SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame usually dominates Mid-American Conference opponents.
Its 9-0 record and scoring average of 34.9 points reveal just how one-sided things have been.
But as the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish try to make it a perfect 10, Central Michigan coach Jim McElwain has a simple message for his underdog Chippewas (1-1).
“Don’t get scared when you see those shiny helmets,” he said.
McElwain speaks from experience.
The Montana native grew up a Notre Dame fan thanks to Sunday morning highlights with the late Lindsey Nelson and his familiar call of “moving ahead to further action.”
Those childhood memories are hard to ditch — even when one is working on the sideline of Notre Dame Stadium. McElwain won twice in South Bend as Michigan State’s associate head coach, in 2003 and 2005, before losing in 2018 as Michigan’s receivers coach.
For the longtime coach, it’s something he’ll never forget.
“I still remember walking up the tunnel pregame, and they cranked up the Notre Dame fight song in the tunnel,” McElwain said. “(I got) goosebumps and all those things, and I hate to say it, but I might have started singing the fight song with them.”
While he wants his players to enjoy the rare opportunity to play on national television, he can’t afford to let his players become mesmerized by the frills, especially against a team that has topped 40 points in each of its first three games and is 3-0 with an average victory margin of 37.7.
But Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman understands these matchups haven’t always been so lopsided.
The Irish held on for a 24-16 victory over Ball State in 2018, and two years ago needed an 18-yard TD pass from Jack Coan to Michael Mayer to overcome a 29-24 deficit with 95 seconds left against Toledo. And with next week’s showdown against No. 6 Ohio State looming, Freeman wants to make sure the Irish aren’t looking ahead.
“We get 12 guaranteed opportunities,” Freeman said. “We’re down to nine. For us to overlook any opponent would be just crazy. We have to look forward to this opportunity and we get to play at Notre Dame Stadium versus a good opponent.”
While McElwain is a Notre Dame fan, Freeman has been a longtime admirer of McElwain as a coach.
“I look forward to getting a chance to meet coach McElwain,” Freeman said. “I have a lot of respect for him. I really started following him when he was at Alabama, Colorado State and Florida.”
On Saturday, though, Freeman would prefer to let McElwain hear that fight song a few more times.
Sam Hartman is still climbing the FBS career charts for TD passes and yards passing.
With 731 yards and 10 touchdowns through his first three games with the Irish, Hartman now ranks 10th all-time in TD passes (120) and 12th in yards (13,698). With two TD passes, he’ll surpass Aaron Murray of Georgia and Ty Detmer of Brigham Young for No. 8 and he’ll tie Landry Jones of Oklahoma for No. 7 with three scores. Hartman also needs 230 yards to surpass Holton Ahlers of East Carolina for No. 11.
“He (Hartman) knows how to play the game,” McElwain said. “As a guy who has coached quarterbacks for a long time, it’s fun to watch those guys that know exactly where to go with it, know exactly what to do with it. He’s the full-meal deal.”
The Irish are favored by 34½ points, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, and for good reason given the Notre Dame’s historic scoring stats. Its point total (143) is the highest through three games since coach Frank Leahy won his first national championship in 1943.
And this week, Notre Dame can become the first team since 1900 to open a season with four straight 40-point games. The 1900 streak included two wins over high schools.
Notre Dame and Central Michigan scheduled this game in 2021 — a year before former Irish coach Brian Kelly left for LSU. Kelly coached the Chippewas from 2004-06.
But the Irish kept the game on the schedule and Central Michigan will walk away with $1.2 million for making the 200-mile bus ride, The Detroit News reported.
“My hat’s off to their administration,” McElwain said. “(We’re) able to not only be in such a great place, but obviously to take that payday so we can support the whole athletic department and all the other sports as well. It’s something that keeps a lot of us alive in this conference.”
Central Michigan earned an additional $1.75 million in its season-opening 31-7 loss at Michigan State.
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