NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In advance of arriving for Tuesday’s Music City Bowl, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly spoke of the past month being like spring football.
The young Irish certainly cannot get enough practice as they try to halt their four-game losing streak when they face LSU at LP Field.
“This is an important game for us to go into the offseason,” Kelly said. “There’s a sense of urgency in us wanting to win a football game because you want to stem the tide a little bit. You want to start thinking about the really good things that happened this year with this football team. You don’t want to be hearing the negative things, because there were so many good things.
“This football team is really close to having a magical season in so many ways. That’s where you want to really stem it and start to talk about positive, positive things, and that’s where a win will certainly erase a lot of those things. But on the other hand, there’s so many young players that are getting valuable experience.”
Youth rules the roost on Notre Dame’s roster. And don’t think the young players hear about it — often.
“It’s all the time,” said sophomore receiver Corey Robinson, the son of Basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson.
“It’s really like a chip on your shoulder,” sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith said. “You have a group of young guys, and you know you have everyone coming back. It’s not an excuse to why we’ve lost four in a row, but it’s just holding everyone accountable to getting better each and every day.”
Only five of the 47 players on Notre Dame’s offensive and defensive two-deep depth chart are in their final year of eligibility. And of those 47, 31 are in their first or second year of eligibility.
When the team opened the season against Rice, 14 of the 22 starters were making their fifth or fewer start, including nine of the 11 on defense. More than 87 percent of the all-purpose yards gained and 90 percent of the tackles made by the Irish this season are from players with eligibility remaining.
“(The 2015 season is) going to be awesome,” Robinson said. “We only have one or two people leaving on offense, so it’s scary when you think about it. It’s exciting, but we still have one more game left and we’re focusing on finishing out this season first.
“The last four games have been rough and, if we cap it off with a win, that will not only cap off this year with a good win but next year it puts some momentum going in and some motivation to say, ‘Yeah, we can play with these guys. We can play with anybody.’ ”
And being able to play with anybody — for Tuesday, at least, to play with LSU — will be a result of how the preparation from those extra 15 bowl practices has been absorbed by the young players.
“The prime importance for us is that we worked so hard in practice that we want to be able to translate that (Tuesday),” Kelly said. “Carrying our work on the field in practice and carrying it to a game, that’s very important for this team. They need to see that the work that they’ve put in can be realized on a game situation if they do the things we’re asking them to do. That’s why I’m excited about them getting a chance to play again. That’s why it’s an important game.”