Dec. 30, 2014
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - -- The five-bus Irish caravan departed its Gaylord Opryland Resort headquarters at 10:45 a.m. to head to LP Field for a quick team photo on a chilly, cloudy, foggy 39-degree morning in Nashville. Team photographer Mike Bennett borrowed a ladder and shot the Irish in an end-zone section in their blue sweatpants and blue jerseys with bowl logos affixed and names on the backs. Coaches wore grey Music City Bowl sweats. While the team photo transpired, stadium workers continued lining the field and trading out the blue Tennessee Titan sideline field wraps for green Music City Bowl versions.
-- Next it was off to the Wildhorse Saloon downtown where the Music City Bowl Coaches Luncheon was held with both full squads in attendance. The event was sponsored by the ABC television affiliate in Nashville, with its sports anchor, Cory Curtis, the host.
The luncheon had a military flair, with Wounded Warriors as special guests, including 11 veterans and their families and two gold star families who had relatives fighting in World War I. The event also honored two Tradition of Service Award Winners--mid-Tennessee high school student-athletes with outstanding community service records. Both Kyle Anderton (quarterback from Station Camp High School) and Jacob Cretin (running back from Brentwood Academy) received $2,500 scholarships.
Also recognized as honorary bowl captain was Murphy Chambliss, another local football player who missed his senior season in 2014 at Franklin Road Academy after being diagnosed last July with leukemia. (After 120 days of chemo treatments, he's now in remission.) Franklin American Mortgage Company's Dan Crockett struggled with the introduction, noting he had lost a brother to leukemia. Franklin American Mortgage recently extended its commitment to the Music City Bowl an additional six years.
After extensive video highlights of both teams, Curtis then invited the two head coaches to the stage for a Q&A session.
LSU coach Les Miles kidded that, based on the size of the Gaylord Opryland Resort where both teams are housed, "We lost a couple of small children" along the way.
Irish coach Brian Kelly noted: "You always want to challenge yourself as a football team and what Coach Miles has done at LSU is evident. You want to be challenged by the very best and the SEC is the benchmark for that. LSU gets your attention right out of the gate. We've got a formidable task.
"We lost some close games this year, but we also did some things very well and we need to have confidence based on that. Some guys have to step up and make some plays for us on both sides of the ball.
"The key for us is taking care of the football. It's been an area that has held us back, but if we do that. . ."
More from Miles included: "Notre Dame is a storied tradition. They've got a great team. We wanted that and Notre Dame fit the bill. For either of us this could promote us for next year."
Kelly compared this game to the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl between Notre Dame and Florida State--with the Irish going a year later to play for the national title and Florida State doing the same in 2013. Both Miles and Kelly admitted they'd sign up for that today if someone would promise them final four slots in 2015.
-- At 1:30 p.m. Irish coach Brian Kelly and LSU coach Les Miles met the media one final time at LP Field.
As expected the first question off the bat to Kelly was about his quarterback situation. "Les, do you know?" he offered with a smile.
"We are going to start Malik (Zaire), and we will play both quarterbacks. Tomorrow is about 2014, not 2015. Our focus is winning the football game, and playing both gives us the best chance to win tomorrow. How that unfolds will have to do with their success and how they play. It's not going to be as scripted, one series here and one there--we're going to have to get a feel for the game. We want to put Malik in a position where we really challenge him. I'm very pleased with what Everett has done the last few weeks. I want to challenge Malik and see what he does in this environment."
Miles was asked how much film he had seen on Zaire. "Well, it's about two and a half quarters." Chimed in Kelly, "Hey, that's all I've got."
Added Kelly: "We've got to keep that physical LSU offense off the field. Our perimeter guys have to make some plays against some great LSU athletes on defense. We have to look at all aspects of this game. This LSU offense rushed three times for 300 yards in the SEC.
"Malik understands what we're doing offensively. He's so much more comfortable with what we are constructing week to week. But he has a small resume, not much of a body of work. He's got to show what he can do in game situations. He has shown the ability to run the offense in the manner I want - now he has to do it when the lights are on.
"You try to take practice habits and carry them over to game day. I like the way our young players practice, but we have to have a carryover - that's why it's important to play the game. The games count--that's how you are evaluated. The younger players will be tested tomorrow and it will shape who we are as we move forward. There's nowhere to hide against LSU. You're going to be evaluated as to who you are.
"Maybe Everett lost a little confidence and trust late, and we've worked hard to help get that back for him the last three weeks. I think he's better off because of it. He has invested in making changes to get better and make the corrections he needs to make - there's room to grow and I've seen significant improvement."
Added Miles: "Both these (Notre Dame) quarterbacks can do some things both scripted and unscripted to give you headaches."
Of the teams the Irish have played in 2014, Kelly compared Stanford to the physical toughness of LSU.
Player reaction to the choice of Zaire? "It's a limited democracy, " said Kelly with a grin. "They are going to roll with the head coach. We practiced them both with the first group. We wanted to be seamless with cadence and operation. They (the players) just want everyone to do their job."
More from Kelly: "The focus has been on playing LSU--the continued success of that program. We are trying to build the same consistency. Coach Miles has averaged 10 wins a year - that's what we looked at. This is about playing LSU and its program."
-- Then Kelly and some Irish players visited with the ESPN broadcast crew (Mark Jones, Rod Gilmore, Jess Mendoza) back at the team hotel. Meanwhile, Chad Klunder, John Heisler and Notre Dame band representatives attended the official NCAA-required pre-game meeting at 3 p.m. at LP Field.
-- The Notre Dame squad held its team Mass at 3 p.m., followed by a 3:30 p.m. team meeting, offensive and defensive position meetings and then another bus trip for a 5 p.m. walk-through back at the Tennessee Titans' indoor facility. After dinner the Irish special teams held their meetings.
-- Kickoff is at 2:02 p.m. CST Tuesday.
-- Pregame ceremonies Tuesday include more than 2,000 youth football players who will be on the field, as well as the Tennessee Army National Guard and Survivor Outreach group. Nashville country artist Daniel Lee will sing "God Bless America," and Jonathan Jackson, musician and star of the television show "Nashville," will sing the National Anthem. The Notre Dame and LSU bands will perform for seven minutes each at halftime.