Offense: Skill PositionsQuarterback Tommy Rees will make his seventh start (5-1), joined by Cierre Wood at running back; spelled often by Jonas Gray – the senior usually enters for the game's second offensive series.
Michael Floyd, Theo Riddick, and T.J. Jones enjoy the lion's share of snaps as the wide receivers. Head coach Brian Kelly expected backup slot receiver Robby Toma to receive more playing time this week and as the season progresses. Senior John Goodman has played precious few snaps from scrimmage as the No. 5 wide receiver this fall.
Junior tight end Tyler Eifert rarely exits the field; he's joined by freshman Ben Koyack in two-tight end sets. Koyack's chief competition, redshirt-freshman Alex Welch, is expected to be available after missing the last two games due to foot surgery.
Eifert's former backup, 5th-year senior tight end Mike Ragone, is out for the season after tearing his ACL at Michigan. Junior Jake Golic has yet to appear; Golic suffered a broken arm in August but is medically cleared.
Offensive LineThe starters (from left to right) remain: Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Braxston Cave, Trevor Robinson, and Taylor Dever. Versatile 5th-year senior backup Andrew Nuss will again play 1-2 series per game at guard; his first appearance likely for the junior, Watt.
Redshirt-sophomore right tackle Christian Lombard has yet to see scrimmage time with the game in doubt. Lombard serves as one of Ben Turk's trio of punt protectors, aligned seven yards off the snap. Its likewise doubtful senior center Mike Golic will rotate in at scrimmage, making Nuss the only regular rotation backup.
Defensive Line – Base, Nickel/DimeSix have played to date in the base rotation; the Irish establishing a regular rotation with interesting and ever-evolving nickel package alignments along the four-man front.
The bas is comprised of senior bookends: Ethan Johnson (LDE) and Kapron Lewis-Moore (RDE) with redshirt-freshman nose guard Louis Nix starting both of the last two contests. Senior Sean Cwynar, still recovering from a broken hand, will spell Nix often. The second group of defensive ends are freshmen: Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt. The pair, especially Tuitt, see the bulk of their time in the aforementioned nickel package.
Nickel and Dime Packages: In the opening pair of contests, Notre Dame's front four pass rushers in its Nickel (5 defensive back) and Dime (6 DBs) packages included Darius Fleming at LDE, Prince Shembo inside him at LDT, Kapron Lewis-Moore at RDT and outside Lewis-Moore, Steve Filer, on the line in at RDE.
With Aaron Lynch's standout performance in Game Three, expect Shembo to rotate both inside and at RDE, and for a full eight players (the five mentioned above plus Ethan Johnson. Stephon Tuitt, and Ishaq Williams) to occupy the Nickel and Dime defensive fronts, Williams on the edge with the former pair inside.
Also included in the Dime package as a linebacker is sophomore safety Austin Collinsworth – generally aligned in tandem with Manti Te'o. Though Te'o could again receive occasional rest in favor of senior Anthony McDonald, who the staff feels excels in pass coverage.
LinebackersSeven have played to date; sophomore Prince Shembo returns to the team and the starting Drop linebacker spot after a one-game absence (family emergency).
Opposite Shembo at the Cat linebacker spot will again be senior Darius Fleming, of whom Brian Kelly noted played his best game of the season last week vs. the Spartans. Junior Manti Te'o mans the MIKE and rarely leaves the field. Classmates Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese split time next to him inside (Will). Freshman Troy Niklas, and senior Steve Filer should again see time as backup Drop linebackers, while freshman Ishaq Williams could see a series at the Cat to give Fleming a breather.
Defensive BackfieldThe team's five veterans have earned the bulk of the snaps through three games, with senior Robert Blanton and 5th-year Gary Gray manning the corners and sophomore Lo Wood earning limited first half rotation time. Wood was hampered this week by a quadriceps strain but is expected to play.
5th-year Harrison Smith rarely leaves the field as the team's strong safety; senior Jamoris Slaughter and junior Zeke Motta play nearly equal snaps opposite the team captain and Slaughter mans the technical "nickel" role as the cornerback opposite the offense's slot receiver.
Sophomore safety Austin Collinsworth, as noted above, enters in the Dime package, doing so briefly in Game One and then on a regular basis in Game Three. His inclusion allows the three safeties to split the deep coverage area by three (Slaughter can drop back) to lend downfield help to underneath defenders Collinsworth, Te'o, Gray, and Blanton.
Special TeamsGeorge Atkinson will again serve as the main kick returner with Austin Collinsworth his fellow deep man. They're joined by Bennett Jackson, Jonas Gray, Chris Salvi, and Robby Toma (front line); Dan McCarthy, David Posluszny, Steve Filer, and Justin Utupo aligned behind them, followed by Ben Koyack and the return tandem deep.
The team's punt return situation is still in flux. Expect Harrison Smith and John Goodman to handle the role today with the possible inclusion of junior slot receiver Robby Toma (click here for the latest on the PR team for today's game).
Ben Turk remains the punter while David Ruffer will handle field goals and freshman Kyle Brindza serving as the kick-off specialist. Junior Jordan Cowart is both the long and short snapper; walk-on senior Ryan Kavanagh remains Ruffer's holder. The trio of punt protectors for Turk are Andrew Nuss, Mike Golic, and Christian Lombard.
Irish kick coverage group will again include 10 of the following 11 cover men: Lo Wood (if deemed healthy), Austin Collinsworth, Zeke Motta, Bennett Jackson, walk-on Patrick Coughlin, walk-on Chris Salvi, Steve Filer, Kendall Moore, Gary Gray, Troy Niklas, and Dan McCarthy.