Since August camp felled starting cornerback Lo Wood, and a trip to East Lansing in the season's third week knocked out team leader and star safety Jamoris Slaughter, Brian Kelly's third-edition Irish have been blessed with a necessary ingredient common to all championship teams: good health.
That changed Saturday night in New England when blossoming wide receiver DaVaris Daniels was lost for the remainder of the regular season with a broken collarbone.
"Daniel has had surgery this morning on a broken clavicle," said Kelly Sunday. "He will be lost for the rest of the season. We will have him back for bowl game, however."
Daniels was the team's No. 3 receiver but, along with classmate and good friend Everett Golson, one of its legitimate threats for major improvement as the 2012 wound down.
"He's learning how to play the game," said Kelly of Daniels pre-injury. "I'll give you an example. When he goes and runs his routes, he's pretty difficult to defend. Then when he doesn't think he's getting the ball…you know…it's one of those things he is learning every week about how to be that elite receiver in the BCS. It requires practice preparation, it requires the attention to detail, all those things, and he's starting to get there.
"You're starting to see it. He's only going to get better and better."
Daniels had been targeted for a career-high nine passes two weeks ago in a win over Pittsburgh.
In his stead step two players, one a program constant since the the Charlie Weis era, the other part of its future.
After an injury-plagued final season in South Bend, 5th-year senior John Goodman will get his chance to make a final impression. Goodman caught a touchdown pass from Golson following Daniels' injury Saturday night, the score provided a 21-6 cushion and the game's final margin.
Goodman had previously missed three of the last four games due to a lingering back issue. He was slowed at the end of August by a groin injury after an MVP performance in the spring and solid fall camp.
Likely joining Goodman in relief of Daniels' missing snaps is true freshman burner Chris Brown. A *fan favorite and potential star as his career progresses, Brown has but one grab -- a 50-yard post route reception that helped take down Oklahoma in Norman.
*(If you're fast and unproven, and a freshman to boot, you're automatically a fan favorite in the internet era.)
"I would say that he's starting to get to the point where we can put him out there in a limited fashion," said Kelly of Brown following the latter's game-breaking reception vs. the Sooners. "You saw how we're using (junior WR) Danny Smith, he's a guy that can come in there and give us some physical blocking. But Danny's not a guy that's going to get every rep out there because we're using his strength.
"I think Chris's strength right now is, 'Let's push him vertically,' but he's got so much more in terms of alignment, assignment, route running… just his physical (stature). So we think he's ready now for a part-time role, but certainly not for a full-time role yet."
The aforementioned Smith will likely start at the team's "W" receiver position opposite junior T.J. Jones (the "X"). Smith has secured six of the eight passes thrown to him this fall but for just 37 yards.
"You know, he's a big kid," said Kelly of the 6'4" 215-220 pound South Bend (Clay, HS) product. "We wanted to be able to use what we thought to be right now his talents. I think they're going to be more down the road in terms confidence in catching the football, route running, things of that nature. But he's a kid that is not afraid to stick his nose in there and make big blocks for us.
"The long touchdown run we had against Oklahoma a couple weeks back largely attributed to Daniel Smith getting in there and blocking a Sam linebacker. So we feel really good about getting him on the field when we need the block, but obviously you can't put him on there just when you're going to block.
"You got to be able to throw the ball to him. I think he's showing you us we can continue to move in that direction and make him a more of a complete receiver."
Each will get his chance with Daniels out.
Irish Targets Through TenBelow is a list of Notre Dame's top targeted receivers, regardless of quarterback, over the season's first 10 contests. The number in parenthesis denotes the player's receptions as a result of those pass targets.
TJ Jones: 65 (34)
Tyler Eifert: 60 (34) + 6 Pass Interference Penalties Drawn
Theo Riddick: 47 (29)
DaVaris Daniels: 39 (25)
Robby Toma: 29 (20)
Troy Niklas: 9 (5) + 1 Pass Interference Penalty Drawn
Daniel Smith: 8 (6)
Chris Brown: 7 (1)
John Goodman: 5 (4)
Ben Koyack: 5 (2)
Cam McDaniel: 2 (2)
Cierre Wood: 2 (2)
George Atkinson: 2 (2)
Davonte' Neal: 2 (1)
Justin Ferguson: 1 (1)
QB Spikes: 2
Passes Intentionally Thrown-away: 4 (No definitive target)
Total Passes: 289 passes