In normal times, coaches warn players about excessive celebrations to avoid a 15-yard penalty.
Now? The penalty could be more serious – getting sick, missing games and imperiling teammates.
That was the reality check Monday provided by coach Brian Kelly, who is grateful Notre Dame will return to the field Saturday night against Florida State. A COVID-19 outbreak involving 39 players (25 testing positive and 14 quarantined due to contact tracing) prompted the Irish to suspend all team activities from Sept. 22-29 and postpone the game at Wake Forest.
"Nothing has been normal the last couple of weeks," Kelly said.
Asked what he has learned from the experience, Kelly replied that a "celebration" during or after the 52-0 shredding of South Florida "probably cost us 4-5 guys ... guys are excited, guys want to celebrate. When guys want to sing the fight song, it's hard to keep their mask up.
"There are little things you don't think about when you're writing up protocols. It's so hard to win that when you do, the first thing out of my mouth (has to be): Hey, stop celebrating, put your mask on."
Kelly would not reveal exactly how many players would miss the Florida State game, saying the team's latest COVID-19 results would be made public later Monday afternoon.
But he's not concerned.
"We'll continue to test during the week. The roster is a fluid situation. But we're in a very good place relative to our two-deep."
Notre Dame (2-0) is ranked fifth, and if 1-2 Florida State leads the nation in anything, it's underachievement. The Seminoles are three-touchdown underdogs after losing to Georgia Tech 16-13, getting stomped by Miami 52-10 and struggling Saturday to beat Jacksonville State.
The Seminoles trailed in the third quarter before backup quarterback Jordan Travis connected on 12 of 17 throws and rushed for 48 yards in the 41-24 victory.
Travis, who will start Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, was the third-string quarterback entering the Miami game.
"We have a lot of respect for the talent we will see," said Kelly, predicting Florida State will have a half-dozen prominent draft picks.
Notre Dame has won 20 straight home games, second only to Clemson (24).
A host of previously injured or COVID-19-sidelined players are expected to return for the Irish: receivers Kevin Austin, Lawrence Keys and Ben Skowronek (the graduate transfer from Northwestern); linebackers Shayne Simon and Marist Liufau, backup quarterback Brendon Clark, defensive lineman Ovie Oghoufo, running back Jahmir Smith, cornerback TaRiq Bracy and safety Kyle Hamilton.
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Hamilton (ankle) was held out of Notre Dame's intrasquad scrimmage Sunday, but Kelly said that was just precautionary so "Irish Nation ... can settle down."
Austin is a game-breaking receiver who will be returning from foot surgery and figures to see the field for 15-20 plays.
"He can go the distance and win one-on-one matchups, a nice guy to get on the field for us," Kelly said with a smile during Monday's videoconference.
Kelly has never coached a team that played two games and then had two weeks off: "I think we can play well, but it will require an attention to detail they maybe have never had before."
That includes following the team's COVID-19 protocols.
Kelly doesn't know exactly how so many of his players caught the virus. He told ESPN last week he was pointing to two events on the day of the South Florida game – a pregame meal ("we had somebody who was asymptomatic, and it spread like wildfire throughout our meeting area") and a vomiting episode on the sidelines (The medical staff thought the player was simply dehydrated).
"We're not scientists and it's almost impossible for us to directly link it," he said. "We are trying to figure out some safeguards to improve our own procedures.
"We have young men that are active on campus, not just sitting in their dorms. They're on different committees that interact on campus. Or 2-3 guys were playing video games together and didn't have their masks up. Or guys were in a car together and didn't have their masks on and someone was asymptomatic.
"It becomes maddening to try to track every little movement, but we know this: If you don't have a mask on, you can't be in our building or on the sideline or in the locker room. The virus will be the virus; it is not going away. If we are going to continue to play in this environment, then we have to be even more vigilant than we were in the past."
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