Irish head coach Brian Kelly was asked again today to explain his history of final month successes at both his former stop, Cincinnati, and his time in South Bend.
Among the reasons listed for his teams' traditional dominance in November was one to which every coach can rely: good fortune. In this case, the health of his roster.
"First of all, you've got to stay healthy…But a lot of it also has to do with the way you train your group and making sure that it's not a sprint, but it's a marathon and understanding how important November is.
"I think your guys have to be mentally and physically fresh as well. They have to feel as though when they come in in November that there's an energy to them. They enjoy coming; that it's not a chore. I think there's a lot of things involved that there has to be great morale in the group and they want more. They want to come out and practice and prepare and win football games in November.
"So a lot of that has to work your way. You gotta be winning. I think you have to stay injury-free and I think you have to have a comprehensive plan that prepares you for success in November that goes 365 days out of the year."
Notre Dame's injury report is relatively clean with four games to play. Right guard starter Christian Lombard is out for the season (back surgery) while one valuable, versatile reserve will be sidelined for Saturday's contest vs. the Naval Academy.
"Ishaq is out for this weekend. He won't play this weekend," said Kelly of his nickel and dime defensive line starter and 4-3 defensive end starter vs. Air Force last Saturday. "(Offensive guard) Chris Watt looked good today, we're going to move him around. So I would say if we're using words like the NFL teams do, I would say he's probable.
"(Defensive end Sheldon) Day is probable. We've got an MRI on that ankle. We wanted to rule out any further high ankle damage to the ligaments, and it was a bone bruise. So it was totally different. So we feel pretty good about that. He'll practice today."
Day missed games vs. Michigan State, Oklahoma, and most of Arizona State with a high ankle sprain. He returned in a backup role to face USC before starting vs. the Falcons.
Less likely to play, though not necessarily unable, is nose guard Louis Nix. The senior sat out vs. Air Force and his status for Midshipmen's similar option attack is in doubt.
"He's progressing well. He worked out yesterday, but we won't know of his status," Kelly said. "I would say he's questionable at this point. Depending on how he moves and what he can do. Again, we're not prepared to play anybody that can't get in there and practice and do the things necessary to prepare for the triple option."
Nix's knee tendinitis and a shoulder injury suffered vs. USC are part of the reason the pre-season All-America candidate might not play. So too is preservation for games in which he's essential to the outcome.
Asked if Nix would play this week if the Irish were playing "Stanford" or another traditional offense, Kelly said, "That's a good question. That's a good question. I don't have an answer for you, other than I think you can't go into playing the option team with hesitation or doubt. But when you're playing Stanford and you're firing off the ball and it's just a matter of beating the guy over you, there's less hesitation.
"I don't know if I've answered your question, but there's a little bit more hesitation in there when you are playing an option team. And we can't have that from our inside guy."
Out, Unlikely, and (apparently) Ready
Senior defensive end Chase Hounshell will miss his second straight season with a shoulder injury. He will, however, don pads in practice as he attempts to knock off the rust through season's end.
"He's in pads, he's in drill work," said Kelly. "But I don't believe we'll play him this year."
By sitting out 2013 (and 2012), Hounshell, a junior in class, could be eligible to play a fifth year in 2015 and a sixth in 2016 as a clear-cut injury casualty.
Back and ready for game week is Hounshell's classmate, receiver DaVaris Daniels.
"Bit of a hip flexor," said Kelly of an injury that took Daniels out of the Air Force game after registering two receptions for 34 yards. "Had great strength, moving around well yesterday. We don't think there's anything there that would hold him back."
Kelly noted sophomore safety Elijah Shumate will practice this week but might not play again Saturday. Shumate has been out since suffering a hamstring strain in practice on October 17.
The final piece of injury information came as a surprise to the head coach.
Asked if junior George Atkinson is banged up -- he appeared on the sidelines in sweat pants at the conclusion of the Air Force contest -- Kelly offered, "Not that I'm aware of."
Kelly added that Atkinson's lack of action in the second half (no rushing attempts) was specific to the game situation, not an injury.
"I think we at that point felt like the game was in hand, and we wanted to run (freshman Tarean) Folston, give him a lot more work. So there was a commitment to get him a lot more work.
"I thought he looked good. I liked the way he ran," said Kelly of his freshman who's battled a hamstring strain as a rookie. "I thought he was elusive. Made some nice cuts inside the hole. I thought he looked good. I think that for Tarean, it's just the little things, hold onto the football, just the little things are really the things we've got to clean up. But he was fun to watch."