No quick safety fix for Irish

Brian Kelly wants reliable safety play. He’s not getting it. And he’s not sure he will this season. That reality could determine Notre Dame’s playoff chances.

When Max Redfield made a career-high 14 tackles against Clemson, head coach Brian Kelly trumpeted the achievement as a new standard for the junior safety. A week later against Navy, Redfield got benched after 10 plays for Matthias Farley, who held the job that afternoon and through the first half against USC. And then Kelly benched the fifth-year senior for Redfield during the second half.

Notre Dame’s head coach has expressed confidence that both safeties can help the Irish make the College Football Playoff. He’s also aware they could play the No. 9 Irish out of contention, starting this weekend at No. 21 Temple.

“Honestly, what I want and what we have are two different things,” Kelly said. “Both those kids are committed to being the best players that they can be and we are coaching them every single day, you following my drift? We’re working hard with them every day.”

With Redfield, Farley and Elijah Shumate back stopping Notre Dame’s defense, the Irish have produced an odd mix of big stops and big plays.

Notre Dame ranks seventh nationally in three-and-outs at 31.2 percent. The Irish have  also allowed 18 plays of at least 30 yards, which ranks No. 92 nationally. To put those incongruous statistics in perspective, the six teams ranked above Notre Dame in three-and-outs forced have allowed an average of just 9.8 plays of 30 yards or more. Notre Dame allowed five 30-yard plays against USC alone.

The Irish have also allowed three plays of 70 yards or more: Marquis Young’s 83-yard run (UMass), Adoree’ Jackson’s 83-yard slip screen (USC) and JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 75-yard gadget pass (USC).

Only UTEP and Indiana have surrendered more plays of 70+ yards.

“We know who we are,” Kelly said. “We have to go out on the practice field and work on tackling like we did (Monday) and we have to continue to work with the guys. There is no waiver wire. We’re not cutting anybody. We’re not trading anybody.”

It appears Notre Dame won’t be getting anybody back either, with Drue Tranquill lost for the year to a torn ACL and Avery Sebastian trending that way following the broken foot suffered against Texas. Sebastian was initially forecast by Kelly to return in October, but the head coach said the graduate transfer from Cal is still at least two weeks away from practicing.

Kelly won’t rush Sebastian back, volunteering the prospect of Sebastian returning for a sixth year next season. Sebastian missed his junior season at Cal after he suffered a torn Achilles in the season-opener, which opened the door for the fifth-year transfer here.

Kelly said the bone growth in Sebastian’s fractured fifth metatarsal has been unusually slow following surgery on Sept. 7. At the time of the injury, Kelly said Sebastian would miss four to six weeks.

“We'll have to see what he's capable of doing for us over the next couple of weeks,” Kelly said. “But it's just been a difficult injury in the sense that it usually heals up quickly but that he hasn't had the bone growth necessary.”

That means the Irish have just three safeties ready to play meaningful snaps with Nicky Baratti an emergency option behind Shumate. Freshman Nicco Fertitta has played on special teams while Mykelti Williams appears set for a red-shirt year.

“We just have to work with the guys that we have and get better and they are committed to doing that,” Kelly said. “They see the film and we see the film. We have to put them in good position to succeed. We have to continue to do that and then we have to be positive with them and get the best out of them every day.”


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