In the wake of Notre Dame’s final dose of option football, Brian Kelly commended Sheldon Day for his service. The senior could have tapped out before his final battering of cut blocks. He wouldn’t have been the first Notre Dame defensive lineman with NFL potential to go missing against the Midshipmen.
Instead, Day led Notre Dame with a career-high nine stops and two tackles for loss in the 41-24 win. He’s posted a tackle for loss in every game this season.
“I recognized him in front of our team, and I don't do that a lot,” Kelly said. “I don't throw bouquets out to our guys individually.”
Day earned that recognition. Isaac Rochell probably did too, as the pair has developed into two of Notre Dame’s most indispensible players. At a position where the Irish have touted their depth, Day and Rochell almost never come off the field, playing both end and tackle based on the formation.
It’s common for Day and Rochell to log more real snaps played than the opponent runs actual plays. For example, Navy ran 55 official offensive snaps last week but Rochell played 56 when including plays wiped out by penalty. Day logged 51.
For the season, Rochell leads the position with 351 real snaps. Day is second at 331 followed by Romeo Okwara at 204. Jerry Tillery (192) and Daniel Cage (145) are the only other defensive linemen to go over 100 snaps this year.
It’s easy to understand why Notre Dame can’t get Day or Rochell off the field. They sat together for just two snaps at Virginia, which turned into a 20-yard pass and a 35-yard run. They played all 64 snaps at Clemson. Day logged 71 snaps against Georgia Tech while Rochell went three beyond that limit with 74. The Yellow Jackets totaled 71 official plays.
Day’s dominance against Navy made him impossible to sub out, although Kelly might need to find alternatives into November.
“He was all over the field,” Kelly said. “Didn't have any hesitation or misgivings about cut blocks or getting injured. He just flew around and played reckless football, and I think that speaks to his maturity, his commitment to this football team, and to Notre Dame football.”
Day and Rochell led Notre Dame’s defensive line in snaps played at this stage last season too. Day had logged 340 snaps through six games while Rochell had totaled 336. Day ultimately wore down before suffering a knee sprain in November. Rochell battled through the finale at USC but lost more than 10 pounds of weight in the process.
Kelly believes the Irish have alternatives, but he’s yet to call on them. In Notre Dame’s four competitive games, Andrew Trumbetti logged 32 real snaps. Jonathan Bonner played four. Doug Randolph, Pete Mokwuah, Grant Blankenship and Jacob Matuska haven’t logged one. Jay Hayes remains on track to red shirt.
That means the Irish essentially have five-and-a-half defensive linemen heading into the USC game with Tillery coming off an elbow injury against Navy. He played 27 snaps last weekend, half his workload against Georgia Tech.
The USC offensive line will reshuffle on Saturday night with sophomore Toa Lobendahn likely taking over for senior center Max Tuerk, who tore his ACL last week against Washington. Lobendahn had started at right guard all year and will likely be replaced by sophomore Viane Talamaivao there.
“Max is a great football player,” Kelly said. “He's played a lot of positions. He has great knowledge of their offense. But I'm sure they're going to fill in nicely. They've got some depth there.”
How much depth the Irish have along the defensive line remains a question, but based on snaps counts it appears Notre Dame is short. That means Kelly may be lauding Day and Rochell more this season because the Irish probably can’t take either off the field.