared him for the spotlight on December 29th, but what about the process between the end of the regular season and the bowl game? How much or how little might he evolve during the long break between games?
Amidst final exams, NFL draft chatter, and trips home, players must be able to focus on the task at hand. In coach speak, "avoid the noise." For Book, bowl preparation is a time to refine and sharpen what he has been doing all year. In order to do so, he will have had to bring intense focus each practice session. This is not the time to take steps backwards. The same mistakes he made in practice early in the year should be nonexistent. The extended time between the final regular season game and the semi-final game should allow him to limit mistakes and play within the system the coaches have created and implemented throughout the year. Move the pocket throws, designed runs, option plays, play action passes, and audibles seasoned the playbook as he became more familiar and increasingly confident with the offense. At this point, nothing is going to change regarding the identity of his team. There might be minor tweaks and adjustments based on what Clemson does defensively, but overall, Book should feel comfortable with the game plan and with what to expect from the Tigers.
For years, Irish fans young and old have been praying at the Basilica and lighting candles at the Grotto with aspirations of championships. With each agonizing championship-less season, faith has been replaced with shadows of doubt. Out of those shadows, the 2018 Fighting Irish emerged. From the outside looking in, it would have been very difficult to have predicted a 12-0 season, but here we are. Behind the closed doors of the "Gug" a winning environment, paralleled to those of Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian, and Holtz, sparked a quiet confidence in a group of young student-athletes. Their mission: Win a Championship. Stay tuned. Go Irish!