Irish Notes: Two Starters Down?

Today’s notebook offers updates on Cage, Onwualu, Prosise, Grace, Folston, Smythe, and a quarter-century-old rushing record in jeopardy.

PROCEED WITH CAUTION

Notre Dame played without one of its defensive starters last week when sophomore nose tackle Daniel Cage sat out the team’s 28-7 win over Wake Forest with a concussion. It lost another during the course of the contest, junior Sam linebacker James Onwualu, likely gone for the final two weeks of the regular season due to a sprained knee.

It might be without both Saturday in Fenway Park when Brian Kelly’s squad takes on Notre Dame nemesis Boston College.

“Each case is so different, and Matt Leiszler, our doctor, does a great job,” said Kelly of Cage’s continued absence contrasted to the imminent returns of C.J. Prosise and Nic Weishar, both concussion victims as well. “He is kind of working with them individually and personally. And Daniel's is different than all the other cases. So he'll update us daily on what's going on.”

Weishar and Prosise were cleared for Tuesday afternoon’s practice though Cage was not.

TWO FOR ONE

Kelly (and a new depth chart) pointed out Tuesday that Onwualu’s place in the lineup would be assumed by the combination of sophomore Greer Martini and fifth-year senior Jarrett Grace, the latter of whom began working on the strong side during the defense’s preparations for Navy.

“I think we'll get fundamentally sound football,” said Kelly of the tandem. “Both those guys are very conscientious players and both can play in space. Greer, I thought, did a very nice job as a cover down linebacker for us against Wake (Forest). Wake was in virtually all spread sets. He was out over a No. 2 receiver for virtually the entire game.

“When (Boston College and Stanford) get into more two tight end sets, Jarrett Grace will get the lion's share of the play.”

Kelly offered thereafter that Onwualu’s absence would be felt two-fold.

“He was coming on. He was playing his best football,” said Kelly. “Against Pittsburgh, he was aggressive off the edge, had a sack. He's gone from being a very, very good cover down ‘backer to somebody that was tackling effectively. And probably as big a loss in special teams. Outstanding special teams player for us as well. So he will be sorely missed.”

FULL SPEED AHEAD

With the lion’s share of Irish eyes on the return of Prosise this week, and every last one of them admiring backup Josh Adams’ 98-yard trip to pay dirt last weekend, few have had time to lament the loss of the team’s initial starter at the position, junior Tarean Folston.

“Making really good progress,” said Kelly of his leading rusher last fall, lost in the season opener to a torn ACL. “(But) it’s hard because you've got to keep up with (Drue) Tranquill who is a freak in his rehab. But he's matching him. And it's great to have those guys on similar paths relative to the surgery because Tarean now has to have a bar, and it's Tranquill. And Tranquill is a little bit ahead of him.

“(So Kelly can ask) Why is he a little ahead of you? They’re both making great progress.”

The season-ending injuries to Folston (Game 1) and Tranquill (Game 3) bookended that of tight end Durham Smythe (Game 2). The former and the latter will not return this fall.

What about the junior tight end from the Lone Star State?

“The guy who is making the best progress right now is Durham Smythe,” said Kelly. “We're encouraged with Durham that we may even get him back for a playoff situation or a bowl game. So he's made great progress as well.

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT

Prosise’s return coincides with a matchup against the nation’s No. 1 rush defense (and No. 1 defense overall). Boston College yields just 2.2 yards per carry to its foes. Prosise and Adams average 6.6 and 7.8, respectively.

Something is certain to give, but in Kelly’s opinion, the senior will be of great aid to the freshman and to the offense as a whole.

“Oh we're a better football team with both of them, without question,” said Kelly. “C.J.'s an elite player. Getting him back this week will be beneficial to our football team.

“We've got to try to find explosive plays, so that's why C.J. Prosise needs to be in this game.”

RUNNING MAN

Tony Rice turned the trick in 1988 en route to a championship. Rick Mirer matched him three seasons later. Since, only Everett Golson has challenged the magical Rice/Mirer Number 9 – that is, the program record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season.

(Golson finished with 8 last fall and 6 in 2012. Jarious Jackson scored 7 for the 1999 Irish as did Rice in both ’87 and ’89.)

Redshirt-freshman triggerman DeShone Kizer enters Game 11 with eight rushing scores of his own, and according to Kelly, it’s partly because the plan of attack has been to feature that weapon.

“Well, we're running option. We're running option down (by the goal line),” said Kelly. “A true read option. Didn't do it with Golson. Didn't do it with Tommy Rees. Didn't do it with the other quarterbacks who were here. So that's one reason.

“The other reason is he's 235 pounds. He's big, he's strong. And down there, if (the defense) is going to go double out some really talented receivers, you get friendly boxes to run the football. And he’s a a guy that enjoys running the football. So you put all those things together, and that's why those plays are called.”

But Kizer’s chief weapon in Year 1 of his Irish career isn’t his legs. It’s not even his arm, not according to his head coach.

“What I love about him is his retention. When I say retention, the quarterback position requires information, and then when you give them that information, they have to be -- they have to listen to that and follow it precisely,” said Kelly. “They can't kind of follow it. And he's really precise in following the information you give.

“When you give him information, he doesn't like skip over B and C and go right to D,” Kelly continued. “He's A, B, C and D. And that's what it requires. A great quarterback has to be that detailed. And he carries that with him, and that's what makes him a good quarterback.”


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