Already down six key members of its game day rotation, Notre Dame is likely to be without a seventh Saturday against the visiting Midshipmen, left guard Quenton Nelson.
“Quenton practiced. We got him some individual (drills), we got him a little team time yesterday and today,” offered Irish head coach Brian Kelly. “He’s getting better. I think that will be more of a game-time decision for us. Alex (Bars) is getting a lot of work as well.”
Nelson beat out his redshirt-freshman classmate in a head-to-head, spring, summer, and August Camp battle for the position. Most observers expected Bars would rotate into the fray more than he has to date, but he’s instead spelled Nelson only in garbage time and when the latter went down vs. Clemson Saturday night. (Nelson returned to finish the contest thereafter.)
Bars is expected to move to tackle next season, allowing the pair to play simultaneously.
-- Kelly offered Thursday night that freshman C.J. Sanders won the weeklong competition as the starting kick returning, beating incumbent Amir Carlisle. Sanders fellow freshman Dexter Williams received added reps at the position this week as well.
-- Working in place of injured option-killer Drue Tranquill this week was Elijah Shumate. The senior will move to the “alley” safety/linebacker role in which Tranquill served with aplomb prior to injuring his knee vs. Georgia Tech on Sept. 19. Safety Max Redfield, withheld from the contest against the Yellow Jackets due to a broken wrist, will return to his accustomed deep safety role.
Redfield finished with seven tackles and a pass breakup vs. Navy in last year’s matchup. Kelly was asked about his junior left coaster at the former’s Thursday evening meeting with the media.
“Each kid is a little bit different in the way that football strikes them,” he began. “(Redfield) has a lot of interests. Mandarin is one of his chief subjects, that requires a different palate. He is somebody that I think is looking at football now through a different lens and understands how there are so many details to it.
“He wants to play at the highest level. He wants to play on Sundays. He wants to get his degree from Notre Dame. I think he’s just developing and maturing at a pace that’s comfortable to him. I’ve seen it with different kids. It just comes on a little bit different at different times. He has a lot of different interests. He’s very inquisitive. He’s very smart. I think the football stuff is starting to soak in and he’s starting to pick up a lot of the nuances.”
-- Kelly added that sophomore tight end Tyler Luatua is expected to play Saturday after missing the last two outings following a concussion.
A HARD DAY’S NIGHT
The triple-option requires a reset of sorts for collegiate defenses. Who among Kelly’s Irishmen does the head coach believe has the most difficult job description against the Midshipmen?
“Probably the safeties because they’re put in conflict. I’d say one of the safeties, I’m not gonna say which one because it would give you too much information relative to the scheme, one of the safeties has a tougher job than the other,” said Kelly. “I would say that depending on how they play us, certainly both of our edge players have got dual responsibilities too. But it starts with the safeties.”
Told that team captain Sheldon Day enjoyed playing the option from his defensive tackle spot, Kelly joked, “Yeah, he has some pretty clear responsibilities. He doesn’t have to worry about a guy running down the field and he has to cover him.”
WHY IS JIMMY CARTER RELEVANT SATURDAY?
Because of your thirst for Notre Dame football knowledge, of course…
Kelly’s Irish are ranked #15 in both the Associated Press and Coach’s Polls. Undefeated Navy is on the cusp as well. That reality begs the question:
When was the last time both teams were legitimately “good” when they squared off?
It’s been since the Carter Administration that both programs entered a contest technically ranked, a 1978 contest won 27-7 by Dan Devine’s 15th-ranked Irish over the No. 11 Midshipmen. The teams hadn’t met with both ranked prior since 1957 (won by Navy), and with relative frequency between 1943 and 1955.
In the modern era, Navy is unlikely to receive media attention in the polls, but they’ve produced a handful of quality seasons nonetheless. The 2010 Midshipmen were a borderline Top 25 squad (9-4), but they hammered a sub par (8-5) Irish team 35-17 in late October that year.
For our purposes, a “good” Notre Dame team can’t lose more than three games in a season. (For fans of Lou Holtz’s first up, then way down 1987 team that finished 8-4, it doesn’t apply, because Navy was awful.)
-- The 2005 Midshipmen (Charlie Weis’ first season) finished strong, but entered that year’s contest with a 5-3 record and, by virtue of their loss to the Irish, finished with four losses, prevailing in their bowl game thereafter.
-- The 2006 Navy squad likewise lost just four games but fell early to Tulsa, was destroyed by Rutgers, and squeaked by (solid) FCS foe UMass. Notre Dame finished 10-3, though those 10 wins were nowhere near as impressive as the previous season’s nine.
An exhaustive review shows a nationally relevant Navy team hasn’t faced the same in Notre Dame since Devine took on George Welsh’s aforementioned ’78 squad, one that finished 9-3 but fell succumbed to the eventual Cotton Bowl champion Irish. (One week prior, Navy beat No. 15 Pittsburgh by 10 points.)
Saturday’s matchup between the programs may be annual, but the (admittedly pending) status of the Midshipmen and Irish in 2015 could prove unique to anyone under 45-years-old nonetheless.