One More Hurdle

Irish head coach Brian Kelly and offensive line coach Ed Warinner discuss the running back situation after Jonas Gray's remarkable season finished two games too early.

Tuesday head coach Brian Kelly confirmed speculation that star senior Jonas Gray for his ACL, the result of a helmet to the knee in last Saturday's loss to Boston College.

"There was some other collateral damage in there that's going to have to be taken care of as well, and so we're in the process of setting up that surgery," Kelly added.

The coach's Next Man In mantra has been tested over his first two seasons as myriad injuries took a toll on the roster. Last season, Notre Dame thrived with several top players down, this November, the opposition has provided less punch, that is, until the upcoming contest.

"Our players are certainly excited about the progress that they've made; now, we get an opportunity to play an outstanding football team in Stanford," Kelly offered. "It's going to be one of those matchups that you look forward to as a college football player: You've got two nationally ranked teams, arguably the best quarterback in the country, and a team (Stanford) that was in the hunt for a national championship.

"So all of those things combined for our football team make for an exciting week of preparation, something that we have grown as football team in how we prepare. I think if you look at our season, the only thing that we need to continue to work on is or execution on Saturdays."

That execution will rely on a pair of young runners that can't replace Gray, but must offer brief respite to starter and 1,000-yard runner, Cierre Wood. It's also possible that Wood's classmate and former competitor at the position, slot receiver Theo Riddick, will augment the backfield's relief effort.

"I think we'll look at that (Tuesday) and see," Kelly said of Riddick's health and subsequent role. "We certainly are going to have to count on George (Atkinson) and Cam (McDaniel). They're going to have to play for us. They're going to have to play Saturday against Stanford. There's no question.

"But Theo offers us some versatility if we think it's necessary. Before we can even get there, we'll have to see what he looks like today."

Riddick has missed the last two contests with a hamstring injury; he was apparently close to playing last week vs. the Eagles.

"He's at a position where it requires explosive movement," Kelly said of both slot and RB. "He just didn't have that explosiveness; he felt pretty good; he felt like this week he should be able to contribute.

"So we'll run him around again and give him an opportunity to really assess where he is after (Tuesday's) practice. Generally, if there's not a lot of soreness and we see that burst, then we figure him into what we're going to do on Saturday. I think (Tuesday) will be an important day for him."

Stanford's rush defense ranks fifth nationally, allowing just 93 yards per contest.

Bad Timing

Kelly offered more bad news for the other side of scrimmage. Versatile freshman defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt is still battling the effects of an illness that swept through the team and athletic program.

Tuitt missed Saturday's game with flu-like symptoms.

"He's still ill; he's still not feeling well. We'll continue to monitor him and his progress. Probably get a better feel for him later in the week."

Asked the nature of the illness, Kelly offered, "I don't know the specifics of it other than to tell you that we've had a number of guys that have come down with it. You know, he seems to be affected by it to a point where he's missed a game. (Injured freshman) Anthony Rabasa has come down with it as well. So we're doing everything we can to make sure that we get a hold on this."

(Tuesday was the media's last meeting with any member of the Irish until game day. It's unlikely Tuitt will play but developments for he, Riddick, and any other game-time decisions will be updated on Irisheyes.com's front page of the Football Forum message board).

The Main Man…Again

Jonas Gray's remarkable breakout season ended with four starts, 12 touchdowns, 791 yards on 114 carries – an incredible 6.9 yards per carry which marked the best for a qualifying back at the school since Reggie Brooks in 1992 (8.0 a modern-day record).

His backup of late is former starter, Cierre Wood – the first 1,000-yard rusher at the program since 2006.

"We really didn't see a drop off at all; he was still Cierre Wood," said Kelly of Wood's play during his one-month demotion from the technical starting role. There was a good balance there. (Wood had just nine fewer carries than Gray during the latter's three starts heading into the Boston College contest).

"Obviously losing somebody that scored 12 or 14 touchdowns in Jonas Gray was a blow to us. But we still have a 1000 yard rusher in Cierre Wood, and that's a good thing to have to going into your last game."

Offensive line coach Ed Warinner knows his group will have a hand in Wood's workload as well.

"We just have to be good with our schemes," he began. "We need to do a good job finishing blocks, squaring guys up, and making sure that we get (Wood and the freshmen) to the second level, get him to that 3-and 4-yard mark before he gets hit. It's the job of the O-Line and tight ends to do that.

"Cierre has to carry the load. He has to run hard and be physical. We'll ask him to do that and I'm sure he will," Warinner continued. "And we have to get something out of those young guys. We're going to try to get them both ready and see who can make an impact in the game when we need them. "Cierre's going back to California," Warinner offered. "He's going to run hard; play hard, and he's looking forward to it. It's his turn to shine again."

Kelly offered of Wood's role. "Well, he's got to do it all. He's not Jonas Gray; he doesn't run the same way. But we had to use him late in the game against B.C. in that kind of role, and he stuck his nose in there and played physical."

Wood set his career high with 26 carries last week. He'd rushed the football 20 or more times on four other occasions this season after 19 carries marked his career-high in 2010. He'll be spelled at some point, but 25 carries is likely the goal.

"They have to play a significant role, both of 'em," Kelly continued of Atkinson and McDaniel. "They've been with us all year (not on the scout team); they've got a pretty solid base in knowledge of our offense. They should be able to help us win."

No Old Wrinkles

As for the possibility of Riddick back in the "Wildcat" (direct-snap to the running back who lines up at QB), Kelly said, "The wildcat offense, you know, I think everybody has seen it. It's really a less of a significant role in offenses (nationwide). Nobody's going around the country now touting their wildcat package.

"I think probably a little bit of my feeling is that defenses have caught up to the wildcat. I've never really liked to be in a single wing kind of operation where the quarterback can't throw it. Theo wasn't a guy that was going to be able to throw the football, so I thought we could get the kind of touches necessary (for him) in our traditional offense."


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