The Hits Just Keep on Comin'

Notre Dame lost another pair of starting defenders heading into Saturday's season-finale in Los Angeles.

Keivarae Russell and Ishaq Williams were the first to fall by the wayside -- suspended, but victims of their own doing. Captain Austin Collinsworth followed, lost for the better part of two months and lessened in his ability to play to this day.

In the first week of November, with the Irish sitting pretty at 7-1, Joe Schmidt and Cody Riggs re-started the attrition train. Since, Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones, and Drue Tranquill have hopped aboard. Among the eight starters, pre-season and otherwise, mentioned above only Collinsworth and Riggs are expected to grace the Los Angeles Coliseum's turf Saturday when Notre Dame faces arch-rival USC.

Riggs was shut down early last week vs. Louisville, the stress reaction in his foot limited him too much and likely will again. Collinsworth shouldn't be playing, not six weeks removed from a shoulder dislocation. But he doesn't have a choice -- he feels his team needs him, and the captain won't let them down.

Tuesday, head coach Brian Kelly confirmed the situation as such as he discussed his increasingly injured Irish.

"If it was one of the wide receivers, it's an easy decision," said Kelly of a hypothetical injury situation. "Torii (Hunter), get in there. Will Fuller's not 100 percent. And you don't drop off.

"(Regarding) Austin, there's an incredible need there. So I think it's probably need in that particular position. First, (the question) is medically are they clear and we're not putting them in harm's way? So we start with that premise. And then who is the best option for us out there. And we felt like Austin was at the time the best option for us."

His running mate over the last two games at safety, true freshman Drue Tranquill, is out for the season, a torn ACL suffered Saturday during the third quarter the cause.

"We thought he pinched the fat pad on his knee," said Kelly of his freshman that exited the game but returned to play the duration of the second half. "That's how strong he is, (his) hamstring and quad area is so strong that he passed his ACL test. Then he comes in on Sunday and he's swollen…We get an MRI he has an ACL (tear)."

Traquill's recovery time is expected to be four to six months according to Kelly.

"We do the traditional patella graft on it," Kelly said. "Four months he's running. It's just -- with the graft it's generally tendonitis that you're dealing with.  Fighting through some tendonitis from the graft. We've done really well.  (Team doctor) Brian Ratigan, (trainer) Rob Hunt has done a great job from all of them we've had, these guys are running in four months and competing hard, hard in six"

Junior Elijah Shumate was listed on the team's two-deep depth chart as this week's starter in place of Tranquill. Shumate started the season's first nine games before ceding his starting job.

Also out four to six months is junior nose tackle Jarron Jones.

"He has a LisFranc (foot injury)," said Kelly. "And he'll have surgery next week and that's about a four- to six-month process for that. We think we'll get him back for spring ball.  That's similar injury that (2012 center) Braxston Cave had.  And we got him back in about four months.  Rob Hunt is very confident based upon the tear there that they'll get him back in four months."

Cave injured his foot in mid-November 2011 and returned to compete in spring practice, though not in pads, and not in the annual Blue Gold Game. After a slow start in September, he emerged to win third-team All-America honors.

"One of the fallbacks here is that we're going to lose him in the weight room for a little bit," said Kelly of Jones. "And one of the areas that he had to really focus in on was lower body strength. So (strength and conditioning) coach Paul Longo will have to do an extraordinary job of really working around that injury to continue to build his lower body strength.

"He's done a really good job with his hands," Kelly added of Jones. "We gotta get his lower body to meet what he's done with his hands. He can push anybody back  We haven't gotten the explosiveness from his lower body yet. So that's going to be the challenge now in the offseason."

Backup freshman nose tackle Daniel Cage is questionable for Saturday's game after missing the Louisville contest with a knee sprain. Redshirt-freshman Jacob Matuska played extensively in his stead.

"He was physical inside, did a very nice job for us, and he'll have to play obviously the lion's share of the game on Saturday," Kelly offered of Matuska, whose first competitive action came the week prior against Northwestern when both Cage and Sheldon Day were lost to knee sprains.

Kelly added that the team hopes to retain Day's services for the bowl game.

In with the old?

Notre Dame's 2015 recruiting haul has reached 21 pledges with more likely to join. Also in the mix for roster spots next season are a trio of suspended players with remaining collegiate eligibility.

Asked Tuesday about suspended senior DaVaris Daniels, Kelly offered that "fairly significant discussions have been taking place relative to academic eligibility," for the 2015 season.

"We're at the point of determining eligibility as it relates to academics," said Kelly, not only of Daniels, but senior Ishaq Williams and junior KeiVarae Russell. "That's an ongoing process right now that's taking place. What hours have been granted? What hours-- there really wasn't even clarity as to whether this (fall) semester would be counted in the eligibility."

Daniels, Russell and Williams remained in school, along with recently reinstated Eilar Hardy, while allegations of academic dishonesty were investigated near the conclusion of the fall semester's first quarter. (Academic deficiency reports were due from instructors on Oct. 20.)

"I know they're going through that right now.  And it's a pretty complex situation," he added.

"They've got to make accommodations -- KeiVarae, Ishaq and DaVaris, in particular -- have to make accommodations for academics in January.  So it's something that I know that academics and compliance have been working on very, very hard over the last few days."

After guilt had been determined for each of the four (plus linebacker Kendall Moore, a graduate student), Daniels, Russell, and Williams reportedly accepted a suspension of two semesters, beginning retroactively for fall 2014. Hardy deferred his suspension to begin in the spring of 2015. He is thus not eligible to play for Notre Dame in fall 2015, the second semester of his suspension. Hardy could graduate from Notre Dame and enroll for a final season of football elsewhere in 2015, similarly to former Irish graduates Dayne Crist and Andrew Hendrix, as well as current cornerback Cody Riggs, a May 2014 Florida graduate.

A two-deep safety and special teams starter over the last three weeks, Hardy's bowl eligibility was questioned by a reporter who noted that a similar situation was encountered by Jerian Grant, a member of the Irish basketball program, last fall (2013). Grant was found guilty of an academic transgression, finished the fall semester with the team, then began his one-semester suspension for the spring of 2014.

His suspension though began after Notre Dame professors submitted final grades to the University, a deadline that falls prior Christmas. Kelly's Irish are certain to play their bowl game post-Christmas.

"It's my understanding that he'll be here right up through the end of this semester," said Kelly. "So he'll be able to participate in practice and be part (of the bowl game). If anything changes I'll certainly let you know but it's my understanding he'll be here."

Notre Dame's fall semester ends Dec. 19. Grades are due Dec. 22.

Hardy is one of four scholarship safeties on the roster, though a fifth, senior nickel Matthias Farley, is a former safety.

Junior safety Nicky Baratti and the aforementioned freshmen Tranquill are out due to season-ending injuries.


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