Weary Irish get into practice mode


POSTED: Sunday, December 21, 2008

It could have been called “;The Young and the Restless.”;

Not the soap opera—Notre Dame's first football practice in Hawaii.

A woozy Fighting Irish team arrived at Aloha Stadium at 10 a.m. yesterday after an arduous trek from South Bend, Ind., to prepare for their date with Hawaii in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

Sleep was a precious commodity, as the team saw its flight departures delayed due to foul weather on the mainland. Notre Dame's targeted 10 p.m. arrival time on Friday became 1 a.m. yesterday, but the Irish were able to turn around and assemble on the stadium field 8 hours after first arriving at their hotel.

The 6-6 Irish are young on offense, and their coaches seemed to realize the importance of getting their players settled at the game site as soon as possible.

“;Guys are tired from the flight, and Coach (Charlie) Weis did his best to try to get our legs back even though it's a tough day out here, the first day in hot weather,”; said sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen. “;But it's good for us.”;

Notre Dame went through some basic offensive sets in the first of two closed practices this weekend. It was a must considering the Christmas Eve bowl game is now just three days away.

The youth of the Irish offense is immediately noticeable. Nine of the top 12 scorers are sophomores or freshmen and all but six of 33 Notre Dame touchdowns this season were scored by underclassmen.

Right tackle Sam Young (6-feet-8, 330 pounds) contributed to an offensive line that allowed an eight-year low in sacks (20). As a junior, he took some of the younger offensive players under his wing.

“;As the season's progressed that's kind of been taking place,”; Young said. “;What's nice is over the course of the year we've got some young guys like (freshman tight end) Kyle Rudolph (6-6, 252) ... starting to step up to the plate and figure it all out. It's been progressing and now we got more guys taking the reins.”;

The Irish struggled heavily to move the ball last year—averaging a little more than 242 yards in total offense—but improved by more than 100 yards per game this season behind the steady play of Clausen's go-to targets, receivers Golden Tate (5-11, 195 sophomore) and Michael Floyd (6-3, 215 freshman). Both have four 100-yard receiving games and seven touchdown catches.

Rudolph (who might be busier than usual on Christmas Eve) and Floyd earned several national all-freshman team awards, but Tate was the most consistent with 903 total yards. He was stoic after the practice in the midday sun, a stark contrast to the overcast and frigid conditions in South Bend, Ind.

“;(The legs) were definitely fatigued, but we just have to ... prepare ourselves and overcome it,”; Tate said.

As for his apt name, which matches the hue of the Irish helmets, he said: “;It worked out perfect. I love my name.”;

Sophomore halfback Armando Allen (5-10, 195) brings some balance to the pro-set offense with 4.4 yards per carry and 576 yards for the season.

He was just happy to be on the ground in Hawaii.

“;It was pretty rough (getting in when we did),”; Allen said. “;When we come out it's 80 degrees, compared to South Bend it's negative 10. I'm just sitting here and trying to embrace the atmosphere right now.”;

Notre Dame, which backed into the postseason on a two-game losing streak, struggled with turnovers. Clausen has 20 touchdown passes against 17 interceptions.

He acknowledged his team's youth, but is confident his squad has learned from late-season losses to Syracuse and USC.

“;Just getting more comfortable every game, each and every day during practice,”; Clausen said. “;Just progressing as an offense, as one unit. I think we're getting a lot better.”;

There's also the matter of ending the team's nine-game losing streak in bowl games dating back to 1994, an NCAA record.

“;It's huge (if we did),”; he said. “;That's our goal, coming out here and ultimately win the game.”;