Notre Dame has suffered through agonizing losses this season. But real heartbreak swept the South Bend campus Wednesday with the tragic death of a student manager, who was filming practice when the scissors lift on which he was perched high above the LaBar Practice Complex tipped over in high winds.
The Fighting Irish program canceled media sessions Wednesday and Thursday, with athletics director Jack Swarbrick taking the point Thursday to address the passing of Declan Sullivan, a 20-year-old Long Grove, Ill., native, and announce a full investigation into the accident that was already being conducted.
There are many questions that need to be answered. In the meantime, as trivial as a football game Saturday might now seem, Notre Dame and Tulsa, which visits South Bend for the first time, must try and prepare for one.
Earlier in the week, before Wednesday's tragedy made national headlines, Tulsa (4-3) coach Todd Graham talked about what he expected from the Fighting Irish.
"They'll be motivated, probably more than if they would have beaten [Navy]," Graham said. "To go into South Bend and win, we know we have to play our very best game that we've played this year."
Under first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris, the Golden Hurricane ranks eighth nationally in total offense and 13th in scoring, but Oklahoma State is the only BCS opponent they have faced this year.
"If our guys can figure out some way to come out on top, it’s a game they’ll be talking about 50 years from now," Graham said. "You don’t get a chance to play a lot of games like that. It's a very special opportunity for us."
Graham said he can't use the embarrassing defeat to the Midshipmen as his only gauge of what his squad will face Saturday.
"I think last week against Navy is a tough indication because of the triple option and the things [Navy does] are so different from any other team in the country," he said. "But they have a very good run defense and one of the best linebackers in the country."
Though Irish receiver Theo Riddick is out three to four weeks with an ankle sprain, Graham was high on the sophomore and his junior teammate.
"Two of the best receivers in the country," he said, "with (Michael) Floyd being the best."
Tulsa, like Notre Dame, has endured a number of injuries and is thrilled to have a pair of key defenders back in the lineup for the biggest game of its season. Lineman Odrick Ray injured his ankle near the end of a loss to Southern Methodist earlier this month and sat out the victory over Tulane. Defensive back Charles Davis had a dinged knee at the end of September and has played sparingly since. Both are expected to start against the Irish.